There was nothing divine about the birth of a boy named Giovanni Francesco de Bernardone in a little Italian village in 1182. But the life he would lead, and inspire others to, would unfold into something extraordinary.

Many people know of Francis of Assisi who stripped off his clothes in the town square to demonstrate his commitment to a life of service and poverty, his adoration of a God whose beauty he saw reflected in all of creation and his brothers who travelled with him, living in the footsteps of Jesus. Christ.

But what most people may not know was his struggle with his merchant father to discard the shackles of material wealth, the way he misinterpreted God's call to "go and repair my house which is falling into ruin" while praying in front of the crucifix in the church of San Damiano, or the perils he endured on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In his teenage and youthful years Francis was an impetuous young man who enjoyed all the attention that money and status brought, a product of his time where the sight of lepers and those less fortunate repulsed him.

Yet, Francis had another side to him, a compassion which would compel him to drop a coin for a beggar and help those around him in need.

 

So, at the age of 25 years and clothed in a simple robe and a knotted rope for a belt, Francis embarked on his new life - living in solitude and meditation - caring for lepers, praying in isolated caves and repairing chapels. His first follower and companion, Bernard of Quintavalle, was also from a wealthy merchant family and within a year, eleven others had also made the commitment to follow him.

In 1209, bolstered by eleven followers, Francis walked with them from Assisi to Rome to meet Pope Innocent III. Francis presented the Pope with his simple Rule of Life, composed of quotes from the Gospel, for his approval. Francis’ Order grew quickly and within ten years there were over 3000 brothers. In 1223, his Rule of Life was formally appoved by Pope Honorius III, the rule by which today's friars live.

By Easter 1212, Clare di Offreduccio joined St Francis on his mission as the first woman to follow his way of life. This young woman, who fled her aristocratic family, would later found the Order of St Clare, also known as the Poor Clares.

During this time, St Francis also established the Third Order of St Francis, now known as the Secular Franciscan Order. Suffering from the affects of Stigmata and eye disease, Francis died a relatively young man of 44 years of age. At the time of his death in 1226, thousands of people from all walks of life had pledged to live by his simple rule of fraternity, poverty and minority. Just two years later, in 1228, Francis was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX.