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Since 1984 St. Camillus has been staffed by the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, a group of over three hundred religious brothers who staff parishes and urban centers, universities and soup kitchens all along the East Coast in different sites from Boston to Tampa. Rooted in the Catholic and Franciscan Tradition, we are disciples of Christ who seek to bring the Gospel into the everyday experience of all people through popular preaching, teaching, and pastoral leadership. We foster Christian discipleship by collaborating with those whom we serve and by standing in solidarity with all people, especially the alienated, the immigrant,                                                                                 and the poor.

St. FrancisSpeaking of other Franciscans, in addition to the friars on staff, you will frequently see other men in brown, walking the grounds (or being dragged around by a big yellow Labrador Retriever), presiding at Mass or sitting along side of you in the pews.  They are our neighbors here at Camillus and 31 of them reside next door at Holy Name College, one of our formation houses for men in preparation for Franciscan life and ministry.  Residing there you will find friars from around the country and from five different continents.  If you would like to know more about Holy Name Province, please visit our web site at hnp.org.  

St. Francis of Assisi

Feast Day October 4
Founder of the Friars Minor (1182 - 1226)

“We have no right to glory in ourselves because of any extraordinary gifts, since these do not belong to us but to God.  But we may glory in crosses, afflictions and tribulations, because these are our own.”

St. Francis was born in the Umbrian city of Assisi in about the year 1182.  His parents were Pietro di Bernardone, a wealthy cloth merchant, and Pica, his French-born wife.  Francis was one of the privileged young men of Assisi, attracted to adventure and frivolity as well as tales of romance.  When he was about twenty, he donned a knight’s armor and went off, filled with dreams of glory, to join a war with the neighboring city-state of Perugia.  He was captured and spent a year in prison before being ransomed.  Upon his return he succumbed to a serious illness from which his recovery was slow.  These experiences provoked a spiritual crisis which was ultimately resolved in a series of dramatic episodes. 

Francis had always been a fastidious person with an abhorrence for paupers and the sick.  As he was riding in the country side one day, he saw a loathsome leper.  Dismounting, he shared his cloak with the leper and then, moved by some divine impulse, kissed the poor man’s ravaged face.  From that encounter, Francis’s life began to take shape around an utterly new agenda, contrary to the values of his family and the world.

While praying before a crucifix before the dilapidated chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard a spoke speak to him: “ Francis, repair my church, which has fallen into disrepair, as you can see.”  At first inclined to take this assignment literally, he set about physically restoring the ruined building.  Only later did he understand his mission in a wider, more spiritual sense.  His vocation was to recall the church to the radical simplicity of the gospel, to the spirit of poverty and to the image of Christ in his poor.

To pay for his program of church repair, Francis took to divesting his father’s warehouse.  Pietro di Bernardone, understandably enraged, had his son arrested and brought to trial before the bishop in the public marketplace.  Francis admitted his fault and restored his father’s money.  Then, in an extraordinary gesture, he stripped off his rich garments and handed them also to his sorrowing father, saying, “Hitherto I have called you father on Earth; but now I say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’” The bishop hastily covered him in a peasant’s frock, which Francis marked with a cross.  
With this his transformation was complete. 

The spectacle which Francis presented – the rich boy who now camped out in the open air, serving the sick, working with his hands, and bearing witness to the gospel – attracted ridicule from the respectable citizens of Assisi.  Gradually it held a subversive appeal.  Before long a dozen other young men had joined him.  They became the nucleus of his new order, the Friars Minor.  The beautiful *Clare of Assisi was soon to following brothers.  Francis personally cut off her hair, marking her for the life of poverty and her consecration to Christ.

The little community continued to grow.  In 1210 they made a pilgrimage to Rome and won the approval of Pope Innocent IIII.  Some of the pope’s advisors warned that Francis’s simple rule, with its emphasis on material poverty, was impractical.  The worldly pope, however, was apparently moved by the sight of the humble friar and perceived in this movement a bulwark against more radical forces.

Francis left relatively few writings, but his life – literally the embodiment of his message – gave rise to numerous legends and parables.  Many of them reflect the joy and freedom that became hallmarks of his spirituality, along with his constant tendency to turn values of the world on their heads.  He esteemed Sister Poverty as his wife, “the fairest bride in the whole world.”  He encouraged his brothers to welcome ridicule and persecution as a means of conforming to the folly of the cross.  He taught that unmerited suffering borne patiently for love of Christ was the path to “perfect joy.”

Behind such holy “foolishness”, Francis could not disguise the serious challenge he posed to the church and the society of his time.  Centuries before the expression became current in the church, Francis represented a “preferential option for the poor.”  Even in his life the Franciscans themselves were divided about how literally to accept his call to radical material poverty.  In an age of crusades and other expressions of “sacred violence”, Francis also espoused a radical commitment to nonviolence.  He rejected all violence as an offense against the gospel commandment of love and a desecration of God’s image in all human beings.

Francis had a vivid sense of sacramentality of creation.  All  things, whether living or inanimate, reflected their Creator’s love and were thus due reverence and wonder.  In this spirit, he composed his famous “Canticle of Creation,” singing the praises of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and even Sister Death.  Altogether his life and his relationship with the world – including animals, the elements, the poor and sick, as well as princes and prelates, women as well as men – represented the breakthrough of a new model of human and cosmic community. 

Ultimately, Francis attempted no more than to live out the teachings of Christ and the spirit of the gospel.  His identification with Christ was so intense that in 1224 while praying in his hermitage, he received the “stigmata”, the physical marks of Christ’s passion, on his hands and feet.  His last years were marked at once by excruciating physical suffering and spiritual happiness.  “Welcome Sister Death!” he exclaimed at last.  At his request, he was laid on the bare ground in his old habit.  To the friars gathered around him, he gave each his blessing in turn: “I have done my part,” he said, “May Christ teach you to do yours.”  He died on October 3, 1226.  His feast is observed on October 4. 

See: Regis J. Armstrong, ed., St. Francis of Assisi: Writings for a Gospel Life (New York: Crossroad, 1994); The Little Flowers of St. Francis, trans. Raphael Brown (Garden City, N.Y.: Image, 1958).