He was born the son of a prosperous merchant.
As a young man, while praying in a church outside Assisi, he heard a voice say to him, "Go and repair My house, which is fallen down." Interpreting "house" to mean the building in which he was praying, he immediately went to his father's warehouse, took a horse and a load of cloth, sold both and gave the money to the church for repairs. In retrospect, of course, Francis realized that "my house" actually referred to the church generally.
Francis established the Franciscan order, a monastic order dedicated to studying the Scriptures, preaching the gospel, praying and helping the poor. Interpreting Matthew 10:7-19 literally, they elected to renounce all earthly possessions and to live in poverty. The order was endowed with great spiritual power, and it has been called "perhaps the most
thoroughly charismatic [order], in its primitive period, that the church has ever known.""
Indeed, Francis's preaching was accompanied by great power. Specifically, reports Butler, God gave Francis the gifts of prophecy and miracles.12 Also, many healings occurred as a result of Francis's prayers.
On one occasion, for example, while preaching in the city of Narni, Francis was taken to a man who was completely paralyzed. The man had expressed assurance that if Francis would come to him, he would be completely healed. When Francis entered the man's room, he made the sign of the cross over the man from his head to his feet. Immediately, the man arose fully recovered.13
According to Jacob de Voragine, a thirteenth-century writer, Francis had originally been named Giovanni (i.e. John), but adopted the name Francis as the result of a miracle from God that had empowered him to speak French. De Voragine says, "Whenever he was filled with the fervor of the Holy Spirit, he burst forth ardently in the French tongue."14
12. Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater, ed., vol. 2 Butler's Lives of the Saints, 24.
13. Placid Hermann, ed., St. Francis of Assisi, 9-60.
14. Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, vol. 2, 597.