Francis was born in Paola, now province of Cosenza, in Calabria (the “toe” of the Italian “boot”).
As a child he suffered a severe infection in his eye. His parents entrusted him to the intercession of Francis of Assisi, vowing that if he recovered, he would wear the Franciscan habit for a whole year. After his recovery, when he was 15 years old, he entered the convent of St. Marco Argentano (Cosenza) to fulfill the promise made by his parents.
Francis immediately showed his inclination to prayer and his powerful gifts of piety, along with some supernatural manifestations. At the end of his stay at the convent, he undertook a pilgrimage with his parents in search of the most suitable religious life for him. He went to Assisi, Montecasino, Rome, Loreto and Monte Luco. In Rome he was troubled by the opulence of the papal court and commented: “Our Lord was not like that.” This was the first sign of his reforming soul.
When Francis returned to Paola, he began a period of hermit life in an inaccessible place owned by his family. Gradually other people joined Francis, regarding him as a spiritual leader. Francis and his companions built a chapel and three dormitories. They received diocesan approval in 1452 to establish an oratory, a monastery, and a church. Even the nobility of Paola, enthusiastic about Francis’ experience, helped as simple workers in the construction of the buildings.
Francis’ reputation for holiness spread rapidly: in 1467 Pope Paul II sent one of his emissaries to Paola for news of the hermit. After presenting his report on the monastery, the papal legate himself decided to join the community.
On May 17, 1474, Pope Sixtus IV officially recognized the new order with the name of the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi. The rule was formally approved by Pope Alexander VI, who changed their name into the Minims.
Francis, standing at the side of the poor, was considered the only authority able to oppose the abuses of the Aragonese court in the kingdom of Naples. His fame arrived in France at the court of Louis XI, who was ill at the time and who asked Pope Sixtus IV to bring the hermit to his bedside. The pope and the king of Naples saw in this invitation the possibility of political advantages.
Francis, however, obeyed the papal imposition with difficulty: he was used to his hermitage and would reluctantly adapt to court life. On his arrival, King Louis XI knelt at his feet; although he never recovered, the action of the hermit at court led to good relations between the papacy and the French monarchy.
Francis lived in France for 25 years, working the land as a peasant and increasing his reputation as a reformer and a penitent. Through the aggregation of some Benedictines and Franciscans, his Calabrian congregation abandoned the hermit life for the cenobitic one, leading to the foundation of the secular Third Order and to that of the Nuns. Their respective rules were definitively approved by Julius II on 28 July 1506.
Francis died in Tours on April 2, 1507. His fame soon spread through Europe thanks to the three branches of the family of the Minims (friars, nuns and the third order). He was canonized on May 1, 1519, 12 years after his death during the pontificate of Pope Leo X, to whom he had predicted his election to the papal throne when he was still a child. On 13 April 1562, some Huguenots forced open his tomb and on finding his body uncorrupted set it on fire. The few remaining relics are kept in various convents of the Minims, including Palermo, Milazzo and Paola.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. Francis of Paola – Information on the – Vatican News. (n.d.). Vatican News. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/04/02/st—francis-of-paola—hermit–founder-of-the-order-of-minims.html