Francis Caracciolo was born from a noble family Villa Santa Maria (Abruzzo Region of Italy).
When he was 22 years old, he was inflicted by a terrible disease which almost led him to death. In this trial he heard the Lord’s call and was ready to dedicate his life completely in the service of God and neighbor if he would recover.
After his miraculous cure, Ascanio, faithful to his promise, renounced all his properties and noble titles. He left his place and went to Naples to prepare himself to priesthood. He was ordained a priest and joined the Confraternity of the White Servants of Justice (I Bianchi), a confraternity that looked after the spiritual welfare of prisoners and those condemned to death. It was located close to the Hospital of Incurables.
In 1587, Francis mistakenly received a letter addressed to a relative of the same name, Father Fabrizio Caracciolo, the Abbot of St. Mary Major in Naples. He learned from it that the writer, Father Augustine Adorno of Genoa, was planning to found a religious Order of priests whose work would combine both active and contemplative life. The project appealed to Ascanio, and he soon joined forces with Augustine Adorno and Fabrizio Caracciolo.
The three fathers retreated to the Camaldolese hermitage in Naples to write the first Constitutions of the Order. In addition to the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, they contemplated a fourth vow: the renunciation of any ecclesiastical dignity. A particular dedication to the divine worship centered in the Eucharistic Devotions nourished by the Circular Prayer and an austere life expressed in the Circular Penitence were indicated as the main qualities of the spirituality of the new religious Order.
After their stay in the hermitage, Ascanio and Augustine went on foot to Rome to ask for the Papal approval. Sixtus V granted their petition and on July 1, 1588, the new Religious Order was approved under the name of Clerics Regular Minor. The first community of the Clerics Regular Minor lived and carried out their apostolate at the Church of Mercy in Naples.
A few days later, they went for a journey to Spain with the intent of establishing the Order there. They were unsuccessful in establishing the Institute, but they made contacts with other religious orders and leaders. They came back to Naples after a very tiring trip which caused Francis enormous suffering.
In 1591, while Francis took possession of the Church of St. Mary Major in Naples, Augustine Adorno went to Rome for the ratification of the approval of the Order by Pope Gregory XIV. The Pope graciously granted the new Order all the same privileges that other religious institutes have. In September of the same year, Augustine died prematurely at the age of 40. Most of the responsibilities and concerns of the new religious family fell upon Francis, who became the first Superior General during the First General Chapter in 1593. He accepted out of obedience the office for three years.
On July 25, 1595, Francis obtained the permission to open a religious house dedicated to St. Joseph in Madrid, finally extending his mission to that country. The first religious house in Rome was founded at the Church of St. Leonard. He sent the first group of clerics to reside in this house. In November 1596, Francis returned to Naples, where, after lots of hesitation, accepted to share in charge as Superior General for another year.
After he obtained for the Order the Church of St. Agnes in Piazza Navona and after his resignation as Superior General Francis left for his third journey to Spain (September 1598). During his stay, he opened the religious houses in Valladolid and Alcala de Hanares. When returned to Rome, he was elected Vicar General for Italy and Superior of St. Mary Major in Naples.
Francis’ health became weaker because of his austere life. Despite all limitations, he did not stop from doing his last journey with his brother Father Antonio of the Theatine Fathers, which led them to Loreto, Villa Santa Maria, and Agnone (Molise Region) to accommodate the request of opening a new religious house there. Upon his arrival to Agnone, Francis was physically tired and fell ill.
On June 4, 1608, he died uttering the words: “Let’s go, let’s go to heaven.”
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. Francis Caracciolo – Adorno Fathers. (n.d.). Adorno Fathers – CRM. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.adornofathers.org/about-us/st-francis-caracciolo/