SAINT FRANCIS OF PAOLA (1416-1507), hermit and founder – Patron saint of Calabria, Italy, sailors and travelers
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Francis of Paola, a man who deeply loved contemplative solitude and wished only to be the “least in the household of God.” Yet, when the Church called him to active service in the world, he became a miracle-worker and influenced the course of nations.
Francis was born in Paola in the region of Calabria along the southern seacoast of Italy on March 27, 1416. His parents, who maintained a strong devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi, named their son after him. The boy’s father and mother had little in the way of wealth, but they passed on a rich spiritual heritage to their son, with the hope that he would imitate his namesake.
The young Francis showed signs of a remarkable spiritual life, following his parents’ lead in accepting poverty as a path to holiness. After accompanying his parents on a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, he began to live as a contemplative hermit in a remote cave near Paola.
Before he reached the age of twenty, he received the first followers who had come to imitate his way of life. Seventeen years later, when his disciples had grown in number, Francis established a Rule for his austere community and sought Rome’s approval. This was the founding of the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, which was approved by the Holy See in 1474. In 1492, they renamed it the Franciscan Order of Minim Friars, which means they count themselves the least in the family of God.
Humility was to be the hallmark of this new Order as it had been in Francis’s personal life. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Francis enjoined upon his followers the fourth obligation of a perpetual Lenten fast. He felt that heroic mortification was necessary as a means for spiritual growth.
It was Francis’ desire to be a contemplative hermit, yet he believed that God was calling him to the apostolic life. He began to use the gifts he had received, such as the gifts of miracles and prophecy, to minister to the people of God. A defender of the poor and oppressed, Francis incurred the wrath of King Ferdinand of Naples for the admonitions he directed towards the king and his sons.
Following the request of Pope Sixtus IV, Francis traveled to Paris in 1482 to help King Louis XI of France prepare for his death. While ministering to the king, helping Louis XI to prepare his soul for its final journey into the loving embrace of God, Francis was able to influence the course of national politics. He helped to restore peace between France and Brittany by advising a marriage between the ruling families, and between France and Spain by persuading Louis XI to return some disputed land. Francis accomplished all of this while remaining the Superior General of the Minim Order and founding new monasteries in France.
At the age of ninety-one, and sensing that his death was near, he gathered his community around himself on Holy Thursday, exhorting them to always live the virtue of mutual charity amongst themselves and to maintain the disciplines of their monastic life, and in particular perpetual abstinence.
On Good Friday, April 2, 1507, after appointing a new Vicar-General for the Order and after having received the final Sacraments of the Church, Francis of Paola passed onto his eternal reward. He was canonized a saint in 1519 by Pope Leo X.
We commemorate his feastday on April 2.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, ewtn.com/library and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Collect of the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Francis of Paola)
“O God, exaltation of the lowly, who raised Saint Francis of Paola to the glory of Your saints, grant, we pray, that by his merits and example, we may happily attain the rewards promised to the humble.
“Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”