Born in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, Italy, Francis was a restless young adult in the year 1205. He had tried his father’s business but found it unsatisfying. He was a leader of Assisi’s youth, but yearned for a different love. He had sought the glories of war, but a dream told him to return home and await what God would reveal to him.
For years, Francis searched for purpose. Then one day in the church of San Damiano, just outside Assisi, he heard the invitation of Jesus: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see falling into ruins.” With that he gathered a group of brothers, gave them Gospel texts for their rule of life and sent them out like the disciples of Jesus to live and announce the Good News of God’s Love.
The works of Francis’ community were multiple and varied. Friars preached and taught, begged, did manual labor and cared for the sick, including lepers. In 1209, after several years of preaching, Francis and 11 companions went to Rome to obtain permission for their new way of life in the Church. They prevailed upon the Holy Father to allow them to live the Gospel, taking “nothing for their journey” in trust in God’s love and care for them.
Between 1223 and his death on Oct. 3, 1226, Francis was sick and frail, but his spirit soared with mystical love and union with Christ. At Christmas 1223, he celebrated the birth of Jesus in an outdoor pageant and Mass in the village of Greccio, thus giving the Christian world ever since the Christmas crib or crèche. In 1224, Francis, while absorbed in contemplation on Mt. LaVerna, received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ. It is during these years that come Francis’ most beautiful prayers, including the “Praises of God,” the “Canticle of Brother Sun,” and his testament.
Clare was born into a wealthy family and was educated in the domestic arts of spinning, needlework, reading and writing. In 1210, Clare heard Francis preach detachment from possessions and money, and to live in faith, for “God will provide.”
In 1212, Clare left her family and joined Francis. Inspired by Francis’ faith, Clare lived and believed in Divine Providence with a small group of followers that came to be known as the Poor Clares. The followers of St. Clare, the Order of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano or Poor Clares, are cloistered sisters who live in community, poverty and contemplative prayer to fulfill their mission of seeking prayerful union with God and interceding for the needs of the church and world. Clare was canonized two years after her death.