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The Biography St Francis of Paola

the Patron Saint of Calabria Southern Italy

Born in Paola in Calabria Italy, then in the Kingdom of Naples, St Frances of Paola was educated by the Franciscans. His parents were extremely devote, and had prayed continually to St Francis of Assisi for a child being childless for many years, and Francis became the eldest of three and so named after the Saint. As a baby he suffered an illness which endangered his sight and on paying to St Francis his parents vowed that their son would enter a Franciscan house and spend a year in the “little habit” which was a common practice in the Middle Ages. At this, Francis was cured.

He demonstrated signs of great holiness with a vision at the age of 13 which led to him joining the Franciscans and fulfilling his parents vow, and he underwent intense prayer and mortification. After a year he joined his parents on a pilgrimage to Assisi Rome and other places of devotion. On returning to Paola he chose the solitude of a secluded cave on his father’s land and devoted himself to prayer leading led a hermit’s existence for around six years.

Based on legend in 1464 while trying to cross the Strait of Messina to Sicily he was refused passage by a boatman and reputedly laid his cloak on the water, tied one end to his staff to create a sail and cross the strait with his companions following in the boat. By 1436 he and two followers started the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi which was later renamed the Minim Friars. The name refers to their role as the “least of all the faithful”.

He was joined by other recruits and created cells and later a chapel, so that the new order could start and increased until by 1454 permission was given by the Archbishop of Cosenza for a large monastery to be built. Many miracles occurred as a result of prayers to the saint, and the rule of life adopted by Francis and his religious order was intense – living in poverty and perpetual abstinence. The distinguishing mark was humility and they lived hidden from the world, hence the name Minims, or the least of all, religious. Pope Sixtus IV gave Francis permission in 1474 to write a rule for his community and to assume the title of Hermits of St Francis. This rule was approved. Francis went on to found several new monasteries in Calabria and Sicily and established convents of nuns and a third order for people living in the world after the example of St Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis followed a strict vegan diet free from meat and all animal products such as eggs, butter, cheese and milk. This was followed by his order, and there are many stories about his compassion for animals, giving back life to animals killed to be eaten. Renowned as a prophet he foretold many major historic events, and became a valuable trusted adviser to Louis XI of France, visiting him at the request of the Pope advising the court frequently during the King’s reign. This king later built the Minims a Monastery at Plessis and another at Rome. Francis had a great influence on the French Church influencing copies of his order along Minister lines for example the College de Montaigu. Charles VIII held the saint in highest regard as did his successor to the throne in 1498 Louis XII relying on the saint’s counsels and direction. Although he wished to return to Italy he was prevented by these duties. In 1506 an order of Minim nuns was approved by Julius II.

During his last three months of life he was preparing for death in complete solitude. On Holy Thursday he gathered his community around him instructing them to have mutual charity among themselves, and to maintain their rigorous religious life and gave last instructions, appointing a Vicar general on Good Friday. On receiving the last rites he asked to have the Passion according to St John read out to him. He died during this reading -  a week after his 91st birthday on April 2 1507 in Plessis France.

A group of Huguenots in France attacked and broke open his tomb in 1562 finding his body incorrupt, They dragged it out to burn it scattering his bones, but these were recovered by the Catholic faithful who distributed them as reslics to various churches of his order. The Order of Minims grew to have houses in many countries that survive today. Pope Leo X canonised St Francis of Paola in 1519 and today he is regarded as a patron saint of boatmen, mariners and the navy. His feast day is celebrated on April 2nd, the day on which he died. In 1963 Pope John XXIII designed him the patron saint of Calabria.
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The Biography St Francis of Paola the Patron Saint of Calabria Southern Italy