St. Francis of Assisi was introduced into my life at a very early age. Since my parents went to school and met at Franciscan University of Steubenville, they brought St. Francis into our home and way of life. Before I really knew about this saint, I was already tied to him.
At my Catholic elementary and middle school, we had an outdoor picnic area called The St. Francis Area. The tables were scattered under this large shady tree surrounding this grotto-like area with a statue of Francis surrounded by animals and nature. This was my favorite spot at the school, and thinking back to it, it was the most peaceful spot too.
Every year on St. Francis’s feast day our pastor would bless our pets before school. Parents would come with the pets, or students would bring pictures of their pets to present them in front of the St. Francis statue. This was my favorite day of the year, getting to see all the animals and bringing my own to be blessed by this saint.
Because of this, when I was in 8th grade, and it was time for me to receive my Confirmation, I knew I had to pick St. Francis as my Confirmation saint. I didn’t even bat an eye or doubt that he was the one for me. While all the other girls in the class picked women saints and questioned why I was picking a man, I stood confident in my decision and on the day of Confirmation, I proudly told the Bishop that “Francis” was my saint name.
Since then, Francis has always been present in my life, and I swear because I took on his name all animals are attracted to me, even the ones I don’t like, like bugs.
Fast forward to my junior year of college. This year was a turning point in my relationship with Francis. I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Italy for a month. While we had a set itinerary with the group, we were able to have two weekends to explore by ourselves. I knew I had to visit Assisi.
Everything worked out smoothly, and I was able to visit Assisi with my boyfriend at the time and one of my English professors, who turned out to be our own personal tour guide which made the visit that much more special. The second we stepped foot into the town, I was overwhelmed with such peace. I knew it was my man Francis welcoming me home.
We got to visit all the famous locations, churches, and grottos, and I loved every minute of it. But the most impactful moment for me was visiting his monastery on top of a small mountain. Right in front, there was a statue of Francis sitting in the grass overlooking the land with a journal in his hand. My professor said that was the spot where he wrote his famous Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. I walked over and sat next to him and instantly understood his teaching, the Franciscan Way.
According to Franciscan Media, Francis “used to praise God the Artist in every one of God’s works. Whatever joy he found in things made he referred to their maker. He rejoiced in all the works of God’s hands. Everything cried out to him, ‘He who made us is infinitely good!’ He called animals ‘brother’ or ‘sister,’ and he exhorted them to praise God.” Francis saw all of creation as God’s goodness and I felt an overwhelming understanding of this teaching at that moment on the mountain.
Francis continues to make himself present in my life, but now it’s not just him but other saints who have come from his order who make themselves present in my life. Saints like Padre Pio and Anthony of Padua have all been referred to me by my patron to help me grow and blossom in my life.
If we allow this saint to be present in our life, he will help us blossom, wherever and whoever we are. We blossom when we see in Francis what could happen to us if we were to embrace the overflowing goodness of God revealed in everything that exists, and let that embrace change us.