Saint of the Day – 2 April – St Francis of Paola O.M. (1416-1507) also known as “Saint Francis the Fire Handler” – Monk and Founder, inspired with the Gift of Prophecy and still called the “Miracle-Worker“, Apostle of the poor, Peacemaker – born on 27 March 1416 at Paola, Calabria, Kingdom of Italy (part of modern Italy) and died on 2 April 1507 (Good Friday) at Plessis, France of natural causes. He was an Italian mendicant Friar and the Founder of the Order of Minims. Unlike the majority of founders of men’s religious orders and like his Patron Saint, Francis was never ordained a priest In 1562 Huguenots broke open his tomb, found his body incorrupt and burned it. The bones were salvaged by Catholics and distributed as relics to various churches.
St Francis founded the Hermits of St Francis which Rule was formally approved by Pope Alexander VI, who, however, changed their title into that of “Minims”. Their name refers to their role as the “least of all the faithful”. Humility was to be the hallmark of the brothers as it had been in Francis’s personal life. bstinence from meat and other animal products became a “fourth vow” of his religious order, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Francis instituted the continual, year-round observance of this diet in an effort to revive the tradition of fasting during Lent, which many Roman Catholics had ceased to practice by the 15th century. The rule of life adopted by Francis and his religious was one of extraordinary severity. He felt that heroic mortification was necessary as a means for spiritual growth. They were to seek to live unknown and hidden from the world. After the approbation of the order, Francis founded several new monasteries in Calabria and Sicily. He also established monasteries of nuns and a third order for people living in the world, after the example of St Francis of Assisi. Patronages – against fire, against plague, against sterility, boatmen, mariners, sailors, watermen, naval officers, travellers, 7 cities.
Francis was born in the town of Paola, which lies in the southern Italian Province of Cosenza, Calabria. In his youth he was educated by the Franciscan friars in Paola. His parents were remarkable for the holiness of their lives, having remained childless for some years after their marriage, they had recourse to prayer and especially commended themselves to the intercession of St Francis of Assisi, after whom they named their first-born son. Two other children were eventually born to them.
When still in the cradle, Francis suffered from a swelling which endangered the sight of one of his eyes. His parents again had recourse to Francis of Assisi and made a vow that their son should pass an entire year wearing the “little habit” of St Francis in one of the friaries of his Order, a not-uncommon practice in the Middle Ages. The child was immediately cured.
From his early years Francis showed signs of extraordinary sanctity and at the age of 13, being admonished by a vision of a Franciscan friar, he entered a friary of the Franciscan Order to fulfil the vow made by his parents. Here he gave great edification by his love of prayer and mortification, his profound humility and his prompt obedience. At the completion of the year he went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome, and other places of devotion. Returning to Paola, he selected a secluded cave on his father’s estate and there lived in solitude; but later on he found an even-more secluded cave on the sea coast. Here he remained alone for about six years, giving himself to prayer and mortification.
Soon others joined him and they took the name Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi and followed the practices of the Franciscans, or the Franciscan Minim Friars. The order attracted many candidates within a sort space of time.
Francis later felt God calling him to defend those who were poor and oppressed. He scolded King Ferdinand of Naples and his sons for their wrongdoing. In 1482, when King Louis XI of France was dying, he begged that Francis come to cure him. Francis at first refused but Pope Sixtus IV ordered him to care for the king and prepare him for death. When the king saw Francis, he pleaded for a miracle. Francis rebuked him, saying that the lives of kings are in the hands of God. Francis restored peace between France and Great Britain and between France and Spain.
According to a famous story, in the year 1464, he was refused passage by a boatman while trying to cross the Strait of Messina to Sicily. He reportedly laid his cloak on the water, tied one end to his staff as a sail and sailed across the strait with his companions following in the boat. The second of Franz Liszt’s “Legendes” (for solo piano) describes this story in music.
After his nephew died, the boy’s mother—the saint’s own sister—appealed to Francis for comfort and filled his apartment with lamentations. After the Mass and divine office had been said for the repose of his soul, St Francis ordered the corpse to be carried from the church into his cell, where he continued praying until, to her great astonishment, the boy’s life was restored and Francis presented him to his mother in perfect health. The young man entered his order and is the celebrated Nicholas Alesso who afterwards followed his uncle into France and was famous for sanctity and many great actions.
St Francis also raised his pet lamb, Martinello, from the dead after it had been eaten by workmen. “Being in need of food, the workmen caught and slaughtered Francis’ pet lamb, Martinello, roasting it in their lime kiln. They were eating when the Saint approached them, looking for his lamb. They told him they had eaten it, having no other food. He asked what they had done with the fleece and the bones. They told him they had thrown them into the furnace. Francis walked over to the furnace, looked into the fire and called ‘Martinello, come out!’ The lamb jumped out, completely untouched, bleating happily on seeing his master.”
Pope Leo X canonised him in 1519. He is considered to be a patron saint of boatmen, mariners and naval officers. His liturgical feast day is celebrated by the universal Church today, the day on which he died. In 1963, Pope John XXIII designated him as the patron saint of Calabria. Though his miracles were numerous, he was canonised for his humility and discernment in blending the contemplative life with the active one.
Devotion of the Thirteen Fridays:
Pope Clement XII, in the brief “Coelestium Munerum Dispensatio” of 2 December 1738, promulgated an indulgence to all the faithful who, upon 13 Fridays continuously preceding the Feast of St Francis of Paola (2 April), or at any other time of the year, shall, in honour of this Saint, visit a church of the Minims and pray there for the Church. In this brief, mention is made of a devotion which originated with St Francis himself, who, on each of 13 Fridays, used to recite 13 Pater Nosters (Our Fathers) and as many Ave Marias (Hail Marys) and this devotion he promulgated by word of mouth and by letter to his own devout followers, as an efficacious means of obtaining from God the graces they desired, provided they were for the greater good of their souls