St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was a Roman Catholic friar who founded the Order of the Franciscans. On July 16, 1228 he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals, birds, the environment, and Italy.

He was born into a wealthy family at Assisi, Italy, the son of a cloth merchant. Francis received little formal education and during his youth was mostly preoccupied with having fun. As a young man, he was popular, charming, enjoyed practical jokes and was usually the life of the party.

When armed conflict broke out between the men of Assisi and a neighboring city in 1202, Francis eagerly volunteered for the cavalry but wound up getting captured after the first big battle and spent a year in captivity. Francis returned to Assisi hailed as a hero, but unknown to his friends he had undergone a transformation in his outlook during his captivity

After much contemplation, including vivid dreams and mystic visions, he turned away from the pursuit of all worldly pleasures. While walking in the hills near his home, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair “His Church” which Francis interpreted as a command to repair the small, abandoned church of San Damiano, near Assisi. Resolved to become a hermit, he devoted himself to repairing the church and began a lifelong passion of caring for society's castoffs, the sick and poor, including lepers.

His wealthy father reacted to his son's new lifestyle by disinheriting him. But his humbleness, extraordinary kindness and love for humanity attracted the attention of other young men and they also chose to give up their possesions and follow him to spread the gospel and serve the poor. His compassion and concern did not just extend to humanity, however, but to all God's creatures. Seeing the glory of God in all creation, he believed that we had a spiritual connection with all beings and expressed in his teachings a duty to protect and appreciate nature as both the stewards of God's creation and as creatures ourselves.

He viewed himself as part of creation not separated from it. He saw the world of God and nature as being one. He addressed animals as "sisters and brothers," as equals not as subjects to be dominated. Many of the stories which surround his life express his love for animals. His reverence for Nature is recounted in The 'Fioretti" (The "Little Flowers"), a collection of legends and folk-lore in which he refers to the birds as sisters, and instructs the towns people to feed a wolf in the city of Gubbio. Francis also wrote a 'Canticle of the Creatures,' which is an ode to God's living things, "All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures."

It is now customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies honoring animals around his feast day of Oct. 4. The Blessing of the Pets is one such ceremony. At Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord (looking very much like Francis himself) welcomes each animal with a special prayer for his well being. This blessing usually goes like this:

"Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen."

Writings of St. Francis

The Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

"O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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Compiled by Mr. Fletcher
Director of Libraries, San Domenico School