St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is one of the most well-known of saints, particularly because of his association with the love of animals and the natural world. But he was much more than the sentimental figure sometimes represented in popular culture.
He turned his back on a comfortable life to live simply, on the move from place to place, preaching the Gospel and serving the poorest wherever he found them. This idea of a Religious, as someone not tied to a monastery or specific place, was a radical idea in his day. Francis and his followers were not monks but friars, although they took vows as their monastic brothers did. Francis was not only a tireless advocate for the poor but a man dedicated to peace and reconciliation.
Poverty, peace and a love of the natural world were the marks of St Francis’s life.
St Clare (1193-1253) was one of those captivated by Francis’s preaching and message. At 18, she left behind her parent’s comfortable home, gave away her possessions and began to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. She and the sisters who gathered around her became the first ‘Poor Clares’, committed to a life of prayer.
Francis wrote a Rule of Life for his brothers in 1209, which was superseded in 1223 by a fuller Rule that shapes the lives of Franciscan sisters and brothers to the present day.
Among Anglicans, the Society of St Francis encompasses friars and sisters dedicated to a variety of ministries: www.franciscans.org.uk
The tradition of St Clare is found in the community at Freeland, near Oxford: www.oscfreeland.co.uk
Francis also encouraged lay people, married or single, to adopt Franciscan values whilst living in their own homes. Such followers created the tertiary movement or Third Order of Franciscans. They have a strong presence throughout the world: tssf.org.uk
In Australia, the Little Brothers of Francis embody the heritage tradition for men: franciscanhermitage.org
A full list of Benedictine communities worldwide may be found in the Directory section of the website. Use the filter Rule and click on Franciscan to produce the list.