1902 Encyclopedia > St Francis of Paola

St Francis of Paola
Founder of Order of Minims

ST FRANCIS OF PAOLA (1416-1507), founder of the order of Minims (Ordo Minimorum Fratrum Eremitarum Fratris Francisci de Paula), was born of humble parentage at Paola in Calabria in the year 1416. His education appears to have made very little progress until he reached his thirteenth year, when, in accordance with a vow, he was taken by his father to the Franciscan convent of San Marco in Calabria. Here he learned to read, and distinguished himself by his austerities ; but at the close of a probationary year he, for some reason that is not mentioned, left San Marco, and, after a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, retired to the neighbourhood of his native town, where in a cave by the sea-shore he gave himself wholly to a hermit life, after the example of the great St Francis, having no bed but the bare rock, and no other food than the herbs which he gathered in the neighbouring wood, or which were sometimes brought to him by his friends. In the course of time he was joined by some others like-minded with himself, and the building of a chapel in 1436 is generally considered as marking the first beginning of the Minimite order. At that time, however, and for many years afterwards, they were mere " Eremites of St Francis," and did not claim to be distinguished from other Franciscans unless by a stricter fidelity to the common principles of the order. In eighteen years the little community had increased so much in num-bers and in popularity that, with the help of a friendly neighbourhood, it was able to build a large church and mon-astery in 1454. In 1469, owing to reports which he had received, Pope Paul II. sent one of his chamberlains into Calabria to ascertain the actual condition of matters at Paola ; the account brought back by him was highly favour-able, and the result was that in 1474 the order of the Eremites was incorporated by a bull of Sixtus IV., and Francis appointed its first " corrector " or superior-general. In addition to the usual vows, there was a special rule, which pledged the members to the observance of a perpetual Lent. Several new convents were founded in Calabria and Sicily during the following years; and the fame of Francis for sanctity and miraculous powers increased daily. When Louis XI. of France was seized with his last illness, he des-patched a special message to beg of the holy man that he would come and restore him to health. Not until he had been commanded by Pope Sixtus IV. could Francis overcome his reluctance to undertake so long a journey on so doubtful an errand; and on his arrival at Plessis-les-Tours, in April 1482, to the king's entreaties for his intervention to prolong his life he simply replied that the lives of kings had their appointed limits, that God's decree was unchangeable, and that for his Majesty nothing remained to be done but to resign himself to the divine will and prepare for death. At the request of Louis, Francis remained at Plessis ; where he was treated with great respect by that sovereign, and also by his successor Charles VIII. In particular, the latter built two convents for the order, one near Plessis and another at Amboise; and on his triumphant arrival in Rome in 1495, he caused a third to be erected there. In 1501-2 a new and stricter constitution was granted to the order by Alexander VI., who at the same time conceded all the privileges and immunities enjoyed by the other mendicant orders, and bestowed, at the urgent request of Francis, the distinctive name of Minimi, which has ever since been re-tained. At the same time a lay order of Tertiaries was sanctioned, under a special rule. In 1506 the fourth vow (to observe a perpetual Lent) was made more definite and stringent in its character by Julius II. The death of Francis took place in his ninety-first year, at Plessis, on the 2d of April 1507. He was canonized by Leo X. in 1519,—his day in the calendar being April 2 (Duplex).

A graphic incidental notice of Francis occurs in the Memoirs of Philip de Comines (b. vi. c. 7), who says, "I never saw any man living so holy, nor out of whose mouth the Holy Ghost did more manifestly speak." A brief sketch of his life occurs in the Breviarium Eomanum; and his miracles and prophecies are related at considerable length by the Bollandists. Reference may also be made to Butler's Lives of the Saints. The order of Minims, called also Les Bons Homines in France, Los Padres de la Vitoria in Spain, and Paulaner or Pauliner in Germany, never attained to any great prominence by the side of the great societies of Dominic and Francis of Assisi. Their cloisters never exceeded 450, and at present are very much fewer. The principal establishment is in Rome.

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