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Saint Francis of Paola

Category: Mystic


Saint Francis of Paola, O.M. (or: Francesco di Paola or Saint Francis the Fire Handler; 27 March 1416 – 2 April 1507) was an Italian mendicant friar and the founder of the Roman Catholic Order of Minims.  Pope Leo X canonized him in 1519.

Franciscan Media

In 1492, Francis changed the name of his community to “Minims” because he wanted them to be known as the least (minimi) in the household of God. Humility was to be the hallmark of the brothers as it had been in Francis’s personal life.

The Order of Minims does not seem at any time to have been very extensive, but they had houses in many countries. The definitive rule was approved in 1506 by Pope Julius II, who also approved a rule for the nuns of the Order. A Third Order of their movement was also approved. The most noted member of this Order was St. Francis de Sales.  Although the Minim order lost many of its monasteries in the 18th century during the French Revolution, it continues to exist, primarily in Italy.

Saint Francis of Paola  is the patron saint of boatmen, mariners and naval officers. His liturgical feast day is celebrated by the universal Church on April 2nd, the day on which he died. In 1963, Pope John XXIII designated him as the patron saint of Calabria.


Although his miracles were numerous, he was canonized principally for his humility and discernment in blending the contemplative life with the active one.
In 1562, a rampaging mob of Protestant Huguenots in France broke open his tomb and found the saint's body incorrupt. They dragged it forth, burned it and scattered the bones, which were recovered by Catholic faithful and distributed as relics to various churches of his order.

Spirituality and mysticism

We have seen that humility [squash the big I am] was one of the main aims of the order Saint Francis founded.  But he also relied on many of the key methods of suppression – reducing desires [poverty], suppressing of obligations and reduction of opportunities [he tried to live the life of a hermit], dietary moderation and LOVE in its various forms, for example

Franciscan Media

Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Francis enjoined upon his followers the fourth obligation of a perpetual Lenten fast. ...
It was Francis’s desire to be a contemplative hermit, yet he believed that God was calling him to the apostolic life. He began to use the gifts he had received, such as the gifts of miracles and prophecy, to minister to the people of God. A defender of the poor and oppressed, Francis incurred the wrath of King Ferdinand of Naples for the admonitions he directed toward the king and his sons.


The two main thrusts in his order were humility and non-violence. The word "Minim" refers to living as the smallest or least, or embracing humility, simplicity, and plainness. The call to non-violence and absence of cruelty was expressed through veganism, or not doing harm to any creature.

He followed a vegan diet, not only free from animal flesh, but also from all animal-derived foods, such as eggs and dairy products. One of the vows of the order he founded was the abstinence from meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese and milk.

St. Francis Paola’s compassion and love of his fellow beings extended to all creatures not just his fellow man.  He called animals by their names, even after their lives had ended. He knew that animals of all sort had souls, and believed [knew] they continued to exist after their deaths.

Finally one other more direct method that Saint Francis used was chanting, mantra and prayer.

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 noster's (Our Father's) and as many Ave Maria's (Hail Mary's), 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.


Reverend Butler  - The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, Vol. IV, 1864

This saint was born about the year 1416, at Paula, a small city near the Tyrrhenian Sea, in Calabria, the midway from Naples to Reggio. His parents were very poor but industrious, and happy in their condition, making the will and love of God the sole object of all their desires and endeavours. Their whole conduct was, as it were, one straight line directed to this point. Having lived together several years without issue, they earnestly begged of God, through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisium, a son who might faithfully and assiduously serve him, and become instrument to glorify his name, to whose service they solemnly devoted him. A son some time after this was born, whom they considered as the fruit of their prayers, named him after their patron, St. Francis, and made it their chief care to inspire him with pious sentiments, and give him an education suitable to his holy destination

At the age of 13, Francis entered a friary of the Franciscan Order.

Franciscan media

After accompanying his parents on a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, he began to live as a contemplative hermit in a remote cave near Paola, on Italy’s southern seacoast. Before he was 20, he received the first followers who had come to imitate his way of life. Seventeen years later, when his disciples had grown in number, Francis established a Rule for his austere community and sought Church approval. This was the founding of the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, who were approved by the Holy See in 1474.  In 1492, Francis changed the name of his community to “Minims”.

Photo Faye Blake-Cossar

Abstinence 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.

Despite this apparently strict regime, the number of his disciples gradually increased, rather indicating his methods ‘worked’ spiritually; and about 1454, with the permission of Pyrrhus, Archbishop of Cosenza, Francis built a large monastery and church. The building of this monastery was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm and devotion on the part of the people towards Francis: even the nobles carried stones and joined in the work.

Catholic Encyclopedia

In 1474 Sixtus IV gave him permission to write a rule for his community, and to assume the title of Hermits of St. Francis: this rule was formally approved by Alexander VI, who, however, changed their title into that of Minims. After the approbation of the order, Francis founded several new monasteries in Calabria and Sicily. He also established convents of nuns, and a third order for people living in the world, after the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis made a very lasting impression in France

Catholic Encyclopedia

When Louis XI was in his last illness he sent an embassy to Calabria to beg the saint to visit him. Francis refused to come nor could he be prevailed upon until the pope ordered him to go. He then went to the king at Plessis-les-Tours and was with him at his death. Charles VIII, Louis's successor, much admired the saint and during his reign kept him near the court and frequently consulted him. This king built a monastery for Minims at Plessis and another at Rome on the Pincian Hill. The regard in which Charles VIII held the saint was shared by Louis XII, who succeeded to the throne in 1498. Francis was now anxious to return to Italy, but the king would not permit him, not wishing to lose his counsels and direction.

Francis also influenced many in the French church, particularly Jan Standonck, who founded the Collège de Montaigu along what he thought were Minimist lines.


Francis, in effect, prophesied his own death.  He spent the last three months of his life in entire solitude, preparing for death. On Holy Thursday of 1507 he gathered his community around him and exhorted them especially to have mutual charity amongst themselves and to maintain the rigour of their life and in particular perpetual abstinence. The next day, Good Friday, he again called them together and gave them his last instructions and appointed a Vicar General. He then received the last rites and asked to have the Passion according to St. John read out to him, and whilst this was being read, he died on 2 April 1507, almost a week after his 91st birthday, in Plessis.



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