These are 15 days of the year which hold special significance for Franciscans.
January 3: Holy Name of Jesus
In the 15th century, the Franciscan St. Bernardine of Siena actively promoted the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. At the end of his sermons he usually displayed the trigram IHS on a tablet in gold letters. Bernardine would then ask the audience to “adore the Redeemer of mankind”. Given that this practice had an unorthodox air, he was brought before Pope Martin V, who instead of rebuking Bernardine, encouraged the practice and joined a procession for it in Rome. The tablet used by Bernardine is now venerated at the basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome.
January 16: Sts. Bernard & Companions
Sts. Berard, Peter, Accursius, Adjutus and Otto, first martyrs (the Protomartyrs) of the Franciscan Order, were all natives of Umbria, Italy. Sent by St. Francis in 1219 to preach to the Moors, their first mission to the Moors in Seville was unsuccessful, and they crossed to Morocco where they preached in the presence of King Mira-ma-Molin. The king had them expelled but the friars evaded the guard at Ceuta and returned to their mission. Infuriated by their insistence, the king had them put to death by the sword on Jan. 16, 1220. Their remains were brought back to Europe and rested in the church of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine of the Holy Cross at Coimbra where St. Anthony of Padua – not yet a friar – was a member of the community. Berard and his companions were canonized in 1481 by Pope Sixtus IV.
February 6. Sts. Peter Baptist, Paul Miki and Companions
On Feb. 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians — four European Franciscan missionaries, one Mexican Franciscan missionary, one Indian Franciscan missionary, 17 Japanese Secular Franciscans, including three young boys, and three Japanese Jesuits — were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki, Japan. They were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears. St. Philip of Jesus, the Mexican missionary, was born in 1572 in Mexico. He was journeying from Manila in the Philippines to be ordained when he was shipwrecked in a storm on the Japanese coast. He was arrested and, together with the others, was executed in Nagasaki. He is the patron saint of Mexico City.
April 16: The Friars’ Rule is Approved
Tradition says that the first Rule of Life of the Friars Minor (called the “Primitive Rule”) was approved on April 16, 1209 by Pope Innocent III. The Franciscans have marked this date as the founding of the Franciscans. On this date, friars throughout the world symbolically renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
June 13: Feast of St. Anthony of Padua
St. Anthony of Padua was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal, and died in Padua, Italy. He was known for his forceful preaching and expert knowledge of scripture. St. Francis had held a strong distrust of the place of theological studies in the life of his brotherhood, fearing that it might lead to an abandonment of their commitment to a life of real poverty. In Anthony, however, he found a kindred spirit for his vision, who was also able to provide the teaching needed by young members of the order who might seek ordination. In 1224, Francis entrusted the pursuit of studies for any of his friars to the care of Anthony. St. Anthony was the second-most-quickly canonized saint (dying on June 13, 1231, he was canonized May 30, 1232). He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on Jan. 16, 1946.
St. Anthony is the patron saint of finding things or lost people. The reason St. Anthony’s help is invoked for finding things lost or stolen is traced to an incident that occurred in Bologna. According to the story, Anthony had a book of psalms that was of some importance to him as it contained the notes and comments he had made to use in teaching his students. A novice who had decided to leave took the psalter with him. Prior to the invention of the printing press, any book was an item of value. Upon noticing it was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned. The thief was moved to restore the book to Anthony and return to the Order. The stolen book is preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna.
July 15: Feast of St. Bonaventure
Saint Bonaventure was an Italian medieval Franciscan, scholastic theologian and philosopher. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also a Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church in the year 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. He is known as the “Seraphic Doctor.” Within the Franciscan Order, Saint Bonaventure is considered its second founder and chief architect of its spirituality. For seventeen years, Saint Bonaventure was the Minister General of the Friars and it was during this crucial period in the Order’s history that St. Bonaventure attempted to integrate the ideal of St. Francis of Assisi into the cumulative traditions of Christian spirituality and to shape that ideal into institutional forms which have survived to this day.
July 16: Canonization of St. Francis of Assisi
August 2: Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula
When St. Francis had his conversion, he set about repairing three chapels. The third was popularly called the Portiuncula or the “Little Portion,” dedicated to St. Mary of the Angels. The chapel and the land belongs to the Benedictines. The friars came to live at the Little Portion in early 1211. It became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscans. This is where St. Clare came to the friars to make her vows during the night following Palm Sunday in 1212 and where Sister Death came to Francis on Oct. 3, 1226. The Benedictines wanted to give Francis the church but in order to remain faithful to Lady Poverty, Francis rented it from them with the annual compensation of a basket of fish from the Tescio river — a rent which is continued to be paid until this very day. It is now enclosed in a basilica at Assisi.
St. Francis of Assisi persuaded Pope Honorius III to grant a plenary indulgence to all those who visited the Portiuncula on August 2 and confessed their sins. This indulgence has been extended to all churches, especially those held by Franciscans, throughout the world. This year, 2016, marks the 800th anniversary of the Portiuncula indulgence.
August 11: Feast of St. Clare of Assisi
Saint Clare of Assisi is one of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Clare and her early companions, including her sister Agnes, lived next to the church of San Damiano, which Francis had repaired some years earlier. Clare sought to imitate Francis’ virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes titled alter Franciscus, another Francis. She is regarded as the co-founder of the Franciscans.
She and Francis founded the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition. and St. Clare wrote their Rule of Life — the first monastic rule known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honor as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares.
August 25: Feast of St. Louis IX
King Louis IX was King of France who reigned from 1226 until his death. Louis’s actions were inspired by Christian values. He decided to punish blasphemy, gambling, interest-bearing loans and prostitution, and bought the relics of Christ for which he built the Sainte-Chapelle. Everything he did was for the glory of God and for the good of his people. He protected the poor and was never heard speak ill of anyone. He excelled in penance and had a great love for the Church. He was merciful even to rebels.He was renowned for his charity. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. According to his vow made after a serious illness, and confirmed after a miraculous cure, Louis IX took an active part in the Seventh and Eighth Crusade in which he died from dysentery. A devout Catholic, he is the only canonized king of France. He is honoured as co-patron of the Third Order of St. Francis, which claims him as a member of the Order.
October 3: Commemoration of the Transitus of St. Francis
St. Francis of Assisi died in the evening of Oct. 3, 1226. On this day every year, in the evening, Franciscans gather to remember the transitus (“passing”) of St. Francis from darkness into light. The format of the ceremony varies from place to place. It usually entails reciting of the story of the death of St. Francis according to his first biographer, Thomas of Celano, the singing of hymns, and gospel passages.
October 4: Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
On Oct. 4, the church celebrates the feast of St. Francis. Francis was an affluent young merchant from the Italian town of Assisi. One day while riding through the countryside, this man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed. In 1206, he renounced his wealth and social status in favor of a life dedicated to God and the least of God’s people.
Soon, others came to join Francis in his life. He had a simple rule approved by Pope Innocent III, showing how the friars were to live their lives. In 1223, a final Rule was approved, and this the Rule that the friars continue to live today. A man of action, at one point he decided to go to Syria to convert the Moslems while the Fifth Crusade was being fought. In the middle of a battle, Francis decided to do the simplest thing and go straight to the sultan to make peace. When he and his companion were captured, Francis was taken to the sultan who was charmed by Francis and his preaching. He told Francis, “I would convert to your religion which is a beautiful one — but both of us would be murdered.”
Francis’ final years were filled with suffering as well as humiliation. Praying to share in Christ’s passion he had a vision and received the stigmata, the marks of the nails and the lance wound that Christ suffered, in his own body. Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill and blind. It was at this time that he wrote his beautiful Canticle of the Sun that expresses his brotherhood with creation in praising God. Francis died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. Sts. Francis and Clare are considered the co-founders of all Franciscan orders. Francis is the patron saint of animals, merchants & ecology.
November 17: Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
St. Elizabeth of Hungary was a princess of the Kingdom of Hungary, Landgravine of Thuringia, Germany, and is a greatly venerated Catholic saint. Elizabeth was married at the age of 14, and widowed at 20. After her husband’s death she sent her children away and regained her dowry, using the money to build a hospital where she herself served the sick. She became a symbol of Christian charity after her death at the age of 24 and was quickly canonized. St. Elizabeth was an early member of the Third Order of St. Francis and she is honored as its co-patron.
November 29: Feast of All Saints of the Seraphic Order
The final Rule of life for Franciscan friars was approved on this day in 1223. To commemorate this, on this day all the saints of the Franciscan order are remembered at Franciscan churches.
December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a long-standing Franciscan devotion officially declared Catholic dogma in 1854. In the middle ages, Franciscan friars William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus pointed out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. One of the chief proponents of the doctrine was the Hungarian Franciscan Pelbartus Ladislaus of Temesvár.
December 25: Christmas
The incarnation of our lord has held a particularly special place in the spiritual life of Franciscans since the time of St. Francis. Francis saw the poverty expressed in Jesus’s nakedness, both in being born in a stable in Bethlehem and dying on a cross in Jerusalem, as particular symbols of the poverty Jesus embraced in the incarnation. This so moved Francis that, at the time of his own death, he asked to be placed naked on the ground at the Portiuncula.
Francis’s first biographer, Thomas of Celano, says that about 15 days before Christmas in 1223, Francis asked a friend of his, a noble named John, to help him “enact the memory of the babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how with an ox and ass standing by, he rested on hay.” John enthusiastically agreed and readied a cave big enough to accommodate the townspeople. “Finally, the day of joy, the time of exultation has come. . . .Finally, the manger is prepared, the hay is carried in, the ox and the ass are led to the spot. There simplicity is given a place of honor, poverty is exalted, humility is commended, and out of Greccio is made a new Bethlehem.”
Thomas of Celano also describes an interesting interaction between the beloved saint and one of the early friars, Br. Morico. “Francis observed the birthday of the child Jesus with inexpressible eagerness over all other feasts, saying, ‘It is the feast of feasts, on which God, having become a tiny infant, clung to human breasts.’ When the question rose about eating meat that day, since Christmas was a Friday, Francis said to Brother Morico, ‘You sin, brother, calling the day on which the child is born to us a day of fast. It is my wish that even the walls should eat meat on such a day; and if they cannot, they should be smeared with meat on the outside.’”
Other Important Franciscan Days
- July 1 — Feast day of St. Junípero Serra, the founder of the Alta California missions and one of our newest saints.
- Oct. 11 — Feast day of St. Pope John XXIII, OFS, one of the most beloved popes and also one of our newest saints.
- Nov. 8 — Feast day of Bl. John Duns (commonly called Duns Scotus because he was born in Scotland), considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages. Duns Scotus was given the medieval accolade Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor) for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.