Feast Day : April 2
Patronage: naval officers; seafarers
Known as “The Miracle Worker” and “God’s Miracle- Worker Supreme”
St. Francis of Paola was born around 1416 in Paola, Italy, to a humble family. Childless for years, the parents had prayed earnestly to St. Francis of Assisi for a son. When Francis was conceived, tongues of fire were seen dancing harmlessly over the family roof. At birth the boy was named after the saint. When he was 13, they sent him to the Franciscan friary at San Marco to be educated. The austere lifestyle appealed to Francis. After a year, he took a pilgrimage with his parents to Assisi, Rome and other places. When they returned, Francis went into seclusion, first slightly outside Paola and then in a remote location in a cave by the sea. By 1436 he was joined by two companions. Neighbors built them cells and a chapel. A story is told that one day a goat rushed into Francis’s cave, seeking refuge from hunters. Francis took it as a sign from God that he was to leave his hermitage and work for the Church. Thus began Francis’s order. The date of foundation is considered to be 1452. Seventeen years later a church and monastery were built, and Francis established a discipline for the order based on penance, charity and humility, and also on a perpetual Lent that required a strict vegetarian diet. Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471–84) approved the new order in 1474. Initially, they were called the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis had this changed in 1492 to the Minim Friars, as he desired that they be recognized as the least (minimi) in the household of God. In 1481 the dying King Louis XI of France sent for Francis and asked him to heal him in exchange for assistance to his order. Francis replied that the lives of kings are in the hands of God. The two men shared numerous meetings, and Louis died in Francis’s arms. His successor, Charles VIII, relied upon Francis for much advice. He built for Francis three monasteries: two in France at Plessias and Amboise, and one at Rome. Francis remained in France for the last 25 years of his life. He became ill on Palm Sunday, 1507, and died the following Good Friday, at age 91. Francis was renowned as a miracle-worker. He was reported to bilocate, and was seen simultaneously in prayer in the chapel and out on the street talking to people, or working in the kitchens while he also attended the altar. He had the gift of miraculous transport, and took companions across water using his cloak for a boat. In 1483 he was observed by the king of Naples to levitate in an ecstasy and to be bathed in supernatural light in the middle of the night. The saint also levitated objects. During the building of his first church and monastery, he raised a large boulder that was in the way. On numerous occasions, Francis multiplied food and wine, sometimes for large crowds of several hundred. Though portions were small, each person felt fully satisfied. Throughout his life, Francis was very popular and was often mobbed by enthusiastic crowds when he ventured out in public. He was said to make himself invisible whenever he wished to travel undetected, or to have quiet moments for prayer and meditation. He also had the gifts of prophesy, clairvoyance, supernatural knowledge and control of the elements. Once Francis had a confrontation with the Neapolitan king Ferrantes, a corrupt man who sought to curry favor with the saint by giving a large quantity of gold coins for the building of a monastery. Francis lectured the king on his corruption. He took a gold coin and broke it in two; blood dripped from the halves. Francis told him it was the blood that had been squeezed out of his subjects. He refused the money. Reportedly, the shocked king reformed. Francis reportedly could produce sweet, often healing water by striking the ground with his staff. One such spring, called the Fountain of Seven Canals, is near the Church of the Holy Rosary in Paola. Its waters are given to the sick. When the wall of a furnace in his monastery was near collapse, Francis entered the fire several times to repair the damage, and was unharmed by the flames, according to eight witnesses. The saint was unharmed by fire on other occasions. When he was on his deathbed and about to give his brothers his final instructions and blessings, a brazier in his room suddenly burst into flames. Francis got up, walked to it and picked it up, saying, “Be assured, my brothers, that it is not difficult for one who truly loves God to carry out what He wishes, which for me is holding in my hands this fire.” He was unharmed.