Catholic Pocket Dictionary – Franciscans

Franciscan FriarArticle

This order takes its name from its founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226. The saint had entirely separated from the world in his twenty-fifth year and embraced a life of strict poverty. He lived for several years in a cottage near Assisi, in the practice of almost continual prayer accompanied by severe bodily discipline. After several disciples had joined him, the cottage at Assisi was found too small to hold them.

About this time the Benedictines of the neighboring monastery of Soubazo gave him a small plot of ground near Assisi called Portiuneula, on which stood an abandoned church dedicated in honor of Our Lady of the Angels. Francis would not accept the land as an absolute gift, but by the tenure of rendering yearly to the Benedictines a basket of little fish, called lasche, caught in the stream that flowed hard by. From this humble site, which thus became the cradle of the order, thousands of monasteries were to be planted, missioners were to go forth to all parts of the world to preach, toil, and in many cases suffer martyrdom for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and a vast multitude of doctors and holy prelates were to issue, by whom the purity of the faith should be sustained, and its principles applied. The Sovereign Pontiff at that time was Innocent III. At the first interview he rejected the saint’s petition. Francis humbly withdrew; but the same night the Pope dreamt that he saw a palm spring up from the ground between his feet and gradually grow till it became a great tree; at the same time an impression was borne in upon his mind that by this palm tree was designated the poor petitioner whom he had repelled the day before. The Pope ordered that search should be made for him; Francis was found, and, being brought before the Pope and the Cardinals, expounded in simple but glowing language the plan and aims of his institute. The Pope was much moved, but some of the Cardinals thought that the poverty required surpassed the strength of man. Francis betook himself to prayer, and at the next interview Innocent granted him a verbal approbation of his rule. The Pope declared that he had seen in a dream the Lateran basilica tottering to its fall, but saved by a poor despised man, who set his back against the wall and propped it up, “Truly,” said he, “here is that man who, by his work and teaching will sustain the Church of Christ.” The above particulars are taken from the Life of the saint by Saint Bonaventure. Saint Francis drew up a code of rules which were solemnly ratified by Honorius III in 1223.

It is difficult to realize in this twentieth century the extraordinary attraction which the example and preaching of Saint Francis exercised on his contemporaries. Long before the confirmation by Honorius III, the Friars Minor (such was the name which the founder in his humility chose for them) had made their way into the principal countries of Europe, preaching penance and founding convents.

Francis said to his followers: “Let your behavior in the world be such that everyone who sees or hears you may praise the Heavenly Father. Preach peace to all; but have it in your hearts still more than on your lips. Give no occasion of anger or scandal to any, but by your gentleness lead all men to goodness, peace, and union. We are called to heal the wounded, and recall the erring.”

So rapidly did the order increase that at the first general chapter, that called of Mats, held at the Portiuncula in 1219, upwards of five thousand friars were present.

In 1830 the number of Franciscan monasteries was estimated at fifteen hundred, containing ninety thousand friars. Hélyot states that in his time that is, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, long after the destruction of the houses of the order in England and other northern countries, where they were onee numerous there were, of the first and third orders, seven thousand convents, with 120,000 friars; and of the second order above nine hundred convents, with 28,000 nuns.

The order of Saint Francis has given five Popes, more than fifty cardinals, and an immense number of patriarchs and bishops to the Church. The great statesman Cardinal Ximenes was a Franciscan. Among the schoolmen, Saint Bonaventure the Seraphic Doctor; Duns Scotus the Subtle Doctor; Alexander of Hales the Irrefragable Doctor; and William of Oekham, were members of this order.

MLA Citation

  • Father James J McGovern. “Franciscans”. Catholic Pocket Dictionary, 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 November 2019. Web. 19 January 2021. <>