Saint Francis of Paola

A Saint's Tale
March 28, 1999
Brother John Raymond

On Good Friday we contemplate and enter into the Passion and Death of Our Lord. What greater way could one enter into this mystery then to actually die on that very day? This is precisely what the Italian St. Francis of Paola did while the Passion according to St. John was being read to him.

One among the many miracles of Francis of Paola is when he struck a rock and water gushed forth. He did this favor for thirsty workmen who were building his monastery in Calabria, Italy. The water to this day falls into a natural basin. Francis once threw a dead trout into the basin and the fish came back to life. Despite many examinations, no one has been able to determine the source of the water. When the reservoir is emptied it is full again in five hours. To date, there have been numerous miracles and cures associated with the fountain.

Giacomo and Vienna d'Alessio were a very religious couple. He was a farmer and she a housewife. They attended daily Mass and were always ready to help any neighbor in need. They had been married fifteen years and still they were childless. One day neighbors saw tongues of flame dancing above the d'Alessio home. They called the couple out to witness this miracle. Nine months later on Friday, March 27, 1416 a boy was born. They named him Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, whose intercession they attributed to their being able to have a child.

When Francis was still a baby a swelling on his face endangered the sight of one of his eyes. His parents again turned to St. Francis of Assisi and their son was cured. They had vowed that if he was cured Francis would spend a year in one of the houses of the Franciscan Order.

At the age of thirteen Francis fulfilled the vow made by his parents. At the completion of the year he went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Assisi and other places of devotion. Returning to Paula he selected a lonely spot on his father's estate and there lived in solitude. Later on he found a more isolated dwelling in a cave on the seacoast. Here he remained alone for about six years.

In 1435 two companions joined him. His disciples gradually increased and about 1454 Francis built a large monastery and church. The rule of life adopted by Francis and his religious was one of extraordinary severity. According to Francis' desire the order was called the Minims, meaning the least of all religious.

Once a Monsignor was sent by the Pope to investigate Francis. The Monsignor pointed out to Francis that wise men advised against his extreme form of self-mortification that was not good for human nature. Francis walked over to a fire of red-hot coals and with both hands scooped up the burning embers without apparently burning himself. He held them out to the startled Monsignor and said with subtle irony, "Yes, it is true Monsignor, I am only an unlearned peasant, and if I were not, I would not be able to do this." The Monsignor had nothing more to say to this "imprudent" Saint.

Besides founding the Minims Francis established a convent of nuns and a Third Order for those living in the world who wanted to share in their life. He cured many sick people, raised some from the dead, predicted future events, walked on water and became a major influence on seven Popes and five kings. His order the Minims eventually established nearly 500 monasteries. Francis died in 1507 in France at the age of ninety-one. He was canonized only twelve years after his death. In 1562 the Huguenots (heretics) broke open his tomb and found his body incorrupt. They burned it, but some of the bones were preserved by the Catholics and enshrined in various churches of his order.

St. Francis of Paola would be a good person to turn to this Holy Week asking him to intercede that we may, like him, be given the grace to more fully enter the mystery of Our Lord's Passion and Death.