St Francis of Assisi
St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, merchants, Catholic action and the environment, was a Roman Catholic saint who took the gospel literally by following all Jesus said and did - joyfully, without limit and without self-importance. He was born "Giovanni Bernardone" (commonly known as Francesco) in Assisi, Italy, in 1181 and died there on 3 October 1226. His feast day is 4 October.
During a serious illness, Francis saw the emptiness of his life as leader of Assisi's youth. Through prayer, he came to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his obedience to what he heard in prayer - "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy."
Christ spoke to Francis from the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano - "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down."
Francis did not expect to found the "Franciscan Order" (or "Friars Minor"), but once it had started he put all the legal structures in place to support it.
Two years before his death, Francis received the stigmata (the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side). Eventually Francis became blind and seriously ill and then died at the age of 44.
There is much more to find out about St Francis and below are some websites where you can read more about his life and mission.