When Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio took the name of “Francis” there was initially some debate as to whether he was styling himself after “God’s Fool of Assisi” or, since he was a member of the Society of Jesus, after the great missionary St. Francis Xavier, the co-patron of missionaries and co-founder of the Jesuits.
However, this was quickly cleared up: “Francis” was clearly a nod to the founder of the Franciscans, despite the new pope’s affiliation with the Jesuits. “After all,” one commentator noted, “if he wanted to be called ‘Francis Xavier’, His Holiness would have simply taken that name.”
As Dr. Taylor Marshall pointed out early in Francis’s pontificate, there are (incredibly) eighty-eight saints named Francis/Frances.
We all know St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier, and I myself have written elsewhere about the great doctor St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and St. Francis Xavier. But what of some of the other “Francis” saints? Here are just a few who helped change the Church (and the world) for the better.
St. Francis Caracciolo (1563-1608, feast day June 4)
Along with Venerable John Augustine Adorno, this St. Francis founded the Minor Clerks Regular, also known as “The Adorno Fathers”. They are of import since, like St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria (1502-1559), who founded the Clerks Regular of Saint Paul, they continued the reform of the clergy in post-Tridentine Italy—a reform that, had it not been given sinew and wings, may have died on the proverbial vine. And from there he took it to Spain where Adorno houses where established in Madrid, Alcala, and Valladolid. Back in Rome, Francis was able to relinquish the position of Superior (which he had inherited when his dear friend Adorno died), and led a life of incredible humility, impressing St. Philip Neri of Rome, who donated a novitiate house in the Abruzzi to Francis.
In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Clerks Minor promised never to take any higher office outside or inside their order. Today reduced to just a few members, mainly in New Jersey and South Carolina, the Adorno Fathers have been trying to recruit more men from the Philippines. Their motto, which is very close to the Jesuit one is: “Ad Maiorem Dei Resurgentis Gloriam” (For the Greater Glory of the Risen God).
St. Francis Borgia, S.J. (1510-1572, feast day Oct. 10)
The saint who restored the luster to the Borgia name after it had been besmirched by his great-grandfather Pope Alexander VI, often called the most notorious pope of all time (and invariably the center of both the US and UK television series called “The Borgias”). But more importantly than just ridding shame from the house of Borgia, St. Francis showed that even a nobleman could become a Jesuit—and a saint—though he was the ripe age of forty when he was finally allowed to enter the Society. Despite the fact that he was certainly to the manor born and carried various titles such as Marquis of Lombardy, Viceroy of Catalonia and finally Duke, Francis (who had the good sense to marry well and sire eight children) entered the Jesuits after his wife died with all the fire of a teenaged convert.
He is important for several reasons. First, he cemented the Jesuits in Spain. (It is easy to forget that, though Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier are Spaniards, the former was in Rome and the latter was, basically, all over India and East Asia). Not content with solidifying his homeland, he brought Portugal into the Jesuit sphere of influence as well, thus putting a Jesuit-Catholic foothold on the entire Iberian Peninsula.
He was a legendary preacher and administrator who was appointed Commissary General in 1554 (by St. Ignatius himself), and ten years later, Father General of the Order, stationed in Rome. There he began the building of Church of the Gesù (the Jesuits’ home church), and founded the Gregorian University and the German College as well. He drew up new editions of the Society’s Rules, and saw it expand to France, Poland, the Americas, and even deeper into the Far East. Though St. Ignatius Loyola was definitely the founder of the Jesuits, and St. Francis Xavier was its missionary force, it was St. Francis Borgia—who even during his lifetime was being acclaimed a saint—who brought the whole enterprise together, and accounted for its better formation and expansion.
St. Francis of Paola, O.M. (1416-1507, feast day April 2)
Named after the great saint of Assisi by parents who had implored God’s Fool for a son, St. Francis of Paola showed early signs of great sanctity and, like the hermits of ancient Egypt, retired to a cave near Paola. He was barely fifteen.
What makes this retreat so remarkable is that Francis had been to Rome and Assisi on pilgrimage—and still thought there was nothing unusual about living as an anchorite. Even stranger: that so many followed this young man into the hills to live as hermits.
Though 1452 is the date fixed as the foundation of the Order of the Hermits of Saint Francis (as they were originally called), in 1492 the name was changed to Friars Minims — or “the least of the household of God”.
Like the Jesuits who take a fourth vow (of complete obedience to the pope) and the Clerks Regular Minor (above, who vow not to take a higher position in or outside their order), the Minimi, too, take a fourth vow: that of a perpetual Lent. Not only do they abstain from flesh-meat, but eggs and anything made from milk.
St. Francis of Paola actually spent most of the rest of his life in France. He’d been summoned there by the dying King Louis XI in 1481, and Pope Sixtus IV adjured Francis to leave his cave and his many followers and get to France. The King’s son, Charles VIII, held St. Francis in such esteem that he built two monasteries for the Minimi — one at Amboise and another at Plessaias — as well as the Roman monastery Santa Trinita del Monte which was reserved for French postulants to the Order.
Even by hermit-standards St. Francis lived an extremely long life, dying on Good Friday, 1507, aged 91. According to the Rule of his Order he received Viaticum barefoot and with a rope around his neck.
What St. Francis Carraciolo had done for the clergy in Italy, and St. Francis Borgia had done for the Jesuits (pretty much all over the world), St. Francis of Paola did for hermits: he breathed new life into an Order that had been withering away at least since the time of St. Romuald and the Camaldolese.
While St. Francis of Assisi is The Saint par excellence, and St. Francis Xavier is the indefatigable missionary, and St. Francis de Sales is a Doctor of the Church, these other three St. Francis — Caracciolo, Borgia and Paola — have brought even greater acclaim to that great Saint’s name!