Saint Francis of Assisi lived a simple life with a passion to help others and to spread the good word of Jesus Christ. Through his actions and teachings, numerous lives have been bettered from his life in the 12th and 13th centuries to the modern day. These traditions have been carried on today in the Saint Louis area, throughout the entire city. A statue of Saint Francis stands in Forest Park, in a serene and peaceful part of the park overlooking a pond. A sect of the Franciscan Order also operates in Eastern Saint Louis, and does outreach in the community.
Saint Francis of Assisi was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or 1182- the exact year of his birth is unknown. He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, and lived a comfortable life, though he had an incomplete literary education.
When he was twenty years old, Francis accompanied some other men from his town to fight in a border skirmish. He was taken prisoner and held captive for over a year in Perugia, where he contracted a fever that turned his thoughts towards ideas of eternity and the afterlife. However, these ideas were short lived, and upon his release from captivity he decided to pursue a military career. This, too, was short lived as he had a dream of a voice bading him to return to Assisi.
Upon returning to Assisi, Francis entered a period of seclusion and prayer, and thus became preoccupied with the idea of a life of poverty and reflection. In 1208, Francis attended a mass in which a sermon about the poverty of the disciples was given. After hearing this sermon, Francis rid himself of all of his possessions, and thus began his life of poverty.
After declaring a life of poverty, Francis traveled through the countryside preaching of penance, brotherly love, and peace- collecting followers along the way. Once he had acquired eleven followers, Francis developed a set of written rules— thus beginning the Franciscan Order (originally referred to as the Friars Minor).
Francis and his followers traveled and preached in Central Italy, and even reached as far as Spain. After years of travel and mission work, Francis retired to La Verna in 1224 for forty days of fasting. While praying, he observed a vision of the seraph, or angel of God, and the five wounds of the crucified appeared on his body. These wounds were reminiscent of the wounds that Christ received on his hands and feet during his crucifixion, as well as the wound in his side.
After receiving these wounds, known as the stigmata, Francis suffered from increasing pain and weakness, as well as significant decrease in sight. He returned to Assisi, which he blessed before his passing in October of 1226 at the age of 45. (Robinson)
Although Saint Francis lived long before the founding of the United States, his teachings and spiritual outlook on life still have a lasting influence here in Saint Louis.
The most evident presence of Saint Francis is seen in the statue of him erected in Forest Park. The doves perched on and around Saint Francis resemble the relationship he had with nature, and the serene idea of simplicity. The statue was commissioned by Alice Martin Turner, widow of Harry Turner- a prominent automobile dealer in Saint Louis (Forest Park). Turner quickly made a name for himself in Saint Louis, but later became aware of the “diseases of life” and devoted himself to researching and writing about the downsides of Saint Louis’s social elite. His writings created a strained relationship with the social elite that he used to be a part of— he was even asked to resign from his position in the Saint Louis Country Club. Upon his death, his wife Alice commissioned the statue of Saint Francis be built in her husband’s honor because he “resembled St. Francis in his love for humanity and simple natural things” (University).
In addition to the statue in Forest Park, there is also a sect of Franciscan Friars who now call Saint Louis home. The Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart Province are located at Saint Anthony of Padua Parish, a Catholic church in eastern Saint Louis. The guidebook for the church says, “Influenced by Franciscan spirituality, we see ourselves as a caring community, drawing from the strength and tradition of those who have gone before us… We will face the future by reaching out and serving the needy, by fostering spiritual growth in our families, by educating our children in Christian values, by welcoming visitors and strangers into our community, and by joyfully facing the challenges of our neighborhood.” By living out the values instilled by Saint Francis so long ago, the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart Province show that Saint Francis still has influence, even in modern Saint Louis (Saint Anthony’s). These Friars continue the vision and work of St. Francis through various community service projects around the St. Louis area.
Saint Francis of Assisi preached many values that are still upheld in the modern world. His belief in serving others and seeing the value in giving up material happiness is carried on through people like Harry Turner and the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart Province. Although he himself was never in the United States, Saint Francis’s teachings and influence have reached into the heart of Saint Louis through those who believe in the values that he preached so long ago.
Researched and written by Kage Forrest, Emma Leoni, and Lily Mueller
Abeln, Mark Scott. “Statue of Saint Francis of Assisi.” Flickr. September 14, 2009.
Forest Park. “Saint Francis of Assisi.” Forest Park Statues. n.d. http://www.forestparkstatues.org/st-francis-of-assisi/
Procaccini, Camillo. “Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata.” Harvard Art Museum. 1593.
Robinson, Paschal. “St. Francis of Assisi.” New Advent. 15, October, 2017. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm.
Saint Anthony’s Church. “Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.” Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. n.d. http://www.stanthonyofpaduastl.com/
University of Missouri. “The Harry and Alice Turner Papers: Biographical Note.” UMSL.