In the winter of 1206-1207, Francis Bernardone, an Assisi youth, publicly renounced his own father so as to belong only to God. He abandoned the parties of his companions in order to help lepers, derelicts and society’s rejects. Francis spent the next two years as a mendicant, hermit and restorer of three dilapidated churches in the area of Assisi: San Damiano, San Pierre and Saint Mary of the Portiuncula.
His lifestyle initially attracted two of his fellow citizens: the rich Bernard of Quintavale and the canonist-jurist Peter Catani. To these were added another nine. They became 12 “penitents” and pilgrims, without a home or fixed dwelling place. In the beginning, Francis gave some rules of life that were orally approved by Pope Innocent III in 1209; eventually he wrote the Rule of the Order of Friars Minor, which was confirmed by a Papal Bull of Pope Honorius III in 1223.
Their example was contagious even to the 18 year old noble woman, Clare, who on Palm Sunday, 1212, fled her father’s house. Francis cut her hair as a sign of her consecration to God in the little chapel of the Portiuncula. Many other sisters followed Clare. In 1218-19, Clare and the Sisters received pontifical approval to live in cloistered poverty. Thus was born the Second Order of Saint Francis, which Francis called the Poor Ladies. Between 1210 and 1221, Francis sent his companions throughout the world St. Francis of Assisi in order to preach the poor, humble and crucified Christ and to bring reconciliation and peace to everyone.
In 1221, a Florentine merchant, Lucchesio, and his wife Buonadonna, were attracted by the example of Francis and asked to be able to live the life of the Minors, while remaining in their married state. Thus the Secular Franciscan Order was born.
The identity of Franciscanism is found in the living out of the Gospel in the Church according to the model proposed and observed by Saint Francis of Assisi and preaching it to every creature. The First Franciscan Order has undergone a profound restructuring. From it has arisen three tendencies, which have given birth to three independent branches, but with the same Rule of Life. The three branches have their own governments and structures: Friars Minor, Friars Minor Conventuals, and Friars Minor Capuchin. These three families have developed as branches on a single giant tree, with very
many works, missions, martyrs and merits. The configuration of Saints and Beatified belonging to the three branches attest to this.
At the present time the Minors number 17,224, of which 104 are bishops;more than 586 are novices. The Capuchins number 11,343, of which 68 are bishops; the Conventuals number 4,514, of which 11 are bishops.