St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals

Born to wealth, Francis chose poverty and ministered to animals and the poor

New Mexico Scenics
St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, is one of the world's most popular saints. Believers say that God has performed many miracles through Saint Francis because of his great faith. Robert Alexander / Contributor/Archive Photos/Getty Images

St. Francis of Assisi changed the world during his brief life, and he is remembered for miracles people say God performed through him and his compassion for the vulnerable, especially poor people, sick people, and animals.

Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone in Assisi, Umbria, now part of Italy, around 1181. He lived in wealth but was restless and by 1202 had joined a militia. After a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis (nicknamed “Francesco,” or “Francis” in English) spent a year as a prisoner of war, which he spent seeking a closer relationship with God and discovering God’s purpose for his life.

From a Life of Leisure to a Life of Service

Francis became convinced that God wanted him to help poor people, so he abandoned his possessions. At Mass in 1208, Francis heard a gospel in which Jesus Christ tells his disciples to minister to people: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff." Those words confirmed his calling to live a simple life and preach the Gospel to those in need.

Francis inspired other young men to abandon their possessions and join him, working with their hands and sleeping in caves or huts. They talked about God’s love and forgiveness and prayed, forming the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church, which still serves the poor worldwide.

After Francis died in 1226, people reported a flock of larks swooping near and singing at the moment of his death. In 1228, Pope Gregory IX canonized Francis based on evidence of miracles during his ministry.

Miracles for People

Francis contracted conjunctivitis and malaria while ministering to the poor and sick. He prayed that God would perform miracles through him, according to the Catholic text "The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi."

Once Francis washed a leper and prayed for a tormenting demon to leave his soul. As the man healed, he felt remorse and reconciled with God.

After three robbers stole food and drink from Francis' community, he prayed for them and sent a friar to give them bread and wine. Moved by Francis' actions, the robbers joined his order and spent their lives giving instead of taking from people.

Miracles for Animals

Francis saw animals as his brothers and sisters and prayed that God would work through him to help them. Birds sometimes gathered while Francis spoke, and they listened intently to Francis’ sermons. Francis began preaching to them about how God had blessed them.

When Francis lived in Gubbio, he met a wolf that was attacking people and other animals to try to tame it. The wolf charged Francis, but Francis prayed and moved toward the wolf, which obeyed Francis' commands, closing his mouth and lying at Francis' feet. Francis promised that the townspeople would feed the wolf regularly if it promised never to injure another person or animal. The wolf never harmed people or animals again.