Francesco Martolilla was born on 22 March 1416 in Paola and died 2 April 1507 in Plessis, France. Saint Francis was born to parents known for their holiness. They remained childless for a number of years and prayed for the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi for children. Their prayers were answered and their first-born child, a son, was named Francesco (Francis) in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Two more children followed.
As a child he suffered an ailment in his eye which threatened his sight. His parents again, prayed for the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi and vowed that he would wear the robes of Saint Francis' order. He was instantly cured. Thus began the life of a man known for his humility, sanctity and holiness.
At the age of 13 he entered a Franciscan convent and began his life as a Franciscan monk. For 6 years he lived alone in a cave in Paola. After performing a miracle of walking on water when a boatman refused him passage, he garnered a following of monks. Eventually he founded a new order of Franciscan monks.
About 1454 the Archbishop of Cosenza granted Saint Francis permission to build a large monastery and church. In 1492 he changed the name of his order to the "Minims" because he wanted to be known as the least in God's household. He wanted to be a contemplative hermit monk. However, God had other plans for him and gave him the gift of miracles and prophecy.
He was persecuted by King Ferdinand of Naples for his criticism of the King's ill-doings. At the request of Pope Sixtus IV, he traveled to France to assist King Louis XI prepare for death. During his service to the King he counseled him to restore peace between France and Britain and became his respected adviser. The King's successors kept him in service to France. With Saint Francis' death imminent, be begged the King to let him return home to Italy, but was refused. He died in France on April 2, 1507 while the Passion according to Saint John was being read to him. Pope Leo X canonized him in 1519. In 1963 Pope John XXIII designated him the patron saint of Calabria.
My Grandfather and San Francesco
A story has been passed down to me about my grandfather and San Francesco of Paola. My grandfather was crossing the mountains from Montalto Uffugo into Paola with the family donkey carrying barrels of wine. My grandfather was given the task to go to the neighboring town to sell the wine and return home.
While crossing the mountain the hoof of the donkey got caught in a crevice in the mountain. My grandfather tried and tried but he could not free the hoof of the donkey.
My grandfather, who was cold and tired, prayed to Saint Francis to have pity on his poor donkey and allow the donkey to be freed. At the moment the donkey was freed, a flash of lightening appeared. My grandfather never forgot that moment and from that day he was devoted to this local saint.
San Francesco was a lover of animals and their causes. He refused to eat meat or animal products. When he founded his order, he included in the vows abstinence from meat, fish, eggs, milk, butter and cheese.
San Francesco and the Sea
San Francesco is the patron of fishermen and sailors because of a story of a miracle on the ocean. In 1464 Francis wanted to cross the Strait of Messina en route to Sicily. He asked a boatman to take him and his companions but was refused. Francis laid his cloak on the water, tied one end to his staff to make a sail, and sailed across the straight.