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The Franciscan Saints: Agnes of Bohemia

Princess and Abbess
(ca. 1203–1280)

Agnes was born in Prague, where her father was the king of Bohemia. Despite the privileges of her station, she enjoyed no freedom to decide her own destiny. She was simply a commodity to be invested wherever she might bring the highest return for her family and its dynastic interests. Starting at the age of three, she was shipped to various kingdoms and betrothed to strangers she had never met. Through chance or providence, all these engagements came to naught.

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The Franciscan Saints: Maximilian Kolbe

Franciscan Martyr

On July 30, 1941, a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi camp in Poland. In retaliation, the commandant lined up inmates of cell block fourteen and ordered that ten of them be selected for death. When one of the ten cried out that he would never see his family again, another prisoner stepped forward and volunteered to take his place.

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The Legacy of the Franciscans

There have been several Franciscan popes in history, most recently Pope Clement XIV (1769–1774). He is remembered, among other things, for having suppressed the Society of Jesus. Ironically, the first Jesuit elected pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, became the first to assume the name of Francis. Some initial speculation focused on whether he had meant to invoke the great Jesuit missionary Saint Francis Xavier, or perhaps Saint Francis de Sales. But no, as the new pope soon made clear—his inspiration was none other than Saint Francis of Assisi.

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Meet the Famous Franciscan Saints

Each of the Franciscan Saints is a living Gospel. They have all, in some partial way, embodied—literally incarnated—the challenge of faith in their time and place, and so opened a path that others might follow. Here we’ll look at some of their lives. But among them all, undoubtedly, St. Francis of Assisi offers a special case, one that we’ll look at in some detail before speaking of his followers.

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Bernard of Quintavalle, First Companion of Saint Francis

Bernard, one of the wealthiest young men of Assisi, became intrigued by reports about one of his peers—Francesco di Bernardone, previously known as something of a dandy and carouser—who had recently aroused wonder, as well as ridicule, by his ostentatious embrace of poverty. His curiosity piqued, Bernard invited Francis to dine with him and spend the night in his home.

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First Encounter with Saint Francis

Saint Francis exuded a spirit of freedom and joy. People wanted to be near him, to discover for themselves the secret of his joy. As Thomas of Celano, his first biographer, described him, “O how beautiful, how splendid, how glorious did he appear in the innocence of his life, in the simplicity of his words, in the purity of his heart, his love for God, in his fraternal charity, in his ardent obedience, in his peaceful submission, in his angelic countenance!”

Here was a man who had evidently discovered the way to heaven. Others were eager to follow. 

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