Francis was born near Taranto, Italy, in 1642, the oldest of 11 children. At the age of 12, he was accepted for education by a group of secular priests living in community. Recognizing his intelligence, the fathers promoted him to teaching catechism, and he received the tonsure at 16. He later went to Naples in order to learn canon and civil law and was ordained a priest in 1666, receiving a special dispensation because he was under 24 years old.
For four years, Francis taught in the Jesuit Collegio dei Nobili; at the age of 28, he joined the Society of Jesus. After successfully completing a difficult year in the novitiate, his superiors sent him to help the preacher Father Agnello Bruno in his mission work among the peasants of Otranto. After three years of diligent work, Francis was recalled to Naples to finish his theological studies and complete his profession as a Jesuit.
From the moment Francis was appointed preacher at the church known as the Gesu Nuovo in Naples, he attracted huge crowds. His preaching was powerful and spell-binding, and he was described as “a lamb when he talks and a lion when he preaches.” He conducted at least 100 missions in the provinces and was commissioned to train other missionaries. He was also much sought after as a confessor.
But Francis didn’t wait for sinners to come to him, he often went in search of them himself, visiting hospitals, prisons, brothels, and even galleys of ships — on one Spanish ship, he is said to have converted 20 Turkish prisoners. One of his most notable penitents was a Frenchwoman, Mary Alvira Cassier, who had murdered her father and fled to the Spanish army, impersonating a man. Under Francis, she repented and became very devout.
In addition to his mission work, Francis also rescued many children from dangerous surroundings, opened a charitable pawnshop, and organized an association of working men to help the Jesuit fathers in their work.
Francis was credited with many miracles in his lifetime, but he humbly attributed numerous cures to the intercession of Saint Cyrus, to whom he had a special devotion. After a painful illness, he died in 1716 at the age of 74. He was canonized in 1839.
1. Jesus told the Twelve to “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” As Pope John Paul II called us to the “New Evangelization,” let us model ourselves after Francis di Girolamo, who wasn’t afraid to go wherever necessary to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ.
2. We may not be gifted speakers as Francis was, but let us pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance to use our gifts as effectively as we can for the Kingdom. Whatever we do in our lives, no matter how humble or exalted our circumstances, we can be lights to those around us.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Francis di Girolamo (1716), Priest, Apostle of Naples
Blessed Ladislaus of Gielniow (1505), Franciscan