The Stories of Franciscan Saints & Martyrs

St. Francis’ simplicity, love for the Eu­charist, and devotion to the Virgin Mary remain at the heart of our Province.

This solid Catholic foundation unifies the fri­ars as they live their 800-year tradition of Gospel fraternity and deep love for the Church.

The Life of St. Francis

Our Seraphic Father and Founder

St. Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, around the year 1182, the son of Pietro Bernardone and Madonna Pica. He acquired the nickname “Francis” at an early age because of his father’s business dealings in France.

Pietro Bernardone was a successful cloth merchant, and a member of the rising business class in medieval Italy, providing his family a quite comfortable life.

He had dreams of Francis continuing the family business and rising to prominence in the town. As such, he was only too happy to outfit Francis with the equipment needed to serve in the army and go off to war.
Francis’ military experience was short-lived as he was soon captured, spending almost a year as a prisoner of war. 

He returned to Assisi, a weak but changed man. His forced solitude led him to ask questions about his future, and he continued to ponder these questions as he recuperated at home.

The beginnings

Repairing the chapel of st. damian

One day in 1205, he stopped to reflect and pray in the crumbling chapel of St. Damian, down the hill from Assisi. There, in a mystical experience, he heard Christ speak from the cross and give the direction, “Francis, repair my church, which as you see is falling into ruins.” He took this charge literally and began to rebuild the very structure in which he had prayed. 

Such behavior brought his father’s disapproval and then anger when Francis sold his father’s cloth to raise funds for the needed repairs. Dragged before the bishop by his father, Francis declared that God alone was his father, and he entrusted himself to the bishop.

The Chapel of St. Damian today

Francis' Missonary efforts

Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ

The strange behavior of this favored son of Assisi brought more than a few laughs and much ridicule. But it also attracted others from the town and the surrounding area who appreciated what this gallant young man was trying to accomplish. 

They joined him in repairing churches and slowly realized that their service should extend to others who had special needs, like the lepers who were abandoned to fend for themselves.

Francis and his brothers would go out in small groups preaching penance, wishing those they met, “Peace and all good,” while proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. After some time, they would return together at a designated spot to pray, share their experiences, and renew themselves in their way of life. 

A missionary effort was a new thrust, and Francis himself was able to preach before a Sultan of the East. This period also brought the first martyrs to the Order, as St. Berard and his companions died in Morocco, the inspiration that led Anthony of Padua to the Friars.

Receiving the Stigmata

the miracle and death of St Francis

Many aspects of Francis’ life are well known. Francis wanted everyone to experience God’s love in sending His Son into the world, so in the town of Greccio in 1223, he created what is said to be the first Christmas crib, allowing that community to picture the miracle of Bethlehem better. 

In 1224, while praying on Mount La Verna, Francis received the marks of our Lord’s Passion in his hands, feet, and side, a miracle known as the Stigmata.

Francis’ earthly life came to an end on the evening of October 3, 1226. After much suffering, he asked to be laid on bare earth outside the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, below the hill of Assisi. There he would commend his soul to his Heavenly Father.

Becoming a Saint

saint francis’ last resting place

Francis was declared a saint only two years later in 1228, and in that same year, work began on his permanent burial place in Assisi. In 1230, St. Francis’ mortal remains were moved to the Church that the world knows today as the Basilica of St. Francis. It remains one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in the world, visited by many popes, including Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

St. Bonaventure

life entwined with st francis

Born in the Italian town of Bagnoregio in 1217, Bonaventure’s life became entwined with St. Francis of Assisi when he was gravely ill as a small child. Bonaventure’s mother pleaded insistently for St. Francis’ intercession to save her son. Years after his miraculous recovery, Bonaventure joined the followers of Francis and became a Friar Minor.

Becoming a Minister General


Even before he entered the Order, Bonaventure was noted for his extraordinary intelligence, as he was an eager student of the brilliant Franciscan theologian Alexander of Hales.

As a student and then as a professor, Bonaventure made a lasting contribution to the academic excellence of the University of Paris. As a spiritual master, he taught a method of contemplation that united the believer to God through the progressive stages of purgation, illumination, and union.

At the age of 36, Bonaventure was elected the Minister General of the Franciscan Order.

Stabilizing the Brotherhood


He was challenged with the task of reorganizing a community that had grown tremendously, and whose mission was lacking a clear focus. Over a period of seventeen years, Bonaventure instituted necessary structures and disciplines that indeed stabilized the brotherhood. At the same time, he authored several mystical treatises and Franciscan source documents that are foundational for both Franciscan spirituality and medieval theological development.

Death and Canonization

the declaring of doctor of the church

Saint Bonaventure died as a cardinal in 1274. He was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1482, the 300th anniversary of Saint Francis’ birth.

St. Maximilian

the knight of the immaculata

Known throughout his life as the “Knight of the Immaculata,” St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, OFM Conv., was born in Poland in 1894. When he was about ten years old, the Immaculate Virgin appeared to him and offered him two symbolic crowns: the white crown of chastity and the red crown of martyrdom. He chose them both. 

Maximilian entered the Franciscan Order at the age of sixteen. So intent were he and his brother, Francis, on becoming religious, that they crossed secretly in a haycart from the Russian to the Austrian partition of Poland to enter the seminary. Max was sent to the Order’s International Seraphic College in Rome for his philosophical and theological studies.

Founding the Militia Immaculatae


On October 16, 1917, while still a student-friar in Rome, Maximilian founded the Militia Immaculatae (MI) Catholic evangelization movement. Its purpose was to bring about the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by encouraging each and every soul to make a total consecration of themselves to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. “Through the Immaculata to Jesus” was a lifelong motto. 

The immediate stimulus for this movement was Maximilian’s desire to counteract the militant naturalism of International Freemasonry that year. He had personally witnessed Masonic activists blaspheming under the windows of the Vatican. He was ordained a priest in 1918 and returned to Poland in 1919, with doctorates in philosophy and theology, and he had contracted tuberculosis. Nevertheless, he immediately began spreading the MI Catholic Evangelization and in January of 1922, began publishing the monthly magazine, Knight of the Immaculata.

Founding the City of Mary (Immaculata)


So significant and rapid was the magazine Knight’s growth, today known as Immaculata, and the community of Conventual Franciscans that formed around Kolbe, that in 1927 he founded a sizeable apostolic center near Warsaw call Niepokalanow, the “City of the Immaculata.” Kolbe’s method of evangelization through the sponsorship of Mary was a major development of the Franciscan charism, stimulating considerable growth in the Franciscan Order itself. For instance, the City saw its original staff of eighteen friars grow to over 650 members in just twelve years.  


Apostle of the Mass Media


While living in strictest religious poverty, the friars utilized the most modern printing equipment and administrative techniques available, enabling the Knight magazine to reach an incredible monthly circulation of one million and a daily newspaper to reach 230,000. In 1930, Father Maximilian took four brothers to Japan and founded another City there. 

Plans called for a City in every nation with the Knight magazine published in every language. All forms of communication media, including radio, movies, and even television, were to be used without limit for the work of evangelization under Mary’s mantle. 


Martyr of Charity

ST MAXIMILIAN’S DEATH and canonization

Kolbe went back to Poland in 1936, for treatment of advanced tuberculosis, and reassumed the direction of Niepokalanow – by then the largest Catholic publishing center in Poland, possibly in the world. 

When the Nazis overran the country in 1939, they eventually imprisoned Kolbe in the Auschwitz death camp, where in 1941 he offered to take the place of a man condemned to die in reprisal for an escaped prisoner. His offer accepted, he died two weeks later on August 14, the vigil of Mary’s Assumption. In the process, he ministered to nine others dying with him from starvation. Pope Paul VI beatified Maximilian in 1971. In 1982, St. Pope John Paul II canonized him as a “martyr of charity,” calling him “patron of our difficult century.” He is the patron saint of journalists, media communications, the family, and the chemically addicted.


Groundbreaking Theologian

st maximilian’s legacy

Fr. Maximilian was a profound theologian, as well as a heroic martyr. While the Gestapo thundered toward Niepokalanow to whisk him away to the death camp, Kolbe hurried to finish his book outline on Mary’s self-title at Lourdes, France: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” For Kolbe, Mary, “full of grace,” is so united with the Holy Spirit that, in a sense, she is the incarnation of the Spirit. 

This and other insights have helped develop the understanding of Mary as Mediatrix, or “gateway” of the graces of Jesus’ redemption, and Advocate for the people of God.  

Fr. Casimir Cypher

Becoming a Missionary

Michael Cypher (he would later be given the name “Casimir” as his religious name in the Franciscan Order) was born in Medford, WI, in 1941. He entered the Conventual Franciscan Friars’ Minor Seminary in Crystal Lake, IL as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1968. 

After serving as a parish priest in Rockford, IL, and Hermosa Beach, CA, he received permission to fulfill his long-time dream: serving as a missionary.

Ministering in Honduras

start of the unrest

Arriving in Honduras in 1973, Friar Casimir lived and ministered in the remote, rugged state of Olancho—the “Wild West” of Honduras. A little more than a year later, he was caught up in violent unrest. Oppressed peasant farmers (or “Campesinos”) had been organizing land reform, angering the ruling military dictatorship and its wealthy, land-owning supporters. 

The Catholic Church supported this struggle for justice, leading to nation-wide persecution. The military searched retreat and catechetical centers throughout the country, seized radios, and arrested priests, religious, and laypeople working with the Church.

The Massacre

The execution OF FR. CASIMIR

On June 25, 1975, Fr. Casimir drove his pickup truck into the City of Juticalpa for repairs, unaware that the National Union of Campesinos had organized a demonstration that day for better implementation of land reform legislation. 

Hearing gunshots, Fr. Casimir ran toward the commotion. Knowing that he was a priest, soldiers arrested him. He was stripped in the town square, ridiculed, and beaten. Along with another priest, Fr. Ivan Betancort, two of Fr. Ivan’s companions, and ten Campesino leaders, Fr. Casimir was brutally tortured and executed. His body and those of the others killed with him were thrown into a deep well and dynamited in an attempt to cover up the massacre. He was only 34 years old.

The true son of St. Francis

Inspiring us to love and serve

This night of diabolical violence is known in Honduras as the “Los Horcones” (or “Pitchforks,” after the name of the ranch on which the killings took place) massacre.

A true son of St. Francis, his life was characterized by simplicity, personal poverty, and a good sense of humor. He painted, wrote poetry, and loved serving the poor and disadvantaged. May his example inspire us to love and serve Christ in the poor and marginalized!

Safeguarding Statement

The Franciscan Friars Conventual of St. Bonaventure Province are committed to creating safe environments for children and vulnerable adults.

Every friar in active ministry must complete training in Virtus (the National Catholic Risk Retention Group) and any other safe environment compliances required by the dioceses in which they serve.

In addition, St. Bonaventure Province has its own Safe Environment Commission that oversees the implementation and monitoring of the Province’s Policies, Procedures, and Protocols for Ethical Ministry with Minors and Vulnerable Adults. 

Any allegation regarding the Franciscan Friars Conventual of this Province receives an immediate response. This includes the Province’s full cooperation with local law enforcement authorities and Ordinaries who have ecclesial jurisdiction over these matters, as well as a duly diligent investigation by a qualified third party in order to substantiate credibility.