FRANCIS, SAINT, OF PAOLA: Founder of Order of Minims; b. at Paola (13 m. w.n.w. of Cosenza), Italy, 1416 (according to the Bollandists), 1438; d. at Plessis-les-Tours (1 m. s.w. of Tours), France, Apr. 2, 1507. His parents dedicated him at an early age to St. Francis of Assisi, to whose intercession they attributed his birth. At the age of twelve he entered the Franciscan monastery of San Marco in Calabria, and quickly surpassed the strictest monks in his rigid observance of the rule. After spending a year as novice, he accompanied his parents in a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome and other holy places and after his return to Paola lived for six years in a cave on the seashore, gradually gathering about him a band of disciples. After a few years the archbishop of Cosenza gave permission for the erection of a monastery and church, probably about 1454, although the date is usually given as 1435. This marks the establishment of his order, which assumed the title of "Eremites of St. Francis" and strove to surpass the Franciscans by a more rigid application of the vow of poverty and by extreme asceticism. The fame of the miracles of St. Francis soon attracted the attention of Paul II. who sent a chamberlain in 1469 to test them. The result was favorable, and the rule of the new order was confirmed by Sixtus IV. in a bull issued May 23, 1474, their founder himself being appointed corrector- general. The rule was slightly modified by Innocent VIII., Alexander VI., and Julius II., the second changing the name of the order to Minimi fratres ("Least of the Brethren"), probably in allusion to Matt. xxv. 40. Numerous miracles are recounted of St. Francis, many of them closely resembling those of Christ. As a consequence, Louis XI. of France, when near death, summoned him to his court, but was obeyed only at the command of the pope, St. Francis declining to attempt to prolong the dying monarch's life by his prayers. The new king, Charles VIII., induced him to remain in France, consulted him both in spiritual and secular matters, and built for him two monasteries in France, one at Plessis-les-Tours and the other at Amboise, as well as a third at Rome, to be occupied solely by French monks. Francis was canonized by Leo X. in 1519.
The Minims are bound, in addition to the three monastic vows, by a fourth which devotes them to a vita quadrigesimalis, or Perpetual fast, enjoining abstinence from all meat and lacticinia, and permitting only bread and water, oil, vegetables, and fruit to be used for food. The appointed fasts of the Church are intensified by the Minims, who are also bound by strict rules of silence. The rule of the Minimite nuns, whose first convent was established at Andujar in Spain in 1495, closely resembles that for the monks, but the Tertiaries of both sexes are subject to far less rigid restrictions, especially with regard to diet. During its period of greatest prosperity, from the death of its founder to the end of the sixteenth century, the order had 450 houses, and extended its missionary activity as far as India. It now has only nineteen cloisters, the mother house at Paola, Sant'Andrea della Fratte in Rome, fourteen in Sicily, and one each in Naples, Marseilles, and Cracow.