To look at the origins of the Franciscan Order one must begin by recounting the story of St. Francis of Assisi’s conversion. It began during his time in prison after a failed effort to become a knight while fighting in a war with the town of Perugia. Francis (1182-1226) started to understand at this time that God wanted him to live a life of humility and service.
One day while he was praying at the Church of San Damiano, a short walk away from the gates of Assisi, Jesus on His Cross said, “Francis, go and repair my house, for as you can see, it is falling into ruin.” At first Francis took this literally and with his own hands began to rebuild the church, which pilgrims to Assisi can visit today for some quiet time and prayer. He had no intention it should be noted to found a religious community like the Franciscan Order.
Soon however Francis knew that God wanted him to live the Gospel life. Dressed simply and without anything of his own Francis started to wander and serve people as best he could while also telling them that God loved them very much. Before long, he had a group of companions who formed the foundations of what became the Franciscan Order.
In 1209, with more men joining Francis and his companions in their life of service, the little man from Assisi visited Pope Innocent III to ask the Holy Father for permission for his community to live as the friars minor. The pope orally approved the Franciscan Order. Very quickly it soon spread beyond Italy.