Friday, March 22, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi in History, Current Events, Literature, Writing, Art & Music

Dear friends,

You know by now how I love to integrate English with history!  The 5th-6th graders in our home school co-op are using the Mystery of History Volume 2 text (by Linda Hobar) on the time period of the early church up through the Middle Ages for their history class.  One of the lessons this past week was about St. Francis of Assisi.  I decided to shape my literature and writing assignments around that.

In class on Monday, I read the picture book Saint Francis of Assissi: A Life of Joy by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  There are many pictures books about St. Francis, but this is my favorite, and the author (son of Bobby Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy) has had a keen personal connection with his subject since childhood.  Charlotte Mason would say that's the best kind of author to read!

Our main literature resource this year is The Book of Virtues edited by Dr. William Bennett, so I assigned "The Sermon to the Birds."  Francis is well-known for his love for all animals, as well as the rest of nature. (I also assigned the poem “Kindness to Animals” in light of this.)  This is so evident, no only in the bird story, but also in his "Canticle of the Sun."  There are many translations of this, but my fav is the one from the back cover of Kennedy's book:

“Canticle of the Sun”
by St. Francis of Assisi

Most high, all-powerful, all-good LORD!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.

How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods, by which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious, and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you brighten up the night. 
How beautiful he is, how gay!  Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
Through those who grant pardon for love of you;
Through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace, by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin! 
Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

The other notable thing about St. Francis is his unwavering kindness to the poor.  Born into a wealthy family and serving briefly as a soldier, he left behind his riches so he could live sacrificially as an itinerant preacher, serving the Lord, seeking peace, leading a religious order (Fratres Minores, now known as the Franciscans) and giving to the needy.  You have probably read his inspiring prayer many times...

“The Prayer of St. Francis”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

I find it interesting to note that the new pope chose the name Francis I because a cardinal embraced him and reminded him not to forget the poor.  Francis I, who is from Argentina and is the first pope elected from the Americas, is known for being a humble and simple man who lived in a simple apartment, cooked his own meals, and rode the bus.  He has pledged to bring a new era of justice and mercy to the Catholic church, which has been wrought by corruption and scandal in recent years.  Though I am not Catholic and my students aren't either, this is really encouraging.  Be sure to watch this NBC news report: Pope Francis describes wish for 'poor church for the poor'

The writing assignment for the week was to write a factual narrative or a made up story about being kind to other people or to animals.  

This is what my daughter wrote:

The Homeless

I have had the opportunity to help the homeless twice, once about two months ago and another this week. The first time my sister Julia teamed up with another man to help the homeless. Julia got a lot of people to help out and  collected a bunch of jackets, sleeping bags, first aid supplies, snack bags, wash cloths, shoes, clothes and lots of food. I helped out with serving cake, muffins and cupcakes along with helping my mom with the snack bags.

The first aid bags had a sheet of paper in it that said where to go to get help. Our English class packed all of the supplies in the bags and put them in a box to bring to the homeless outreach.

The other time I helped the homeless was after school on Monday. All us kids asked my mom if we could go to Sam’s Club to get a soda. She agreed to go after we picked up my brother. So while we were on our way to pick up my brother I saw a homeless couple with two dogs near Sam’s. So after we picked up my brother, we stopped at our house so I could get some snacks and water for them. I packed four fruit roll ups, two bags of pretzels, a bag of graham crackers, and two bottles of water and put it in a plastic bag. Then we drove back to Sam’s Club and gave the bag to them. They were glad and said, “God bless you!” So that is how I was kind and helpful, to help feed the poor.  St. Francis was a great example to me for doing the right thing for the poor. Someday I hope to be as helpful to the poor as St. Francis.

Here is a quote that St. Francis wrote about giving:
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received--only what you have given.”

(You can see pictures here: 

Weekend Gratitude: Homeless Outreach in Downtown Orlando.  We're going again in April.  Wanna come?)

You can read more about St. Francis by doing a Google search on his name.  Here are two  articles: Who Was St. Francis? by Leonard Foley, O.F.M. and St. Francis of Assisi Took Amazing Twists, Turns (a recent article mentioning Pope Francis I).

I love to incorporate art and music, too.  You can do a Google Image search and come up with loads of beautiful paintings, drawings, and sculpture.  It's interesting to notice that most of the art features birds.  Ask your children if they know why he looks the way he does with the robe and the bald spot on his head.  The plain hooded robe with rope belt was the typical poor monk's clothing, and the bald spot is called a tonsure.  That's how monks wore their hair.  Invite your kids to draw their own picture of St. Francis.  Or, be like St. Francis and learn to appreciate the beauty of nature.  Draw pictures of flowers and animals.  Francis was also a lover of beautiful things that reflected the truths of God.  He created the first nativity scene, which is also called a creche.

You can add in a vocabulary lesson with words from his life and legacy, such as monk, monastery, chapel, priest, religious order, friar, tonsure, vow, poverty, chastity, pope, itinerant, patron saint, soldier, stigmata, sultan, creche, nativity, and Eucharist.

You can also watch musical videos of the "Prayer of St. Francis"

What can you and your children to do to follow the example of St. Francis in the 21st century?

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles


  1. What a great assignment! I love St Francis and was very excited when our new Pope (I am Catholic :-)) chose his name! He is very inspiring! I love the song The Prayer of St. Francis. It is often sung at Catholic weddings during the Sign of Peace. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing! Stopping in from Raising Homemakers. Have a blessed Easter!

  2. Thanks, Virginia, for sharing this wealth of information over at WholeHearted Home.


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