St. Francis of Assisi is one of those legendary characters whose life story is difficult to pin down and present to modern readers. Author Omer Englebert has mastered that task in this splendid biography.
Beginning with a background on Francis' world, Englebert tells the story of his conversion, not from one religion to another but from a life of pleasure to one of spirituality, mysticism, and self-sacrifice. On the pages of this book we read of Francis' families, first biological and later religious, and his devotions to the Holy Eucharist, his Savior and the Church. The miracles, the legends and documentable facts are all presented for what they are. The reader comes to appreciate Francis' compelling sanctity, his simplicity and his love for all creatures. His patronage of environmentalists is derived from his sermon to the birds, his conversion of the Wolf of Gubbio and the recognition that all share a brotherhood derived from our status as creatures of God. The clash between Francis' humility and the desires of his followers to study and learn that they might better serve is skillfully related in the later chapters of this book.
Some other biographies of St. Francis are almost fairy tales in their telling. Engelbert has done an excellent job of weaving the diverse sources of information into a work both biographical and inspirational. Of all my reading about St. Francis, this was the most interesting and informative. Among writings about saints in general, it ranks in the first tier.