St. Francis, protector of the poor and all of God's creatures didn't come from the background you might expect. He was from a well to do merchant family.
In his early life, he lived the high life associated with his affluent status and was a bit of party animal if the truth be known. So one might ask how a person can change so drastically and want to live like the poorest of the poor?
After fighting in the war, as part of the cavalry, between Assisi and Perugia, the inexperienced young soldier was captured and put in prison. Most soldiers were killed and not held as captives, it was only his fancy clothes and his expensive armor which kept him alive.
It was decided he would be held for ransom and he remained in prison for a year until an acceptable deal was presented.
It was during this time that his life changed drastically. In the dark and dank walls of his prison cell, he saw visions of God. Many people felt the visions he saw were brought on by malnutrition, sickness, and the horrible conditions which he encountered in prison. They thought these were merely hallucinations not signs from the heavens.
After his release, legend says that Jesus spoke to him and told him he should rebuild the church and live a life of poverty, which he decided to do, much to the chagrin of his wealthy father.
He founded the Franciscan order after seeing the disgraceful way the church was living decadently while many of the people they served were living their lives in poverty. He felt that to be a true believer one must go back to the grassroots of the religion and live as simply as possible. He broke away to live as Christ had live, spreading the gospel and helping those who needed the spiritual guidance.
Many others joined him to help him spread the gospel. People came from far and wide to hear him speak about the word of God.
He lived a modest but happy existence and in 1224 after having another vision, marks appeared on his hands and sides. The stigmata of Christ, or symbols which were similar to those marks left on the body of Christ from the crucifixion.
This was the first time (although not the last) this had occurred. Some non-believers attribute these disfiguring marks to early signs of leprosy as he spread the gospel and word of God in leper colonies as well.
He believed that all of God's creatures deserved to be revered. Man has no more a right to life than an ant which crawls across the ground or the bird which flies in the sky.
He wrote about this in the Canticle of the Creatures shortly before his death. His passion for the holiness of everything on Earth has made him the patron saint of animals and ecology. He preached the gospel to birds and animals and had a charisma which captured the heart of all who heard him speak, including the animals. They seemed to calm and be soothed by him.
Francis of Assisi was canonized just two years after his death by Pope Gregory IX.
You may think that this is past history and that his stories aren't relevant any longer. The history and stories are as relevant today as they have been for nearly 1000 years. When the current Pope had to choose a name, he decided to take the name Francis as a tribute to the Franciscan friar.
Their passion to help the poor has linked the two of them and it was considered the perfect choice of a name.