St. Francis Caracciolo was born from a noble family on October 13, 1563 in Villa Santa Maria (Abruzzo Region). His parents, Ferrante Caracciolo and Isabella Baratucci baptized him as Ascanio.
He received an excellent human formation and Catholic education and these showed from his virtues since childhood.
When he was 22 years he was inflicted by a terrible disease which almost led him to death. In this trial he heart the Lord’s call and was ready to dedicate his life completely in the service of God and neighbor if he would recover.
After his miraculous cure, Ascanio, faithful to his promise, renounced all his properties and noble titles. He left his place and went to Naples to prepare himself to priesthood. He was ordained priest and joined the Confraternity of the White Servants of Justice (I Bianchi), a confraternity that looked after the spiritual welfare of prisoners and those condemned to death. It was located close to the Hospital of Incurables.
His real work was revealed to him, however, in 1587, when he mistakenly received a letter addressed to a relative of the same name, Father Fabrizio Caracciolo, the Abbot of St. Mary Major in Naples. He learned from it that the writer, Father Augustine Adorno of Genoa, was planning to found a religious Order of priests whose work would combine both active and contemplative life. The project appealed to Ascanio, and he soon joined forces with Augustine Adorno and Fabrizio Caracciolo.
It was the period after the Council of Trent and Ascanio felt strongly the ideals of the Catholic Reform and saw this opportunity as a providential sign from God and immediately made himself available to the initiatives of Augustine and Fabrizio.
The three fathers retreated to the Camaldolese hermitage in Naples to write the first Constitutions of the Order. In addition to the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, they contemplated a fourth vow: the renunciation of any ecclesiastical dignity. A particular dedication to the divine worship centered in the Eucharistic Devotions nourished by the Circular Prayer and an austere life expressed in the Circular Penitence were indicated as the main qualities of the spirituality of the new religious Order.
After their stay in the hermitage, Ascanio and Augustine went on foot to Rome to ask for the Papal approval. Sixtus V granted their petition and on July 1, 1588, the new Religious Order was approved under the name of Clerics Regular Minor.
Augustine Adorno and Ascanio Caracciolo made their Religious Profession in the chapel of the White Servants of Justice (I Bianchi) in Naples on April 9, 1589. Ascanio tool the name Francis in honor of his devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. They chose the motto: Ad Maiorem Resurgentis Gloriam (For the greater glory of the Risen Christ).
The first community of the Clerics Regular Minor lived and carried out their apostolate at the Church of Mercy in Naples.
A few days later, they went for a journey to Spain with the intent of establishing the Order there. They were unsuccessful in establishing the Institute, but they made contacts with other religious orders and leaders. They came back to Naples after a very tiring trip which caused Francis enormous suffering.
In 1591, while Francis took possession of the Church of St. Mary Major in Naples, Augustine Adorno went to Rome for the ratification of the approval of the Order by Pope Gregory XIV. The Pope graciously granted the new Order all the same privileges that other religious institutes have.
In Septamber of the same year, Augustine died prematurely at the age of 40. Most of the responsibilities and concerns of the new religious family fell upon Francis, who became the first Superior General during the First General Chapter in 1593. He accepted out of obedience the office for three years.
Francis was convinced of the necessity of expansion of the Order in Spain. He left for another time with Father Giuseppe Imparato and Brother Lorenzo D’ponte on April 10, 1594. He did his works of apostolate at the Hospital of the Italians in Madrid.
The hard work and faith which Francis dedicated to the mission bore its first fruits on July 25, 1595, when he obtained the permission to open a religious hose dedicated to St. Joseph in Madrid.
His success through his zealous priestly works provoked hostility of some people against the Order. Francis, solid in his faith, overcame all the difficult moments and left Spain for Italy in June 1596.
The first religious house in Rome was founded at the Church of St. Leonard. He sent the first group of clerics to reside in this house.
In November 1596, Francis returned to Naples, where, after lots of hesitation, accepted to share in charge as Superior General for another year. This was the 23rd of May 1597.
After he obtained for the Order the Church of St. Agnes in Piazza Navona and after his resignation as Superior General Francis left for his third journey to Spain (September 1598). During his stay, he opened the religious houses in Valladolid and Alcala de Hanares.
When returned to Rome, he was elected Vicar General for Italy and Superior of St. Mary Major in Naples.
In his humility, he asked the Pope Paul V to be spared from this position but in vain. The Order obtained from the same Pontiff the Roman Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina.
Francis’ health became weaker because of his austere life. Despite all limitations, he did not stop from doing his last journey with his brother Father Antonio of the Theatine Fathers, which led them to Loreto, Villa Santa Maria and Agnone (Molise Region) to accommodate the request of opening a new religious hose there.
Upon his arrival to Agnone, Francis was physically tired and fell ill. On June 4, 1608, he died uttering the words: “Let’s go, let’s go to heaven.”
His dead body was given enough preparation for a long journey to Naples. Truly, God has left His own sign on him. When the body was lanced, the blood spouted a red and scented fluid and his vital organs were uncorrupted. Around his heart were printed the words of the Psalm: “The zeal of your house consumes me” (Ps 69:10).
Francis Caracciolo was beatified in 1769 by Pope Clement XIV.
He was canonized on May 24, 1807 by Pope Pius VII.
He has been the Patron of Eucharistic Congress of Abruzzo since 1925.
He is the Patron Saint of Italian chefs since 1996.
His feast day is celebrated on June 4th.
Movie: Life of St. Francis Caracciolo
Language: Italian (Subtitle: English)