Saint Francis of Assisi is generally recognized as the patron saint of animals and the environment. One of seven children born to a wealthy merchant in Assisi, Italy his boyhood and early manhood were marked by rebellion against his fathers business and pursuit of wealth and a carefree life of drinking and sport with his noble friends.
Nevertheless, Saint Francis also displayed early signs of disillusionment with his world and its trappings. A failed military venture, resulting a years imprisonment and a serious illness started a spiritual crisis which started him on his quest for enlightenment. Saint Francis's solution was a vow of poverty, ministering to lepers and diseased outcasts and the restoration of abandoned and ruined churches.
A life changing sermon from Matthew inspired Saint Francis to preach repentance and attracted enough followers that Pope Innocent III reluctantly permitted Saint Francis to found a new religious order, now known as the Franciscans, despite the fact that Saint Francis was never ordained as a priest.
Saint Francis's new order grew so rapidly that his congregation of friars (as they are known) had to be divided into provinces in many countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Saint Francis died on October 3, 1226 and was declared a Saint by Pope Gregory IX in 1228. His feast day is October 4. Many of the stories that surround the life of St Francis deal with his love of animals. There are legends of him preaching to my sisters the birds and his intercession and dialogue with a savage wolf which created peace between the wolf and the townspeople on whom he had been preying.
These legends exemplify the Franciscan mode of charity and poverty as well as the saints love of the natural world. Part of his appreciation of the environment (as we now call it) is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, a poem written in 1224 in which he expresses his love and appreciation of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, etc. and all of Gods creatures personified in their fundamental forms.
Even more remarkable is Saint Francis's belief in the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God.