Born in Villa Santa Maria, Italy on 13 October 1563, Francis Caracciolo was given the name Ascanio at his baptism. His mother was a relative of St Thomas Aquinas. He lived a virtuous life as a youth and seemed inclined towards a religious vocation. When he was 22 he contracted a form of leprosy which he begged God to cure him of. He promised to follow what seemed clear to him as his calling to the priesthood immediately upon being cured.
He was cured instantly upon making the promise, and left immediately for Naples to study for the priesthood. On his ordination he joined the confraternity of The White Robes of Justice, who were devoted to helping condemned criminals to die a holy death, reconciled with God.
Five years after he went to Naples, a letter was delivered to him which was in fact addressed to another Ascanio Caracciolo, a distant relative. The letter was an appeal from Father Giovanni Agostino Adorno, of Genoa, to this other Ascanio to join him in founding a religious order. Reading the letter he realised that the vision of Fr Adorno was in total compliance with his own ideas for a religious institute and he interpreted this as a sign of God’s plan.
He responded to the letter and the two men spent a few weeks together in retreat to draw up the institutions and rule. The congregation was approved by Pope Sixtus V on 1 July 1588.
The congregation lives both an active and contemplative life, perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament being one of the pillars of their life. They work with the sick, poor, prisoners and as missionaries. In addition to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, they have a fourth which forbids them to seek or accept ecclesiastical honors.
Upon making his profession, Caracciolo took the name Francis in honor of the saint of Assisi. He was noted for his ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, often being found in ecstasy, and frequently repeating the words of the Psalm, “Zeal for Thy house has consumed me.” He died of a severe fever on the eve of Corpus Christi in Agnone, on 4 June 1608, with his oft-repeated words on his lips. Those same words were found burned into the flesh of his heart when his body was opened after his death.
He was canonised by Pope Pius VII on 24 May 1807. – CNA