By David Austin, Principal of St Francis of Assisi Primary School, Calwell

Pope Francis seems like a breath of fresh air. He gives the impression by his words and actions that he is genuinely concerned for the poor and marginalised in our society and challenges all of us to follow in his footsteps.

Pope Francis has certainly been a Pope who has raised some eyebrows! He is an Argentinian Jesuit who has chosen to have a common touch with his followers and to be accessible to many. He is not into wearing the fancy clothes. He resides in the Vatican guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors. He drives around town in a Ford Focus rather than a chauffeured Mercedes. He famously washed and kissed the feet of prisoners at his first Holy Thursday Mass as Pope. These actions – leading by example – are challenging many, including my staff, my community and myself.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose St Francis of Assisi as his papal name in honour of St Francis: the patron saint of the school I am the Principal of in our Archdiocese. Pope Francis told thousands of journalists on his appointment that he chose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” He has a vision for the Church to be one “that is poor and that is for the poor.

St Francis of Assisi was born at Assisi in Umbria, Italy in 1181. His father was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to follow him in his trade. In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and remained captive there for a year. As a result of his captivity and a severe illness his mind began to turn to religion. He had a dream in which God called him to service. He returned to Assisi and began to care for the sick.

In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair His Church. Francis interpreted this as a command to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi. He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the church. He soon realised that it wasn’t the physical Church that needed repairing but the wider Church. Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes and felt himself called to preach. He was joined by many companions.

The Friars preached throughout central Italy and beyond, emphasising simplicity and poverty: relying on God’s providence rather than worldly goods. They worked or begged for what they needed to live, with any surplus given to the poor.

After many years he gave up leadership of the Order and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer. He died in Assisi on 3 October, 1226.

Our school is one of many Franciscan Schools within our Archdiocese and proudly belongs to the ‘Franciscan Schools Australia’ network. Our mission at our school is to ensure we have a distinct Franciscan flavour: to care for the environment, to be ‘peacemakers’ and to demonstrate concern for the marginalised. Some examples in our school include a strong ‘Mini-Vinnies’ movement, staff and parents rostered on to assist with the St Vincent de Paul Night Patrol and an emphasis on caring for the environment through our Environment Club. It is a real challenge for us all to ensure the Franciscan spirituality is enriched and alive within our school, following the footsteps of St Francis and being inspired by our current Pontiff.

St Francis and our current Pope call for simplicity of life, poverty and humility before God. They both emphasise care for the poor. Thousands were drawn to St Francis’ sincerity, piety and joy and many others are drawn to the same leadership from Pope Francis. In all their actions, these inspiring men have sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels for us today.