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Recommended Reads – Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi


For today’s book review, Domestic Volunteer Anna Robinson shares a title that inspired the first steps of her Franciscan journey.

Cover art of Spoto’s Book

In 2010 I was selected to go with a group of students from my university to Italy on a Franciscan Pilgrimage. At the time I knew little about Italy and even less about St. Francis. They were prepared for students like myself and we each received a book list naming a number of titles to educate us on the life of St. Francis and the history of the Franciscan order.

My Campus Minister was the one who suggested reading “The Reluctant Saint” by Donald Spoto, listed among the titles. He said that it was a well told story and enlightening on the real humanity of the beloved man. At his suggestion I read and enjoyed the book immensely.

The book description reads:

“Acclaimed biographer Donald Spoto strips away the legends from the life of Francis of Assisi to reveal the true story of a man who has too often been obscured by pious iconography. Drawing on unprecedented access to unexplored archives, plus Francis’s own letters, Spoto places Francis within the context of the multifaceted ecclesiastical, political, and social forces of medieval Italy, casting new light on Francis and showing how his emphasis on charity as the heart of the Gospel’s message helped him pioneer a new social movement. This nuanced portrait reveals the multifaceted character of a man who can genuinely be said to have changed the course of history.”

After I read this book I didn’t feel like I had read about a saint. Through the writing I had gotten to know a man who was funny, lost, compassionate, self-loathing, and above all a student going through the lessons and tests of a divine teacher. Only once I had gotten to Assisi did I see the saint they spoke of in a hue of gold and stone. Before that he was just a man, and yet still inspiring.

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