Why Pope Francis Chose the Name “Francis”

Shortly after the election of Pope Francis on March 13, 2017, Catholic News Service reported on why he had chosen the name “Francis.” When Cardinal Bergoglio exceeded the 77 votes to seal his election, his friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil hugged him, kissed him, and said, “Don’t forget the poor.” He then chose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation, with which we don’t have such a good relationship.” The new pope said, “How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor.”

In the New York Review of Books, Gary Wills speculates on other reasons why St. Francis of Assisi was an apt name for the pope. “Francis of Assisi was not a priest, and this pope is a searing critic of careerism among clerics.” Just let that sink in: we have a pope named after a saint who was not ordained a priest.

Wills notes that the first Franciscans were “trailblazers as preachers of the Gospel to lay persons,” and “after the success of the friars in this field, bishops sent their priests to learn from these non-priests how to speak to the people.” He also points out that Francis sought out dialogue with the Muslim sultan, and this at a time when the Fifth Crusade was on and others were using the sword to make converts.

Let us pray for Francis, the Pope. May the Lord preserve him, give him a long life, make him blessed upon the earth, and may the Lord not hand him over to the power of his enemies.

[An earlier version of the post incorrectly stated that St. Francis was never ordained. He was ordained a deacon, so the post has been corrected to state that he was not ordained a priest.]




  1. St Francis of Assisi was obliged to be ordained – as a deacon. He was a cleric. That’s how he secured the faculty to proclaim the Gospel and preach at Mass.

    I do recall on the day of Pope Francis’ election that some folks automatically assumed he took that name in honor of his fellow Jesuit, St Francis Xavier, patron of the global missions.

  2. 1) Wills is quoted as saying that Francis was not ordained a “priest”.
    2) There is always the possibility that Giotto took artistic license employing the dalmatic for his composition and that Gozzoli followed Giotto’s lead.

    1. I was responding to the posited idea that St Francis was not ordained period that followed the quote. He was ordained and therefore a cleric. That’s not a historically debated fact.

      1. Thank you, Karl Liam. I was simply mistaken. I have corrected the post, and added an acknowledgement at the bottom that the post has been revised.

      2. Fr Ruff

        Thanks. This fact can be overinterpreted or ignored, but I do think it’s fair to say that it may be considered one of the inflection points in the much longer gradual institutionalization of the Francis Movement, as it were. (He received tonsure years before he was finally ordained deacon. Brings to mind the equivocal ending of Zeffirelli’s cinematic portrayal of the saint and the churchmen who tangled with him. And the reality of how many saints had to struggle with – and sometimes suffer at the hands of – people acting on behalf of The Church. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all who so suffer are thereby saints, merely that being a saint hardly insulates one from the experience!)

  3. Hi, I enjoy reading your blog but don’t feel compelled to comment often. Is it also the case that St. Benedict was not ordained?

    1. Scholars think that St. Benedict was not ordained. He is highly suspicious of priests in the Rule and not too excited about the idea of having (too many of) them in the monastic community!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *