1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Francis of Paola, St
FRANCIS OF PAOLA (or Paula), ST, founder of the Minims, a religious order in the Catholic Church, was born of humble parentage at Paola in Calabria in 1416, or according to the Bollandists 1438. As a boy he entered a Franciscan friary, but left it and went to live as a hermit in a cave on the seashore near Paola. Soon disciples joined him, and with the bishop’s approval he built a church and monastery. At first they called themselves “Hermits of St Francis”; but the object they proposed to themselves was to go beyond even the strict Franciscans in fasts and bodily austerities of all kinds, in poverty and in humility; and therefore, as the Franciscans were the Minors (minores, less), the new order took the name of Minims (minimi, least). By 1474 a number of houses had been established in southern Italy and Sicily, and the order was recognized and approved by the pope. In 1482 Louis XI. of France, being on his deathbed and hearing the reports of the holiness of Francis, sent to ask him to come and attend him, and at the pope’s command he travelled to Paris. On this occasion Philip de Comines in his Memoirs says: “I never saw any man living so holily, nor out of whose mouth the Holy Ghost did more manifestly speak.” He remained with Louis till his death, and Louis’ successor, Charles VIII., held him in such high esteem that he kept him in Paris, and enabled him to found various houses of his order in France; in Spain and Germany, too, houses were founded during Francis’s lifetime. He never left France, and died in 1507 in the monastery of his order at Plessis-les-Tours.
The Rule was so strict that the popes long hesitated to confirm it in its entirety; not until 1506 was it finally sanctioned. The most special feature is an additional vow to keep a perpetual Lent of the strictest kind, not only flesh meat but fish and all animal products—eggs, milk, butter, cheese, dripping—being forbidden, so that the diet was confined to bread, vegetables, fruit and oil, and water was the only drink. Thus in matter of diet the Minims surpassed in austerity all orders in the West, and probably all permanently organized orders in the East. The strongly ascetical spirit of the Minims manifested itself in the title borne by the superiors of the houses—not abbot (father), or prior, or guardian, or minister, or rector, but corrector; and the general superior is the corrector general. Notwithstanding its extreme severity the order prospered. At the death of the founder it had five provinces—Italy, France, Tours, Germany, Spain. Later there were as many as 450 monasteries, and some missions in India. There never was a Minim house in England or Ireland. It ranks as one of the Mendicant orders. In 1909 there were some twenty monasteries, mostly in Sicily, but one in Rome (S. Andrea delle Fratte), and one in Naples, in Marseilles and in Cracow. There have been Minim nuns (only one convent has survived, till recently at Marseilles) and Minim Tertiaries, in imitation of the Franciscan Tertiaries. The habit of the Minims is black.
See Helyot, Hist. des ordres religieux (1714), vii. c. 56; Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (1896), i. § 52; the article “Franz von Paula” in Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexicon (ed. 2), and in Herzog, Realencyklopädie (ed. 3); Catholic Dictionary, art. “Minims.” (E. C. B.)