Today Franciscans keep a Feast in honor of St. Louis IX, king of France, the only French king to be recognized by the Church as a canonized saint. He is one of the patrons of the Third Order of St. Francis along with St. Elizabeth of Hungary, daughter of King Andrew II. These two members of European royalty were chosen as patron and patroness of the Third Order because they exemplified the Franciscan charism in their secular lives.
St. Louis IX is remembered as a reformer. Some of his accomplishments include developing French royal justice, in which the king is the supreme judge to whom anyone is able to appeal to seek the amendment of a judgment. He banned trials by ordeal, tried to prevent the private wars that were plaguing the country and introduced the presumption of innocence in criminal procedure. To enforce the correct application of this new legal system, Louis IX created provosts and bailiffs.
On 27 May 1234, Louis married Margaret of Provence whose sister Eleanor later became the wife of Henry III of England. The new queen's religious devotion made her a well suited partner for the king. He enjoyed her company, and was pleased to show her the many public works he was making in Paris, both for its defense and for its health. They enjoyed riding together, reading, and listening to music. Together they had eleven children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. St. Louis died of dysentery during one of the Crusades.
Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the canonization of Louis in 1297; he is the only French monarch to be declared a saint. Louis IX is often considered the model of the ideal Christian monarch. He is honored as co-patron of the Third Order of St. Francis, which claims him as a member of the Order. Even in childhood, his compassion for the poor and suffering people had been obvious to all who knew him and when he became king, over a hundred poor people ate in his house on ordinary days. Often the king served these guests himself. Such acts of charity, coupled with Louis' devout religious practices, gave rise to the legend that he joined the Third Order of St. Francis. Though it is unlikely that Louis did join the order, his life and actions proclaimed him one of them in spirit.
In addition to St. Louis, Missouri, the cities of San Luis Potosí in Mexico; St. Louis Park, Minnesota; St. Louis, Michigan; San Luis, Arizona; San Luis, Colorado; Saint-Louis du Sénégal; Saint-Louis in Alsace; as well as Lake Saint-Louis in Quebec, the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in California and São Luís, Maranhão in Brazil are among the many places named after the French king and saint. The Cathedral Saint-Louis in Versailles; the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, both in St. Louis, Missouri; and the St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans were also named for the king.
As we keep his feast today, let us include in our prayers those who seek public office in this election year that we might be blessed by men and women in government who, like Louis IX, have a special concern for the poor.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator