When we think about St. Francis, let's not overlook Pietro Bernadone. He was the father of the saint, the Assisian merchant who took the brunt of his son's conversion. Old Man Bernadone was God's perfect straightman for young Francis: He was a materialist, a hedonist, and a lover of good times who had time for good loves. Of course he fumed when his boy threw it all away. Bernadone senior gave his son the proverbial "best of everything." For a time, the giving seemed to be paying off. The son dressed well, strummed the newest melodies to the town's prettiest women, and had the usual storehouse of wild Italian oats to be sown. In fact, his fondness for fancy French ways earned him the nickname "Il Francesco"--the Frenchman.
When all this changed--the rags replacing silk, prayers to God instead of songs to beauties--Pietro Bernadone was probably more an instrument of God's grace in his denunciations of his son than if, indeed, he had sold the family business to become the world's second Franciscan.
He gave Francis exactly the kind of psychological boost any lad needs when fleeing the nest: the conviction that my old man doesn't understand me. What saint's father--or mother--ever did understand?
So while the world swoons over St. Francis and his fine mortifications, I offer modest cheers for the person he first mortified: Unsaint Pietro. He gave his son the best start a future saint could have: an example to rebel against.
All of us fathers should do so well at being so bad.
Colman McCarthy was a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post when this article appeared.