the unexpected Francis (of Assisi)

In years of teaching, I have often been astounded at how unhappy students can be when they encounter a different Francis from the one they expect. Oddly enough, the most painful moment usually comes when they discover that Saint Francis did not write the “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis”—a popular hymn best known by its opening words “Make me a channel of your peace,” and sung to a tune written by the Anglican composer Sebastian Temple. Many are quite shocked to find that this song is not identical to Francis’s “Canticle of Brother Sun,” from which Zefferelli took the name of his movie. The “Peace Prayer” is modern and anonymous, originally written in French, and dates to about 1912, when it was published in a minor French spiritual magazine, La Clochette. Noble as its sentiments are, Francis would not have written such a piece, focused as it is on the self, with its constant repetition of the pronouns “I” and “me,” the words “God” and “Jesus” never appearing once.

Augustine Thompson