At first, Francis sought a life of solitude and prayer. Within a few years Francis' life gave new direction to those he encountered. Francis found that other men of Assisi were attracted to the same vision - to follow Christ and His Apostles. Soon there grew a small community which settled on the outskirts of town near the abandoned church of Our Lady of the Angels. Then St. Francis and a band of eleven followers sought permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new order in the Church. Permission was granted in 1209. Today it is known as the First Order. The Second Order of St. Francis (commonly known as Poor Clares) was founded in 1212 in Assisi when Francis received Clare as a follower of his way of life.
Replica of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula at Franciscan University
Francis also had an impact on a movement already present among the Christian faithful. These were the "Penitents"; people who were seeking holiness in their daily lives. In preaching a "life of conversion," Francis attracted many men and women from all walks of life who turned to him for guidance in a life of penance. In 1209, Francis gave a norm of life for these penitents living in the world and in 1221 he collaborated with the Church, which granted them a Rule. In 1289, Pope Nicholas IV approved another version of this Rule. Some of the penitents began to live communal life dedicating themselves to works of mercy; others began to live in remote places as hermits.
To unite all these groups in Italy, who were known as the Religious of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, Pope Nicholas V in 1447 gave them an approved status as a religious order and united them under a central government. The Third Order Regular of St. Francis (known as Franciscan, TOR) has since become an international religious community serving God's people in Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Sicily, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and the United States. They follow a common Rule of Life and live in fraternity. Before Francis died in 1226, he had founded three religious orders.