Saint Bonaventure (1221 – 1274) was born Giovanni di Fidanza, in Umbria, Italy. Little is known of his childhood other than the name of his parents, Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella, and that he was cured from a deadly illness through the intercession of St Francis of Assisi. A legend states that he was given the name Bonaventure by St Francis himself.
St Bonaventure entered the Franciscan Order when he was around seventeen years old and was eventually sent to the University of Paris, there to finish his studies. In 1248 he obtained his licentiate which granted him the right to teach. A few years later, the secular professors at the University moved by jealousy at their success, forbade both the Franciscans and Dominicans from teaching publicly. Soon thereafter, however, the Pope reinstated their teaching privileges. In 1257, St Bonaventure, together with his friend St Thomas Aquinas who also taught at the University of Paris, was bestowed the degree of Doctor. In the same year, though he was only 36 years old, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscans.
During this time, the Franciscans were divided into two factions: the Spirituales who wanted strict observance of the original rule, especially regarding poverty, and the Relaxati, who wished to introduce innovations and mitigations. It was into this hostile environment that St Bonaventure was placed upon his election. With a firm hand, he corrected the errors of both extremes and so eliminated the strife within the order. His tenure as superior of the Franciscans was marked by hard work and many accomplishments: he visited a great part of the houses of the order, assisted in the translation of the remains of St Clare and St Anthony, presided over several Chapters of the Order, wrote a biography of St Francis, instituted the practice that in all houses of the order at nightfall a bell should be rung in honour of the Annunciation, and that on Saturdays a Mass be sung in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In May 1274, there were held at Lyons both a General Chapter of the Franciscans, and the Fourteenth Ecumenical Council which had as objective to end the schism with the Greek Church. At the Chapter, Jerome of Ascoli was elected to succeed St Bonaventure as governor of the Franciscans. The Pope then requested St Bonaventure’s help at the Council. On July 6, largely due to the saint’s efforts, the Greeks accepted being reunited with the Roman Church. On July 15, however, while the council was still in session, St Bonaventure passed away unexpectedly.
It is now believed that he was poisoned.
When, in 1434, St Bonaventure's remains were translated to the new church erected at Lyons in honour of St Francis of Assisi, his head was found in a perfect state of preservation, the tongue being as red as in life. This miracle not only moved the people of Lyons to choose Bonaventure as their special patron, but also gave a great impetus to the process of his canonisation. He was canonised in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV.