When a person is referred to as a Franciscan, it generally means they are living in poverty, or have taken a vow of poverty.
More literally, the term refers to people and religious groups who adhere to the spiritual teachings and disciplines of St. Francis of Assisi by emulating the ascetic life he led in service to God.
But according to Mark Price, a professional impersonator and storyteller who portrays St. Francis and other biblical figures, the Italian Catholic friar’s beginnings were far from humble.
“He was very, very wealthy,” Price said. “His father was a merchant and landowner, so Francis was raised with all the best things in life. He loved to sing and dance and stay out late and drink. He was known by his friends as the ‘king of revelers’ because of his partying nature.”
Price will tell the story of Saint Francis’ transformation from a carousing, vainglory-driven young knight to one of the most revered spiritual figures in history, in character, during a performance at 4 p.m. Sept. 29 at All Hallows Parish in La Jolla.
Price began performing one-man shows in 1974, with an impersonation of the colorful Irish writer, Oscar Wilde. In 2009, his portrayal of Paul the Apostle, “One Body, Many Parts,” was filmed and shown in theaters around the country to celebrate the Year of St. Paul. He performed twice at the Vatican as St. Paul, and has portrayed six other biblical figures upon request, including Judas Iscariot, Doubting Thomas and Saint Luke.
However, when a pastor and friend initially asked Price to portray St. Francis, he respectfully declined.
“The biblical characters I’ve done have been ones from the time of Jesus,” said Price, noting that St. Francis (1182-1226) came much later than Christ, of whom Francis was a disciple.
“I sort of blew him off,” Price said, “but then when the new pope chose the name Francis, he called again and asked me to reconsider.”
This time, Price said yes.
“The more I researched Francis the more I came to love and respect him,” said Price, who got into character by poring over 35 books on St. Francis, in addition to viewing French movies on his life from the 1950s.
“He actually did go off to war twice as a knight, but then he had a series of conversions … where he felt that God was calling him to something else,” Price said. “He writes in his own last will and testament that the thing that changed him the most was when he came across a group of lepers.”
At that time in Assisi, a town in what would become Italy, lepers were forced to remain outside the city walls, and were permitted to enter only at night — by ringing a bell to warn others of their arrival.