Brother Francis is Aziraphale’s agent sent to influence the upbringing of Warlock Dowling, whom Aziraphale and Crowley believe is the Antichrist. Brother Francis is hired on the same day that the Dowlings hire Nanny Ashtoreth, Crowley’s rival agent sent to influence Warlock.
Brother Francis is “amazingly good at his job,” but “[n]o one quite worked out why this should be the case, since he never seemed to pick up a shovel and made no effort to rid the garden of the sudden flocks of birds that filled it and settled all over him at every opportunity. He just sat in the shade while around him the residence gardens bloomed and bloomed” (53).
When Warlock is old enough to walk, he frequently visits Brother Francis during Nanny Ashtoreth’s afternoons off. Whereas Nanny Ashtoreth tells Warlock that living things are only fit to be ground beneath his heels, Brother Francis counters that Warlock should show respect to all living things, including “Brother Slug” and “Sister Potato Weevil,” whom he introduces Warlock to in the garden. “Remember, Warlock,” Brother Francis says, “as you walk your way through the highways and byways of life’s rich and fulsome path, to have love and reverence for all living things” (53). Brother Francis also tells Warlock to selflessly practice virtue, words which Warlock can hardly pronounce when he repeats them to Nanny Ashtoreth (p. 54).
In the end, neither Brother Francis nor Nanny Ashtoreth are able to influence Warlock enough to make him completely good or completely evil. They seem to reach a stalemate, and Warlock grows up about as good or as evil as any normal young boy.
When Warlock is six years old, Brother Francis resigns from his post and leaves on the same day that Nanny Ashtoreth retires. They are replaced by Mr. Harrison and Mr. Cortese, a demonic and an angelic tutor, respectively.
Brother Francis is most likely meant to be Saint Francis of Assisi, who was often referred to as “Brother Francis.” He is the patron saint of animals, and the environment. Born the son of a wealthy Italian merchant, Brother Francis renounced the world of material pursuits and dedicated his life to serving all of God’s creatures, including lepers and other outcasts.
Most of the legends and folklore surrounding Brother Francis have to do with his love of animals. According to one story, he once spoke a sermon to a flock of birds who surrounded him and listened to his words, without a single one flying away. According to another story, Brother Francis once saved a village from a hungry wolf that was devouring its people. Francis approached the wolf and addressed him as “Brother Wolf,” and then led the wolf to make peace with the villagers. Mostly, however, Brother Francis was renowned for his belief that all creatures, no matter how small, could know and love God. The most famous collection of folklore about Brother Francis and his love of animals is Vigina (“Little Flowers”), a collection of (supposedly) his own writings that appeared sometime after his death.
Hodges, Margaret. Brother Francis and the Friendly Beasts. Atheneum, 1991.
St. Francis of Assisi. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi, Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition. New York: Random House, 1998.
St. Francis of Assisi. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi, online version. Accessed 23 May 2006. <http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/FLOWERS.HTM>.
“Francis of Assisi.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 23 May 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi>.