What will surprise many readers is that no serious scholar today, Franciscan or otherwise, would place the Peace Prayer among the authentic writings of St. Francis. In recent decades it has become evident that the prayer originated during the early years of the 1900's, but until recently no one has pointed out the exact year. Finally, researchers are getting to the bottom of the mystery.
The first appearance of the Peace Prayer occurred in France in 1912 in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette (the little bell), published in Paris by a Catholic association known as La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe, "The Holy Mass League,' founded in 1901 by a French priest, Father Esther Bouquerel (1855-1923). The prayer bore the title of "A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass' and was published anonymously. The author could have possibly been Father Bouquerel himself, but until now the identity of the author remains a mystery.
The prayer was sent in French to Pope Benedict XV in 1915. This was soon followed by its 1916 appearance, in Italian, in the Osservatore Romano. Around 1920, the prayer was printed by a French Franciscan priest on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title Priere pour la paix, "Prayer for Peace,' but without being attributed to the saint. A holy card from a later date has it ascribed to William the Conqueror. Between the two World Wars, the prayer circulated in Europe and was translated into English.
The first translation in English that we know of appeared in 1936 in "Living Courageously,' a book by Kirby Page (1890-1957), a Disciples of Christ minister. Page attributed the text to St. Francis of Assisi. Other sources give Cardinal Spellman credit for the title by which it is known today. There is evidence that he came across the prayer in Italy, brought it back with him to the United States, and had it printed under the title "Prayer of St. Francis". During the Second World War and immediately after, this prayer for peace began circulating widely as the Prayer of St. Francis and over the years has gained a worldwide popularity with people of all faiths.