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St. Frances of Rome

March 6, 2020

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St. Frances of Rome

St. Frances of Rome
Notre Damedu Sablon, Brussels, Belgium
Photo By: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Frances was born in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome in 1384, the only child in a wealthy family. Her birth name was Francesca dei Roffredeschi. As a child she had a deep desire to be a nun, but her parents arranged her marriage to Lorenzo Ponziani, a soldier, when she was thirteen. They had six children, two which died, victims of a plague.

Frances and her husband lived in a luxurious residence with her husband’s brother and his wife Vannozza. As a member of the nobility Frances could have enjoyed a life of leisure, but she could see beyond the comforts of her home to the destitute in the surrounding neighborhoods. Frances and Vannozza shared the same values, walked through the slums, brought corn and wine to those suffering from hunger, and clothing and firewood to those suffering from the cold.

During those days the residents of Rome were beset by terrible calamities, plagues and famines, invasions, and civil strife. Frances walked the streets to care for afflicted, and she reported that at night her guardian angel would appear to her with a lighted lantern to guide and protect her and serve as her companion. There were many sick and injured, as well as refugees and those who had lost their homes, so Frances opened a large hall of her home to use as a shelter and hospital.

Frances was very severe with herself and restricted herself to a diet of dried bread and vegetables. She had numerous visions and spiritual ecstasies which may have been supernatural gifts or the result of malnutrition.

The care of the poor was an enormous task, something Frances and Vannozza could not do by themselves, so she gathered a group of women to assist them and established it a charitable society. These holy women lived together in community, prayed in common, followed the Rule of St. Benedict, did not take religious vows, and worked tirelessly on the streets concentrating their efforts on the poorest of the poor.

Frances’ husband died in 1436. After forty years as a faithful wife, she joined the community, established it as the Benedictine Oblates of Mary, became its mother superior, and spent the last four years of her life fulfilling her dream to be a nun. She died in Rome on March 9, 1440, at the age of fifty-six. Her last words were, “The angel has finished his task – he beckons me to follow him.” She was buried at the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, now called the Church of Santa Francesca Romana, located near the Roman Forum.

Frances was remarkable in the way that she balanced family and outreach, the home and the world. Her husband and children always came first. Her love and compassion were so boundless that they extended beyond her home into the world where she performed corporal works of mercy from when she was a young lady until her final years.

Frances was canonized a saint in 1608. She is the patron saint of widows because she spent the last four years of her life as a widow. Pope Pius XI (1922-39) named her the patron saint of motorists and cab drivers because her guardian angel appeared to her at night and guided her safely along the city streets with a lighted lantern.

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