The Catholic Defender: Saint Frances of Rome
Frances’ life combines aspects of secular and religious life. A devoted and loving wife, she longed for a lifestyle of prayer and service, so she organized a group of women to minister to the needs of Rome’s poor.
Born of wealthy parents, Frances found herself attracted to the religious life during her youth. But her parents objected and a young nobleman was selected to be her husband.
As she became acquainted with her new relatives, Frances soon discovered that the wife of her husband’s brother also wished to live a life of service and prayer. So the two, Frances and Vannozza, set out together—with their husbands’ blessings—to help the poor.
Frances fell ill for a time, but this apparently only deepened her commitment to the suffering people she met. The years passed, and Frances gave birth to two sons and a daughter. With the new responsibilities of family life, the young mother turned her attention more to the needs of her own household.
Frances collapsed from the strain. For months she lay close to death, unable to eat or move or speak.
At her worst, she had a vision of St. Alexis. The son of a noble family, Alexis had run away to beg rather than marry. After years of begging he was so unrecognizable that when he returned home his own father thought he was just another beggar and made him sleep under the stairs.
In her own way, Frances must have felt unrecognized by her family -- they couldn't see how she wanted to give up everything for Jesus. St. Alexis told her God was giving her an important choice: Did she want to recover or not?
It's hard for us to understand why a thirteen-year-old would want to die but Frances was miserable. Finally, she whispered, "God's will is mine." The hardest words she could have said -- but the right words to set her on the road to sanctity.
St. Alexis replied, "Then you will live to glorify His Name." Her recovery was immediate and complete. Lorenzo became even more devoted to her after this -- he was even a little in awe of her because of what she'd been through.
The family flourished under Frances’ care, but within a few years a great plague began to sweep across Italy. It struck Rome with devastating cruelty and left Frances’ second son dead. In an effort to help alleviate some of the suffering, Frances used all her money and sold her possessions to buy whatever the sick might possibly need. When all the resources had been exhausted, Frances and Vannozza went door to door begging. Later, Frances’ daughter died, and the saint opened a section of her house as a hospital.
She had the gift of miracles and ecstasy, (as) well as the bodily vision of her guardian angel, had revelations concerning purgatory and hell, and foretold the ending of the Western Schism. She could read the secrets of consciences and detect plots of diabolical origin.
Frances died four years later. Her last words were "The angel has finished his task -- he beckons me to follow him."
St. Francesca Romana founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary in 1421, a religious order for widowed women that cared for the poor and sick. Despite her piety, she had a dark side too.
She was known for her unusually harsh mortifications including whipping herself with metal chains and burning herself with animal fat.
Frances became more and more convinced that this way of life was so necessary for the world, and it was not long before she requested and was given permission to found a society of women bound by no vows.
They simply offered themselves to God and to the service of the poor. Once the society was established, Frances chose not to live at the community residence, but rather at home with her husband.
She did this for seven years, until her husband passed away, and then came to live the remainder of her life with the society—serving the poorest of the poor.
In 1925 Pope Pius XI declared her patron saint of automobile drivers because of a legend that an angel used to light the road before her with a lantern keeping her safe from hazards.
Canonized1608, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Paul V Major shrine Church of Santa Francesca Romana, Rome, Italy
Feast March 9 Patronage Benedictine oblates; automobile drivers; widows.
Canonized1608, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Paul V