A Woman For All Seasons: St. Frances of Rome

If you are busy juggling family, friends, work, and prayer, trying to balance works of mercy with your daily duty, prayer time with household chores, and marriage with ministry, then let today’s saint be an inspiration.  There are few who can’t relate to her in some way- she was a wife, mother, friend, prayer warrior, champion of the sick and poor, and founder of a religious community.  But most of all, she was a daughter of the Church who lived both her marriage vows and baptismal promises to the full.  March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome.

Her story could be an epic movie. Born to a noble family in Rome in 1384, she wished to be a nun from a young age, but her parents had planned a marriage to a wealthy nobleman, Lorenzo Ponziani.  Devastated, the young teenager stubbornly objected and prayed that God would intervene.  Her confessor challenged her:

“Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or you want God to do your will?”

Humbled, she accepted her parent’s wishes and married.  Lorenzo was kind and good and powerful  – in fact, he was the faithful commander of the papal troops in Rome during the time of unrest and division within the Church.  Together they had three children, and Frances, while devoted to her family, found the life of a noblewoman difficult.  Parties and fancy clothes had no appeal for the girl who still longed for a life of prayer.  Confiding her secret wishes to her sister-in-law, Vonnozza, Frances found a spiritual companion and life-long friend.  Together, the two women would pray in the chapel they had set up in a tower of the family home, attend mass, and visit hospitals and prisons.  Always, however, they put their family’s needs first.  When her mother-in-law died, Frances, only sixteen, successfully took over the administration of the large household.

And then began a time of severe trials.  With the feuding in Rome at a fever pitch, violent threats to their family drove Lorenzo out of the city for his own safety. While he was away, invaders overtook their home, kidnapped her oldest son, killed the servants, and destroyed the house.  Shortly afterward, the plague took the life of her other children.

With incredible fortitude, Frances redoubled her efforts to serve the poor and turned her ruined home into a hospital.  One patient was her own husband, who returned home later a broken man.  She cared for him and in gratitude and love, he gave her his blessing to begin a lay order of women called the Oblates of Mary.  While remaining in the world, these women promised a deep devotion to God and service to the poor.

Eventually, the Oblates opened a home for their widowed members, where Frances became the superior upon her husband’s death.  Her childhood dream of religious life had finally been fulfilled – but in God’s own perfect time.

St. Frances of Rome is a model of self-surrender, obedience to the will of God, faithfulness to marriage, motherhood, and daily duty, service of neighbor, and the discipline of a rigorous spiritual life.  She is patroness to many causes, including drivers (because her guardian angel used to light her way on night-time visits to the poor and sick) and she has also been appointed by the Church as one of the patronesses of all women.

St. Frances of Rome, pray for us!


Detail of St. Frances of Rome Giving Alms by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Wikimedia Commons

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