Saint Frances of Rome, Religious

Frances (Francesca) was born in 1384 of well-off parents in Rome, Italy. At the age of 11, although she wished to be a nun, her parents made her marry Lorenzo Ponziano, a commander of the papal troops. During the ongoing wars between popes and anti-popes, Lorenzo was on the side of the former.

Although the marriage had been arranged by the parents, it proved a happy one and lasted 40 years. This was partly because Lorenzo admired his wife and her sister, Vannozza, and partly because he was away at war so much of the time. We know of three children: Battista who carried on the family name, Evangelista, a very gifted child who died in 1411, and Agnes, who died in 1413, the latter two victims of the plague.

Frances was outstanding for taking care of the poor and the sick. She converted part of the family estate into a hospital, and became widely known among the poor by the nickname la Ceccolella (“the Queen”). She won many rich ladies away from a frivolous life to join her in her work.

On 15 August, 1425, Frances founded the Oblates of Mary, a lay congregation of women attached to the White Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria Nuova. Later, they would become the Benedictine Oblate Congregation of Tor di Specchi, which was approved by Pope Eugene IV on 4 July, 1433. The members led the life of religious, but were not enclosed, nor did they take religious vows. They spent their time in prayer and good works. On the death of her husband, Frances became the superior of the group. They are now known as the Oblates of St Frances of Rome.

In her later years, and with her husband’s agreement, Frances practised celibacy and lived a life of deep contemplation. She had the gift of miracles and ecstasy. She was noted for her humility, her detachment from material things, her obedience and her patience, especially during various family hardships (her husband’s long absences, the captivity of her son Battista in war, the death of her children and the loss of family property).

Eventually, Lorenzo would return, wounded, to his wife’s nursing care, and he died in 1436. Four years later, Frances died on 9 March, 1440, and was buried in the Sta Maria Nova Church. She was canonised by Pope Paul V on 9 May, 1608.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI made her patron of car drivers, because of a legend that an angel used to light the road in front of her when she travelled. She will be remembered as one of the great mystics of the fifteenth century.

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