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When Lorenzo Panziano of Rome married thirteen-year-old Frances, everyone was in awe. Not only did he marry one of the most charming and gentle girls in Rome but one who was virtuous as well. Frances was different from other rich girls. Her mother had taught her to pray and to love the poor, as well as how to manage a large household.
Though she had wished to be a nun, Frances married Lorenzo. She dressed in the silks, velvets, and jewels of the family to please her husband, who dearly loved her. She also loved him, but sometimes she longed to serve God by helping the poor. One day her sister-in-law Vanozza found Frances crying and told her she had the same desire. Together they planned to live their married lives but also care for the poor. Often Frances and Vanozza left the palace in simple dresses and veils to care for the sick and distribute goods to the poor. Lorenzo's family was horrified when they found out. They made fun of the young women.
Frances persuaded Lorenzo to let her continue to serve the needy. Frances was a good mother. She personally educated her children and cared for them. When her mother-in-law died, Frances took charge of the castle. Although she spent long hours in prayer, she always saw to her family's needs first.
When floods and famine crippled Rome, Frances turned her house into a hospital and distributed food and clothing. Her father-in-law was so angry that he took away from her the keys to the supply rooms. But he gave them back when he saw that the corn bin and wine barrel were miraculously full again after Frances finished praying. When Rome was invaded, Frances suffered the kidnapping of her husband and the death of three of her children. Again when plagues came, Frances opened her home as a hospital and drove her wagon through the countryside to collect wood for fire and herbs for medicine. It is said that for twenty-three years Frances had an archangel as her companion. Visible only to Frances, the angel protected her.
Frances suffered much from her son's hot-tempered wife, who looked down on Frances because of her love of the poor. When this girl fell seriously ill, Frances nursed her back to health and converted her by her kindness.
When Frances's husband returned, she founded an order of sisters called the Oblates of St. Mary. This was a congregation of women who lived in their own homes and served the poor. Later the Oblates decided to live a community life, but Frances did not join them until after her husband died and her children were adults.
To Rome, Frances was like another Christ.
from Saints Kit © 1994 Loyola Press