Saint Frances of Rome, 1384-1440

Feast day March 9

Saints Stories for All Ages

Bert Ghezzi, author of Voices of the Saints, shares a reflection about married saint Frances of Rome.

As a girl, St. Frances thought she was called to be a nun. Instead, however, she lived forty happy years as a married woman. An exceptionally competent person, Frances conducted herself according to clear priorities. She expressed her commitment to Christ first in her affectionate care for her husband and children, then for her extended household, and finally for Rome’s sick poor. “Sometimes,” she said, “a wife must leave God at the altar to find him in her household management.”

At twelve, Frances married Lorenzo Ponziano, a nobleman who loved her tenderly. She drew close to Vannozza, her sister-?in-?law, who lived in the same house and shared her zeal. Together they tended the sick, seeking out Rome’s worst cases. In 1400, Frances gave birth to a son, the first of four children, all of whom she tended personally. A year later she became mistress of the Ponziano family estate, which she managed skillfully even during the ravages of the plague and the turbulence of civil wars.

Frances made everyone feel like a best friend, and thus attracted many people, especially younger women who idealized her. In 1424, with Lorenzo’s full support, she organized a group of women as the Oblates of Mary. They lived at home under the Rule of St. Benedict without vows and shared Frances’s mission to the sick. But seven years later, Frances acquired an old building and called the women to live in community. A biographer reported her invitation, as follows:

I am ready to do what the Lord wants. But without you, my sisters, what can I do? You are the foundations of the building, the first stones of the new spiritual house of Mary, his mother. You are the seed from which a plentiful harvest is to spring. Earthly cares, the temporal affairs of life, must no longer take up your time. He summons you to a retreat, where you will live in his presence, imitate his example and copy the virtues of Mary, where you will pray for Rome, and turn away his wrath from this degenerate and guilty city.

After Lorenzo died in 1436, Frances joined the Oblates and became their superior. During the last half of her life she received frequent visions and ecstasies. It is said that for twenty-?three years her guardian angel was visible to her, aiding her in her service. She died in Rome in 1440.

Frances of Rome should be named patron of wishes that don’t come true. By submitting faithfully to God, she received even more than she had wanted—the blessings of both married and religious life.

from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi

Image credit: Frances of Rome giving alms by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, 1675. Public Domain via Wikimedia.