Saints Index

Mar 9 - St. Frances of Rome 1384-1440

 Born in 1384, Frances belonged to a noble Roman family, and at the age of 12 she married another Roman noble, Lorenzo Ponziani. She would have preferred to become a nun, but obeyed her father and became an exemplary wife and the mother of three children. Soon after her marriage she fell seriously ill. Her husband called a man in who dabbled in magic, but Frances drove him out of the house in no uncertain terms. St. Alexis then appeared to her and cured her. From that time she began to be conscious of the presence and assistance of her guardian angel. He would give her a little nudge when she fell into any fault.

The Ponziani palace was in the Trastevere section of Rome, and just around the corner was the little church of San Francesco a Ripa. This church had been given in 1212 to St. Francis by the Roman lady Giacoma di Settesoli (Brother Jacoba), who in 1226 was present at the death of the Poverello. By 1414 at least, the adjoining friary was one of 34 belonging to the Observant reform movement in the First Order of St. Francis, which was begun in 1368 by Brother Paul or Paoluccio of Trinci and in the following century was promoted by such saints as St. Bernardin and St. John Capistran. It was at San Francesco a Ripa that Frances Ponziani was received into the Third Order of St. Francis; and one of the priests there, Father Bartholomew Bondi, became her spiritual director.

Living at the Ponziani palace with Frances was Vanozza, the wife of her oldest brother. She too had entertained thoughts of entering a convent before her marriage, and she joined Frances in her works of piety and charity. Together they spent hours of prayer in a disused attic or an old summer cottage in the garden. At seventeen Frances gave birth to her first son, John Baptist; and shortly afterwards her mother-in-law died. Frances was then placed in charge of the household; and she carried out her duties, not only efficiently, but also in a genuinely Christian manner. During a famine she gave away corn and wine to the poor so lavishly that her husband began to object; but when he found an empty granary miraculously filled with forty measures of wheat and an empty cask filled with wine, he allowed his wife full freedom.

Rome was invaded in 1410; and during the civil war which followed, a series of calamities befell the Ponziani family. Lorenzo, who fought with the papal troops, was wounded; and after Frances had nursed him to health, he went back to the war. John Baptist, the oldest son, was taken hostage, and did not return until peace was restored. A plague followed in the wake of the war, and Frances' second son and a daughter died of the disease. The peasants from the wasted Ponziani farm came to Frances, begging for food. Frances heroically devoted herself to the care of the sick, the starving, and the dying, and organized a group of Roman ladies to assist her in this work. For a time she too was stricken by the plague, but after she was suddenly cured she at once resumed her works of charity.

After his death, Frances' second son appeared to her and brought her an archangel to take the place of her guardian angel. The archangel's light was visible to her so that she could read by it. When she committed a slight fault, the archangel would hide himself, and his light would not shine again until she had made an act of contrition.

Shortly after his return, John Baptist married a flighty young lady, who took a strong dislike to Frances. But in the midst of one of her tempers, she was afflicted with a strange illness; and after Frances' hand calmed and cured her, she became a changed person. Frances placed the household in her care, and devoted herself henceforth entirely to works of charity in the city. In 1425, she and a half dozen other Roman ladies, her companions, were clothed as oblates of St. Benedict. This apparently did not cancel her membership in the Third Order; for, at this time she and Vanozza made a pilgrimage to Assisi, walking the one hundred miles from Rome to the city of St. Francis. Near Assisi St. Francis himself appeared to them, and provided the hungry and thirsty pilgrims with fresh, juicy pears by striking a wild pear tree with his stick.

In 1433, after Lorenzo's death Frances and her companions founded a religious community of Oblates. There they worked and prayed for the Holy Father and the peace of Rome, for the city was once more in turmoil. Returning to this convent after a visit to her sick son, Frances suddenly became ill and was taken back to the Ponziani palace. There she died after seven days, on March 9, 1440. Pope Paul V canonized her in 1608. Her tomb is beneath the high altar in the crypt of the Roman church which is now called Santa Francesca Romana in her honor. She is honored as the principal patron of all Benedictine oblates, but she is also one of the greatest saints who wore the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.

1. Consider how well St. Frances acted when she used her ample wealth, not to provide a life of luxury for herself, but in doing good to others and thereby accumulating heavenly treasures. Even in this life she enjoyed many nobler pleasures, and now the heavenly treasures which she acquired constitute her bliss in eternity. Our Lord exhorts us also to direct our attention more to these imperishable possessions than to perishable ones. "Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matt 6:19). -- Which kind of treasures have you been intent on acquiring?
2. Consider that the possession of temporal goods can not make us happy. Of course, people who do not possess them consider the possessors very fortunate. "They have called the people happy who have these things" (Ps 143:15). But he who possesses them and enjoys them is ill at ease. Solomon reveled in temporal goods, in a life of luxury, nevertheless he said, "And therefore I was weary of my life when I saw that all things under the sun are evil, and all vanity and vexation of spirit (Eccles 2:17). It is quite different with heavenly treasures. Once we possess them, they set our hearts at rest. "I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear (Ps 16:15). Even the expectation of them gives the true servant of God such a delightful foretaste, that amid temporal wants he is happy and content. Hence Tobias could say to his family: "We lead indeed a poor life, but we shall have many good things if we fear God and depart from all sin, and do that which is good" (Tob 4:23). -- Should you not aim to acquire such happiness?
3. Consider that most people do not put the proper value on heavenly possessions. Day and night they are busy planning how to acquire temporal possessions, and perhaps weeks go by without one thought about heavenly treasures. They hasten to obtain temporal possessions and expend all their strength in acquiring them, but they put forth no effort to obtain the treasures of heaven. They will even relinquish their rights to heaven because of some momentary pleasure. Is it not to be feared that our Lord's words to the wicked will apply to them: "I have sworn in My wrath: they shall not enter into My rest" (Heb 3:11). -- But there is still time. Implore God's mercy.

O Lord, who didst honor Thy servant Frances with the friendly companionship of an angel, among other gifts, grant, we beseech Thee, that by the aid of her intercession we may deserve to be admitted to the company of the angels. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

from: The Franciscan Book of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm., 1959 Franciscan Herald Press