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
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.
ON VALUING ETERNAL POSSESSIONS
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
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?
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.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
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.
The Franciscan Book
of Saints, ed. by
Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald