Acta Sanctorum: St. Frances of Rome (Mar 9)
March 09, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Life (1384-1440)

In a Rome noted for its saints, Francesca Romana remains one of the most popular. Perhaps it is because although she founded a religious order, she was also a model wife and mother.

Frances was the daughter of Paul Busso, a wealthy Roman nobleman. Paul was a devout man and a good father, yet when his daughter, at the age of 11, asked his permission to become a nun, he sternly refused. After she reached 13, he arranged for her to marry Lorenzo Ponziano, a worthy young man of the same social class. At first, the little Signora Ponziano felt very lonely. Then she found that Vannozza, the wife of her husband’s brother, had also wanted to take the veil. Because of this common disappointment the two sisters-in-law became inveterate companions. Both decided to follow a sort of monastic rule; each became active in works of mercy toward the poor and the sick. Fortunately, their husbands admired them for their devotion and placed no obstacle in their way.

When her mother-in-law died, her father-in-law chose Francesca to be head of the household. She proved to be a very competent manager. Frances also bore her husband two sons, Battista and Evangelista, and a daughter, Agnes. She was very devoted to Lorenzo. Whenever he called her, she even broke off her prayers to attend to him. As she said, “It is most laudable in a married women to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife.” Devotion to her spouse was to entail much suffering. The first decade of the 1400s was one of great hardship in Rome. Civil wars brought about famine and pestilence. Francesca and Vannozza did their best to take care of the sick and hungry. When their family supplies ran out, Frances sold her jewels to procure further provisions. After that, also, she herself dressed in the plainest of garb.

These were also the days of the Great Western Schism, in which there were two, then three claimants to the papacy. Lorenzo suffered for his allegiance to the Roman pope. Count Troja, a partisan of the antipope, forced him to flee his home; then he destroyed his properties and slew his peasants.

Francesca, Evangelista, Agnes and Vannozza had to live in a corner of their ruined Roman house, but they still continued their good works. Only after the Great Schism was healed, were the lands of the Ponziani restored. The saint’s son Evangelista died not long afterward. A year later, while she was praying, he appeared to her accompanied by an archangel. He announced that her teen-aged daughter Agnes was about to die, but that by way of consolation, the angel would remain at Francesca’s side ever after. So indeed the angel did, in the form of an eight-year-old boy, but visible to Frances alone.

Lorenzo picked a beautiful young woman named Mobilia as a wife for Battista, his remaining son. At first Mobilia despised her mother-in-law. But when she was stricken with illness and Signora Francesca had nursed her tenderly back to health, Mobilia’s contempt turned to true love. Francesca was like that: to know her was to love her. Sometime before his death, her husband released her from all marriage obligations towards him, on the condition that she continue to live under his roof. By that time, her reputation had spread all over Rome, and people came from every part of the city to beg her to heal the sick and arbitrate their quarrels.

Frances now fulfilled a long-considered project: she founded a society of women who took no vows, but simply offered their services to serve the poor. They came to be known, from their residence, as the Oblates of Tor de’ Specchi; they still carry on their work. After her husband died, Francesca went to live with them, and they elected her superior, despite her protests. Her life of mystic prayer became even more intense thereafter.

Francesca Ponziano died on March 9, 1440. Her last words were, “The angel has finished his task; he bids me to follow him.”

May we imitate St. Frances in heeding and being grateful to our own guardian angels!

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7:29-34


From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. 


(Year B) Christ, he has said to everyone: If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself. This is not a command for virgins to obey and brides to ignore, for widows and not for married women, for monks and not for married men, or for the clergy and not for the laity. No, the whole Church, the entire body, all the members in their distinct and varied functions, must follow Christ. She who is totally unique, the dove, the spouse who was redeemed and dowered by the blood of her bridegroom, is to follow him. There is a place in the Church for the chastity of the virgin, for the continence of the widow, and for the modesty of the married. Indeed, all her members have their place, and this is where they are to follow Christ, in their function and in their way of life. They must deny themselves, that is, they must not presume on their own strength. They must take up their cross by enduring in the world for Christ's sake whatever pain the world brings. Let them love him who alone can neither deceive nor be deceived, who alone will not fail them. Let them love him because his promises are true. Faith sometimes falters because he does not reward us immediately. But hold out, be steadfast, endure, bear the delay, and you have carried the cross. (St. Augustine of Hippo)


Musical Selection


Guardian angel, from Heaven so bright, Watching beside me, to lead me aright, Fold thy wings round me, O guard me with love, Softly sing songs to me, of Heav'n above.
Beautiful angel, my guardian so mild, Tenderly guide me, for I am thy child.
Angel so holy! whom God sends to me, Sinful and lowly, my guardian to be; Wilt thou not cherish the child of thy care? Let me not perish, my trust is thy pray'r.
O may I never forget thou art near: But keep me ever in love and in fear. Waking or sleeping, in labor and rest, In thy sweet keeping my life shall be blest.
Angel, dear Angel oh, close by me stay; Safe from harm shield me, all ill keep away Then thou wilt lead me when this life is o'er To Jesus and Mary to praise evermore.
Lord our God,
in Saint Frances of Rome you have given us
a shining example of holiness,
both in marriage and in monastic life;
grant us perseverance in your service,
that we may recognise and follow you
in all the circumstances of our lives.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)