Acta Sanctorum: St. Frances of Rome (Mar 9)
March 09, 2023
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 A) God not only tested the patience of Frances with respect to her material wealth, but he also tested her especially through long and serious illnesses which she had to undergo. And yet no one ever observed in her a tendency toward impatience. She never exhibited any displeasure when she complied with an order, no matter how foolish. With peace of soul, she always reconciled herself to the will of God, and gave him thanks for all that happened. God had not chosen her to be holy merely for her own advantage. Rather the gifts he conferred upon her were to be for the spiritual and physical advantage of her neighbor. For this reason he made her so lovable that anyone with whom she spoke would immediately feel captivated by love for her and ready to help her in everything she wanted. She seemed able to subdue the passions of every type of person with a single word and lead them to do whatever she asked. For this reason people flocked to Frances from all directions, as to a safe refuge. No one left her without being consoled, although she openly rebuked them for their sins and fearlessly reproved them for what was evil and displeasing to God. Many different diseases were rampant in Rome. Fatal diseases and plagues were everywhere, but the saint ignored the risk of contagion and displayed the deepest kindness toward the poor and the needy. Her empathy would first bring them to atone for their sins. Then she would help them by her eager care, and urge them lovingly to accept their trials, however, difficult, from the hand of God. She would encourage them to endure their sufferings for love of Christ, since he had previously endured so much for them. For thirty years Frances continued this service to the sick and the stranger. During epidemics like this it was not only difficult to find doctors to care for the body but even priests to provide remedies for the soul. She herself would seek them out and bring them to those who were disposed to receive the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. (From the Life of St. Frances of Rome by a contemporary)

Musical Selection (Maria Parkinson)

As I kneel before you, As I bow my head in prayer, Take this day, make it yours, And fill me with your love. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu.
All I have I give you, Every dream and wish are yours, Mother of Christ, Mother of mine, Present them to My Lord.   Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu. 
As I kneel before you, And I see your smiling face, Every thought, every word is lost in your embrace.  Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu, benedicta tu.
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)