Frances lived at a time of upheaval in Rome. She endured family misfortune and the loss of children, yet she willingly served those less fortunate than she.
Frances was born in 1384 at Trastevere in Rome to noble parents. Still a child, she already began to mortify her body and express interest in being a nun, a decision she declared at age 11. Her father opposed it as he wished to marry her to another wealthy family.
At 13 she was married to Lorenzo de Ponziani, a union that lasted 40 years. Early in the marriage, however, Frances collapsed from strain. During her illness, she had a vision of St. Alexis, patron saint of beggars and the sick, who asked her if she wanted to live. She replied that she wanted only what God willed; the saint healed her, saying the Lord wished her to remain in the world to glorify Him. Frances discovered that her sister-in-law Vannozza also would have preferred the religious life. The two became close friends and went out into Rome together to minister to the poor and sick.
In 1400 her first child was born — John Baptist (Battista), followed by a second son, Evangelista, and a daughter, Agnes. In 1408 Rome was seized by the troops of Ladislaus of Naples, an ally of the antipope. Frances’ family home was looted and burned. Lorenzo was stabbed; Frances nursed him back to health. In 1410, Lorenzo’s home and lands were seized and pillaged, and Battista was taken hostage. He was later released.
Lorenzo was separated from the rest of his family. Frances lived in the ruined house with her children and Vannozza. Three years later, 9-year-old Evangelista died during a plague. According to lore, Frances was rewarded by God with the gift of healing, and she turned her home into a hospital. Agnes died two years after Evangelista. In 1414 the Ponziani family regained their property, but Lorenzo’s health was broken. At about this time, Frances brought to fruition a plan she had been developing for some time: the establishment of a lay order of women who would serve God and the poor.
She received permission for this order to be affiliated with the Benedictines of Mount Oliveto. The order first was called the Oblates of Mary and then the Oblates of Tor de Specchi. After seven or eight years, the order acquired its own facility.
Frances spent as much time as possible with the order but refused to be acknowledged as foundress. She dictated to her confessor the words of their Rule, which she said had been given to her by St. Paul, in the presence of Mary, St. Benedict and St. Mary Magdalen, who were the patrons of her community.
Lorenzo died in 1436, and Frances retired to the order. The superioress, Agnes de Lillis, resigned and Frances assumed the post. In spring 1440, she went to visit Battista and his wife, and became ill on the way home. Her director met her en route and ordered her back to her son’s home.
She spent seven days on her deathbed and died on March 9. Her last act was to read her Little Office of the Virgin Mary. She was buried in Santa Maria Nuova, in the chapel of the church of her oblates. The church is now known as the church of Santa Francesca Romana. Today she is known as the patron saint of widows and motorists.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. Frances of Rome-Mystic, founder of the Oblates of Mary (Oblates of Tor de Specchi). (n.d.). SPREADJESUS|HD Wallpapers|Mobile Wallpaper|Facebook Cover. Retrieved March 2, 2021, from https://spreadjesus.org/176-st_frances-of-rome.html