There are many women today who could find comfort in the story of St. Frances of Rome.  Devoted to God and her family, she experienced both great love and great grief during her life but also found much consolation in her prayer life and the good people who surrounded her.

Frances was born into a wealthy Roman family in 1384. By the time she was 11, she was determined to enter religious life but her father – who prevailed – had very different plans for her. Instead, she married a young nobleman, Lorenzo Ponziani, with whom she had a happy marriage for the next 40 years.

That did not mean that Frances gave up her desire to lead a devout life. In spite of the expectations placed upon her by both her mother-in-law and her social status, Frances found a kindred spirit in her sister-in-law, Vannozza, who, it turned out, desired the same things as Frances. Together the two women agreed that their family obligations had to be met first but that their spiritual obligations could also be realized. They attended Mass together, visited prisons and aided the poor in whatever way they could.

Such things were considered unseemly for noblewomen at the time, and the two were gossiped about quite freely. Their mother-in-law, Cecilia, was also laughed at by her friends for having two such odd daughters-in-law. At first she tried to put a stop to their spiritual practices, but when that didn’t work, she appealed to her son, Lorenzo, for help. He, however, had no interest in interfering with his wife’s charitable work.

Frances soon had other family obligations to attend to, namely three children — two boys, Battista and Evangelista, and a girl, Agnes; at the same time, her mother-in-law died leaving Frances in charge of the large Ponziani household.

Her responsibilities would soon multiply when a plague swept across Italy. Her second son, Evangelista, succumbed to the disease, and despite her grief, she doubled her efforts to help those similarly afflicted. The plague was accompanied by a famine, and when their personal resources were gone, both Frances and Vannozza begged door to door to feed the poor.

It was also a time of war and violence in Rome, when disputes about popes and anti-popes divided the city. Lorenzo left to serve the cause of the legitimate pope and, in his absence, opposing forces looted his home and destroyed much of it. Her oldest son, Battista, was taken hostage, and Frances was left to deal with the aftermath as best she could. What she did was clear as much of the wreckage of her home as she could in order to open a makeshift hospital to care for the sick, injured and the homeless.

In 1433, Frances founded a confraternity of women not bound by vows, to attend to the needs of the poor. She died in 1440. Patron of widows, her feast is celebrated on March 9.

Sources for this article include:

Paoli, Francesco. “St. Frances of Rome.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.

“Saint Frances of Rome“. CatholicSaints.Info. 2 October 2022.