Saint Frances of Rome
Often times, life convinces us that our circumstances we find ourselves in make holiness impossible. It is so easy to think that if I weren't married, didn't have kids, had this job or that job, that we could become saints without realizing it is through these circumstances that God sanctifies us.
Saint Frances was born into a very wealthy family and as she grew up was given all of the worldly needs one could think of. Her Parents, Apolo Bussa and Iacobella dei Roffredeschi lived in the prestigious Parione district of Rome and christened her in 1384, shortly after her birth, in the Church of Saint Agnes. At eleven, Saint Frances approached her parents and told them she believed she was being called to enter religious life and become a nun, but her parents talked her out of the decision. They soon arranged a marriage to the commander of the Papal troops in Rome, Lorenzo Ponziani. Saint Frances ran to her spiritual director crying, still wanting to be a nun. The priest said to her
“Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or because you want God to do your will?”
By all accounts their marriage was a happy one, though it started off rough. A few days after their marriage began, Saint Frances fell very seriously ill at home. Her husband, fearing for his wife, called for a local man who dabbled in divination and magic. When the man came to the home though, she was quickly shooed and driven away by Saint Frances who wanted nothing to do with magic. She confided in her sister in law, Vannozza, that Saint Alexis had appeared to her in a dream and healed her - she did indeed awake a few days later miraculously completely healthy. After her recovery, she again began to feel weighed down by being married (thought it was a happy marriage) and found it difficult to participate in the social life of Rome. One day her sister in law found her crying on the side of the bed. The two began to serve the poor and sick, filling their hearts while still supporting their family. They began to give away so much to the poor that Saint Frances's father in law once sold all of their extra grain and wine so that it couldn't be given away. Miraculously, the granary and casks of wine were consistently refilled each night.
Their marriage also came during a time of war and strife between the Pope in Rome and the many anti-popes throughout Europe that had arisen. A deal was struck during one of these fights with an anti-pope and Saint Frances's son Battista was to be given over to the Neapolitan troops as a hostage to maintain the peace. Her spiritual director told Saint Frances to take her son to Campidoglio where he would be handed over in safety. On the road, the two stopped at the Church of the Aracoeli and entrusted young Battista to the Blessed Mother. When they arrived a few days later to meet with the Neapolitan troops, the commander placed Battista on a horse. Immediately after Battista was placed in the saddle, the horse refused to budge - no amount of whipping, yelling or threatening would move the horse. This was taken as a sign of God's providence and Battista was allowed to return home.
Unfortunately, while Saint Frances and Lorenzo very much loved each other and cared for each other during their marriage, the world out side continued to fill their lives with hardship and difficulty. They lost two children to a plague that struck Rome and during an occupation of Rome by the Neapolitians, their home was ransacked and Lorenzo badly wounded. Saint Frances was undeterred by this though, and opened her home to serve as a hospital for the sick , often travelling far into the country side to collect herbs to help heal those in need. She told others that an Angel would light the road in front of her as she travelled to keep her safe. Over 60 cases of miraculous healing were attributed to her during this time.
As the years continued, Saint Frances began to practice a deep form of contemplation. She
soon found herself wrapped up in visions of ecstasy, seeing visions of heaven, purgatory, hell and even the body of her Guardian Angel. Her gift of prophecy allowed her to foretell the coming ending to the Western Schism. On August 15th, 1425, she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary. This confraternity of pious women combined a life of prayer with a life of answering the direct needs and calls from the sick and needy that were suffering. They were under the authority of the Olivetan monks of the Abbey of Santa Maria Nova but were neither cloistered or bound by formal vows. A few years later, in 1433, she founded a monastery at Tor de'Specchi near the Campidoglio. In July of the same year, Pope Eugene IV gave the approval to them as a religious congregation of oblates with private religious vows. They became known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. Saint Frances remained at home until 1436, when her husband passed away and she moved into the monastery to serve as Superior.
Saint Frances died in 1440 and was buried soon after in Santa Maria Nova.
Pope Paul V formally Canonized Saint Frances on May 9, 1608. Her remains had been investigated during the canonization process and found to be incorrupt. In 1869, her remains were exhumed and placed inside a glass coffin for veneration at the Church of Santa Maria Nova (more commonly called the Church of Saint Frances). Pope Pius XI declared her the patron Saint of automobile (car) drivers in 1925 for her miracles of having an angel light the road in front of her. She is also considered the Patron Saint of Benedictine oblates and widows and her feast is celebrated on March 9th.