St. Frances of Rome was born in 1384 to a wealthy, noble family. She was devoted to God at a young age and decided that she wanted to be a nun when she was only eleven. Her father had other plans for her, however. He thought she was too young to know what she wanted out of life and thought he knew better. He arranged for her to marry the son in another wealthy family––and Frances had to do what he said. At that time in Rome, a father could sell disobedient children into slavery or even have them killed––legally. Nevertheless, Frances prayed to God to prevent her marriage and her confessor eventually said, “Are you crying because you want to do God’s will, or because you want God to do your will?”
Frances then agreed to the marriage and her husband Lorenzo Ponziani was kind to her and really cared about her. Frances, as a young bride, had to attend parties and banquets for her wedding. Frances was unable to keep up with the socializing and collapsed from the strain. She was close to death for months when she had a vision of St. Alexis––a saint who had been in a similar position to her. He ran away from his noble family to beg on the streets and became unrecognizable to his own family. In her vision, St. Alexis told her God wanted her to choose whether or not to recover. She responded, “God’s will is mine.”
Eventually, Frances found companionship in her sister-in-law who also wished to enter the religious life. Together, the sisters would pray, attend mass, and do service work––including visiting prisons, serving in hospitals, and setting up a secret chapel in a tower of the palace.
After the death of her mother-in-law, Frances had to take over the direction of the household, and she proved to be a fair employer to those who worked in the house. She gave out supplies from the house to the poor, including wine, corn, oil, and clothing. Her father-in-law reprimanded her for giving away their stores, and took away the keys to the cellars. He then sold off the extra corn and wine except for what would feed the family, so that she could not give the extra to the poor. Still desperate to help the poor, she searched for stray kernels of corn in the corn loft and drew what wine she could out of the cask. Her family was angry with her for giving away their food and she prayed to God. Then, her husband found the granary filled with yellow corn and her father-in-law found the wine cask filled with the most wonderful wine. After this, her husband and father-in-law were converted to the faith. Frances then began giving away her goods in earnest. She wore a plain green dress and gave away all her jewels.
Eventually, Frances lost one of her sons to the plague and learned her daughter would also be taken. In return for these pains, God told her He would grant her a special grace by sending a guardian angel to watch over her for the rest of her life. In one story, her guardian angel accompanied her in a carriage through the dark streets of Rome carrying a lantern to guide her as she helped those in need. Frances set up a hospital and a shelter in their home for the homeless.
Frances began an order attached to the Benedictines called the Oblates of Mary, and after her husband’s death, she finally joined them officially. It was then that her dream from her youth was realized.
St. Frances of Rome is depicted in the plain green cloth dress she was known to wear, or in the dress of the Benedictine nuns. She is also often depicted with corn and wine or bread to symbolize her service to the poor. Finally, she is depicted with a guardian angel holding a lantern.
St. Frances of Rome is the patron saint of automobile drivers because of the story involving her guardian angel lighting her way through the streets of Rome. She is also the patron saint of oblates and the patron saint of widows.