Tag Archives: St Frances of Rome

Saint Frances of Rome

Frances of RomeThe Church prays at Mass today: O God, who have given us in Saint Frances of Rome a singular model of both married and monastic life, grant us perseverance in your service, that in every circumstance of life we may see and follow you.

Here is a portion of Saint Frances’ biography from a life of the saint by Sister Mary Magdalene Anguillaria, superior of the Oblates of the Tor’ de Specchi:

God not only tested the patience of Frances with respect to her material wealth, but, as I have said before and will reiterate, he also tested her own body in a variety of ways, 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.

Through the premature deaths of her sons whom she loved dearly, Frances proved her constancy. With peace of soul she always reconciled herself to the will of God and gave him thanks for all that happened. With the same constancy she endured the slander of those who abused and reviled her and her way of life. She did not show the least hint of aversion toward them, even though she knew that they judged her rashly and spoke falsely of her way of life. Rather, returning good for evil, she habitually prayed to God for them.

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. Divine power was present and working in her words, so that in a few sentences she could bring consolation to the afflicted and the anxious, calm the restless, pacify the angry, reconcile enemies and extinguish long-standing hatreds and animosities. Again and again she would prevent a planned revenge from being carried out. 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. Here 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.

Frances was not satisfied with caring for the sick she could bring into her home. She would seek them out in their cottages and in public hospitals, and would refresh their thirst, smooth their beds, and bind their sores. The more disgusting and sickening the stench, the greater was the love and care with which she treated them.

She used to go to the Campo Santo with food and rich delicacies to be distributed to the needy. On her return home she would bring pieces of worn-out clothes and unclean rags which she would wash lovingly and mend carefully, as if they were to be used for God himself. Then she would fold them carefully and perfume them.

For thirty years Frances continued this service to the sick and the stranger. While she was in her husband’s house, she made frequent visits to Saint Mary’s and Saint Cecilia’s hospitals in Trastevere, and to the hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia and to a fourth hospital in the Campo Santo. 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. In order to have a priest more readily available to assist her in her apostolate, she supported, at her own expense, a priest who would go to the hospitals and visit the sick whom she had designated.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca RomanaThe Church gives us the liturgical memorial of Saint Frances Rome (1384-1440) today. However, her feast is obscured by the fact that it is the First Sunday of Lent. Yet, we cannot move from today without a mentioned of such a terrific witness to the Lord.

Saint Frances is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates and car drivers; and as one of the patrons of Rome along with Saints Peter and Paul and Philip Neri. She is proposed by Mother Church as a clear model of the tenderness of married life and motherhood, but also as a person who devoted her life to the poor and the sick (works of Mercy). Hence, her saintly example is much in need today.

In 1433, Frances founded the Benedictine Oblates of Mary as part of the Olivetan Benedictines. The Mass Collect for Saint Frances of Rome  gives us the lex credendi:

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

Saint Frances’ congregation of Oblate sisters exist today in Rome, Le Bec-Hellouin, France, and at Abu-Gosh in Israel. In addition to the characteristic devotion to the Divine Office and the fraternal life, is the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Guardian Angels which gives rise to the service of the Church in Rome. Their habit remains the same as their Mother Foundress of a black habit and long white veil. The Roman monastery is open to the public once a year for Mass and interaction with the sisters. I was privileged to be in the monastery with two friends a few years ago.

It is interesting to see how God works in the lives of the unsuspecting. In the period in which Frances lived and in movement of her heart, the Holy Spirit identified a new form of life with some of the Roman widows. Frances discerned a new form of Benedictine life never previously proposed before: women living under the Rule of Saint Benedict, not as enclosed nuns, but as Oblate Sisters of the Roman monastery of the Olivetans at Santa Maria Nuova.

Frances’ followers left the monastery following prayer to serve the poor and sick; the foundress, though, did not limit the sisters to this form of ministry allowing for other skills and talents to give glory to God. Nevertheless, Frances was clearly inspired by Chapter Four of Benedict’s Rule, the Instruments of Good Works:

To relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to give help in trouble, to console the sorrowful, to avoid worldly behavior, and to set nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4:14-21).

The beauty of the vocation attracted the attention of the Roman people that  Frances, a widow, a servant of the poor, a mother to the sick, a spiritual daughter of Saint Benedict, and a mystic was an attractive witness. Frances has also been a favorite saint of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Her practical approach to the spiritual and apostolic life has been noted in her saying that “Devotion in a married woman is most praiseworthy, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. Sometimes she must leave God at the altar, to serve Him in her housekeeping.” Perhaps we all can find inspiration here.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin.jpg

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

This painting given here for today’s lectio is attributed to Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo, depicts Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440) being clothed by the Mary in the white veil of her Benedictine movement that, even today, characterizes the Olivetan Benedictine Oblates of Mary she founded in 1425.

Mary, Mother of God wears a mantle of gold, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Frances Romana. The presence of certain saints is instructive: the great evangelizer, Saint Paul, Saint Mary Magdalene (the Apostle to the Apostles and dressed in red) and Saint Benedict,  the Father of Western Monastic Life, with the various ranks of angels, including Francesca’s Guardian Angel.  Magdalene and Benedict wrap/invest the mantle on the gathered Oblates.

The angel below the Gothic windows is busy carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Nearby are two frisky dogs and two cats, a frequent sight in Rome. The Oblate Congregation, commonly thought to be woven together by heavenly graces and harassed by evil spirits. The evil one is given flesh in the form of cats and dogs. As a testimony of grace the Oblates flourish today at Tor de’Specchi. Several years ago I had the privilege with many others to pray in this monastery opened to the public only Saint Frances’ feast day.

I have longed hoped that the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome would found a house in the USA. We are ready for this witness.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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