Feast Day : March 9
Name meaning: Free one
Frances was born in 1384 at Trastevere in Rome to noble parents, Paul Bosco and Jacobella dei Roffredeschi. At the age of seven she 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. They especially sought out those whom others refused or were reluctant to treat. 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’s 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. The story goes that Frances refused to surrender her boy and fled. Her confessor told her to give him over. She did so and went to the Ara Coeli Shrine of the Sorrowful Mother to pray. There Mary appeared to her and comforted her, and told her not to despair. The boy was returned to her when the soldier carrying him could not get his horse to budge. Lorenzo was separated from the rest of his family. Frances lived in the ruined house with her children and Vannozza. Three years later, nine-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 had been inspired by a heavenly voice that told her Mary wished her to do so. 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 the spring of 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. Her relics are on display there. Frances had numerous mystical experiences of Mary, who invited her to attend various feasts in heaven. There she contemplated Mary in all her mysteries, and also was with the infant Jesus. At Christmas in 1432, she spent 48 hours in ecstasy after Mary gave her baby Jesus to hold. Thereafter, she proclaimed herself servant, subject and slave of Mary. Frances also had numerous experiences involving angels. According to lore, she was given two guardian angels at birth. Frequent angelic visits began with the death of Evangelista. Just before dying, he exclaimed that angels had arrived to take him to heaven. On the one-year anniversary of his death, Frances had an extraordinary hour-long vision. Her oratory was filled with a brilliant light at dawn, and she beheld her son accompanied by a beautiful boy. Evangelista said he now resided in the second choir of the first hierarchy of angels, and introduced his companion as an archangel who had a place above his. He told his mother that God was sending her this archangel, who would not leave her day or night, and whom she would be blessed with seeing with her “bodily eyes.” Evangelista then said he had to return to heaven, but the sight of the angel would always remind his mother of him. Evangelista disappeared, never to manifest to Frances again. The angel remained, standing with arms folded across his chest. Frances fell to her knees and begged for his help in guiding her spiritual growth, and in defending against the devil. When she finally left the oratory, the angel followed her, enveloping her in a halo of light. The angel, and this halo around Frances, could not be perceived by other people. Frances could not look upon the angel’s brightness without hurting her eyes; so, she looked upon the glow around him. Over time, she was able to more directly see his features while she was at prayer; it seemed that the angel purposefully dimmed his own light to help her. He looked like a boy of nine, with sparkling eyes and an ever-present sweet expression upon his face and his eyes turned constantly toward heaven. He wore a white robe covered by a tunic that reached his feet, was clear as light and had an ethereal color like sky-blue and flaming red. His hair, like spun gold, fell across his shoulders. The light coming from his hair was so bright that Frances frequently did not need a candle, even at night. She wrote that the angel was never soiled by dirt or mud when he walked beside her. If she committed even the slightest fault, however, he disappeared from her sight, and would reappear only after she had confessed her faults. If she was plagued by doubts, he gave her a kind look that immediately made her feel better. When he talked, she could see his lips move; his voice was incredibly sweet. Much of the angel’s guidance centered around Frances’s worries as head of a family. The angel assured her that she was not lost in God’s sight. He also enabled her to supernaturally discern the thoughts of others. Thus she reportedly was able to short-circuit evil intent, reconcile enemies, and help wandering souls return to the fold. Frances also was engaged in a constant struggle against evil spirits. Whenever the devil would particularly plague her, she would appeal to the archangel for help. In the fashion of Samson, the angel’s power was in his hair, for when Frances asked him for protection, the angel shook his hair and frightened the evil spirits away. The archangel—who never announced a name— stayed with Frances for 24 years. In 1436, she joined her own community, and was granted a vision in which she saw God seated on a high throne and surrounded by myriad angels. God appointed one of the high-ranking powers to replace the archangel. In his human form, the power was even more beautiful than the archangel, and exhibited greater power and courage. He did not have to shake his hair to scare away evil spirits; his mere presence accomplished that. He carried in his left hand three golden palm branches, which symbolized three virtues that he helped Frances to cultivate: charity, firmness and prudence. The power stayed with Frances for four years until she died. At the moment of her death, her face shone with a bright light and she uttered, “The angel has finished his task: he beckons me to follow him.” Miraculous events attributed to Frances include the multiplication of food: She increased corn and wine for the sick, needy and prisoners. She experienced frequent ecstasies and shone with a supernatural radiance. When Frances died, her face lit with youth and beauty, and her body exuded a sweet perfume. A sister who had a withered arm washed her body; her arm was restored to health. The perfume was still present when the saint’s remains were moved to a larger tomb.