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Catholic Heroes… St. Agnes Of Montepulciano

April 12, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

When St. Therese of Lisieux was only 15 years old, she begged her father to let her enter a convent. Her parents, Saints Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin, were faithful Catholics and raised their children to cherish the religious life. About six hundred years before St. Therese was born, another saint had the same ambition: to join the convent at an early age. St. Agnes started much younger, however, when she broached the subject at the tender age of six.
Agnes was born of the wealthy Segni family in 1268. An aura of bright lights surrounded the house of the saint on the day of her birth. Thus her future was foreshadowed. Her parents guided her development by their examples of piety and generosity. By the time she was just six years old, she was already pleading with her parents to allow her to enter the convent.
Naturally her parents tried to dissuade her as they properly told her she was too young. Not willing to accept this outcome, she then asked them to move from Gracciano, Italy so she could be closer to Montepulciano where there was a convent that she could visit every day. Since the political situation in the district was tense and it operated under an armed truce, her father demurred. Fighting could break out any moment and he did not want his family at risk.
Agnes did reach a compromise with her parents, however. From time to time, they would escort her to the convent of her choice where she could visit the nuns. One day on such a trip, another portent of her future occurred.
Agnes, her mother, and some other women of the household were riding and they passed a hill where stood an inn of immoral activities. A flock of blackbirds swooped down, clawing Agnes with their talons and stabbing her with their beaks. The women finally beat the birds off and told Agnes that the crows resented her holiness and chastity. One woman told Agnes that she would return and drive evil from the hilltop. In fact, she did just that when she founded a convent in that exact spot some years later.
Three years after her first request to join a convent, her parents let her go to the Franciscans in Montepulciano. Because these nuns held close to their primitive rule, wearing coarse cloth for their habits, the citizens referred to them as the Sisters of the Sack. Agnes, rather than being repelled by such rough clothing, rejoiced at this small sacrifice that she could offer to our Lord. The next five years — a time of prayer and formation — were the most peaceful years of Agnes’ life. When she was fourteen years old, she was given the position of bursar and continued to be the servant of others.
Ora et labora: “Prayer and work” was the motto of her life. She spent considerable time in the presence of God during times set aside for contemplation. As a Franciscan she experienced a vision indicating, once again, that she would build a convent.
The Blessed Virgin appeared to Agnes in a dreamlike vision carrying the Child Jesus. Like St. Hermann Joseph, Agnes longed to be near the boy, so Mary tenderly placed Jesus in her arms. As Agnes poured her love and affection on Him, Mary reached to retrieve her Son. Although reluctant to release Him, she transferred the precious Child to His Mother. After the vision, Agnes realized she was holding the small gold cross that Jesus had been wearing on a chain.
In another vision, the Virgin Mary placed three small stones in Agnes’ hand, instructing her to use them to build a convent. Agnes explained that she was a lowly Franciscan with no plans on leaving, but our Lady told her to keep them in honor of the Blessed Trinity because she would need them later on.
Within a year, when she was only fifteen years old, Agnes was sent to Proceno, a town about forty miles south of Montepulciano. Much to her dismay, Agnes was told that she would be the abbess of the new community there. The Franciscans had received a special dispensation in order to appoint such a young lady as abbess. At the moment of her consecration, a shower of paper crosses fell down on those in the chapel — as if God were pouring out His graces on her appointment.
For the next twenty years, Agnes served with great charity and care for the sisters under her rule. More than once, faced with great hunger, the food supply was miraculously restored.
Agnes came to cherish her new home. Her prayer life continued as she received more mystical experiences and the location was peaceful. She also dearly loved her sisters in Christ.
With sadness, she made required visits to Montepulciano, returning to Proceno to resume her role there. She had just settled in peacefully when she was once again called back to Montepulciano. As she prepared to leave Proceno for good, she received another revelation that she would leave the Franciscans and join the Dominicans. With that religious order, she again would be responsible for establishing another convent.
In 1306 Agnes acted on this revelation when she went to Montepulciano. Confidently she relied on God to show her His way. As a bursar, in the beginning of her religious life, she learned the financial needs of supporting a convent on top of the cost of building one. She held three precious stones in her hand, realizing the Blessed Virgin had given her the foundation stones.
Agnes and six companions founded the convent on the hilltop where she had been attacked by the crows. The townspeople became endeared to Agnes and provided much support. Although her first contractors were unscrupulous, resulting in the walls of the convent collapsing, the citizens quickly came together to assist in the rebuilding. The convent became an oasis of prayers and penance pleasing to God.
Soon the nuns received permission to join the Dominicans. In time the convent became the Santa Maria Novella monastery. With the convent running smoothly, Agnes made a pilgrimage to Rome to visit the holy places. Since the Pope was in Avignon, she was not able to see him, but she was edified by the churches and Catholic sites.
Early in 1317 Agnes fell gravely ill and her health began a rapid decline. In an effort to restore her vigor, she was taken to the medicinal baths at Chianciano by a few of her sisters. Although the waters did not help her, she was instrumental in bringing a boy back to back to life after he fell into the waters and drowned.
The nuns then returned to Montepulciano in April and Agnes’ health continued to fail. On the night of April 20 she died. The city was shaken out of its sleep by the children who cried in the streets, “Agnes is dead!”
About 50 years later another Dominican came to visit her remains and bent to kiss Agnes’ foot. Agnes then lifted her foot for St. Catherine of Siena to pay her homage.
Agnes was canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII and her feast is celebrated on April 20.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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