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Catholic Heroes… St. Frances Of Rome

February 27, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Saints come from all states of life and forms of associations within the Church. Quite a few of them were members of Third Orders. A Third Order is an “association of the faithful established by religious orders. Dating from the 13th century, they may be either secular or regular. If secular, they are lay persons, commonly called tertiaries. If regular, they are religious, bound by public vows, and live in community. Originally, Third Orders were Franciscan or Dominican, but the Holy See has since approved many others, both secular and regular, e.g., the Augustinians, Carmelites, Servites, Benedictines, and Trinitarians” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, p. 538).
These associations are called Third Orders since the priests are the first order, and the second order is contemplative female religious. Some of the saints who belonged to Third Orders are Catherine of Siena and Rose of Lima, who were Dominicans, Elizabeth of Hungary, a Franciscan, and Frances of Rome, who first belonged to the Franciscans and then also became a Third Order Benedictine.
Frances of Rome was given the name Francesca Bussa De Leoni when she was born in 1384. Her father, Paul Bussa, and her mother, Iacobella Roffredeschi, were wealthy and ruled by cultural traditions. One of these traditions was the absolute control the father had over the entire family, including arranging marriages for his children.
Typically these marriages took place at a very young age. Thus, Frances — even though she longed to become a religious — was wedded to Lorenzo Ponziani when she was only twelve years old. Perhaps because of her disappointment, Frances became very ill soon after her marriage.
Fearing for her life, Lorenzo sent for a man known for his magical cures. Since Frances had been raised by faithful Christian parents holding to the teachings of the Church regarding magic, Frances forced the man to leave and would have nothing to do with him. She then told her sister-in-law that St. Alexis had appeared to her and cured her.
After her cure by St. Alexis, Frances had an unusual relationship with her guardian angel. She explained that if she ever did the least thing that was displeasing to our Lord, that her guardian angel would nudge her, leading Frances to immediately repent of her offense.
Even though Frances preferred not to be married, she was determined to do all she could to be a dutiful wife and mother. Thus Lorenzo and Frances developed a happy home life and close relationship. At age seventeen, Francesca gave birth to Battista, their first son, born in 1411, who would carry on the family name. They also had another son and daughter, but both of them died in the plague. Soon after this her mother-in-law also died.
When her son died, he appeared to her accompanied by an archangel. This archangel because of his brightness would provide light for her to read at night. Once again if she did anything displeasing to our Lord, the light would go out, and Frances would repent of her wrongdoing.
Frances suffered much during this time, but in God’s divine Providence she found a kindred spirit in Vannozza, the wife of her husband’s brother, who also yearned for a life of service and prayer. Thankfully, both of their husbands approved of their close relationship and their desire to help others so they began their ministry of service to the poor and needy. Amazingly, Lorenzo and Frances then made an agreement to live a celibate life.
Making the most of her situation as a married woman, Frances determined to serve her family first as best she could. Her dedication to them was well known. In addition, Frances and Vannozza began to serve the plague victims which claimed so many lives. After Frances lost her two youngest children to the dreaded disease, she sold all of her possessions to provide for the poor. When she had depleted all her wealth, she and Vannozza went door to door begging for help and alms.
Her husband, aware of her actions, became upset that she had given so much corn to the hungry. He insisted on investigating the granary with her to assess the depleted stores, only to find that the granary had been miraculously filled to overflowing. Likewise, her father-in-law complained about the amount of wine she had been giving away, and when they went to the wine cellar again they found the choicest wine filling all of the containers.
This also was the time that the anti-pope, Pope John XXIII, was fighting the legitimate Pope. Lorenzo was defending the true Pope and was away much of the time.
However, his opponents did come and they ransacked his home, taking his possessions and burning his house down. Frances restored what she could, setting up part of their home as a hospital.
As more and more people came from miles around seeking assistance, more women likewise came to join Frances and Vannozza in their work. For a time Frances herself fell victim to the plague, but when she was suddenly cured, she immediately rose to continue her work.
As Frances carried on this work, her husband continued to fight for the Pope, but then came the time when he was gravely wounded, necessitating his return home to his family. Frances lovingly cared for Lorenzo until he died in 1436.
Frances was so committed to serving others that she put aside her personal occupations to answer the calls of others. “A married woman must, when called upon, quit her devotions to God at the altar, to find Him in her household affairs.” Our Lord showed how please He was with such obedience after she had been called away from reading the Psalms of Our Lady’s Office four times. When she returned the fifth time, she found that the letters were written in gold.
When Battista, her son, returned to Rome, he married a free-spirited woman who disliked Frances. Frances never rebuked her daughter-in-law and proceeded to treat her with respect and gentleness. While acting so petulant, the young woman fell terribly ill and was forced to bed. Frances treated her with great kindness, as she calmed her down and eventually cured her. Her daughter-in-law changed her heart as well and showed the greatest affection for Frances from then on.
Although Frances and her companions belonged to the Franciscans, they also took the habit of St. Benedict in 1425. They kept their devotion to St. Francis by making the 100-mile pilgrimage to Assisi on foot where St. Francis, who had died in 1226, appeared to them and provided them with fresh fruit.
After Lorenzo’s death, Frances moved in with the home she had founded for women. At this time she formally established the Oblates as a religious community, who spent their time praying for the Holy Father and for peace to return to Rome.
In 1440 she went to visit her son who was sick and then she fell ill and was taken back to the Ponziani palace where she died on March 9, 1440. March 9 is her feast.
Dear St. Frances, obtain for us graces which will fill us with zeal to pray for our Holy Father and for unity in the Holy Apostolic Catholic Church. Amen.

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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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