Saint Frances of Rome
Francesca dei Roffredeschi was born in Rome in 1384, a time when the city was, arguably, at its worst. With a population of only about 25,000, it was no longer a center of power and international commerce. The popes had long departed to Avignon, France. The skyline was littered with the ruins of once spectacular structures. Wild animals ran free through the overgrowth dominating the city.
When Francesca was 13, her parents arranged for her to be married to the wealthy and aristocratic commander of the city’s army. Her husband’s family estate would be her home for the next 40 years and when her mother-in-law passed away, Francesca was entrusted with running the estate. She and her husband would have six children.
The estate included her husband’s brother and his family, and Francesca discovered that her sister-in-law shared her devout faith and passion to serve the less fortunate. Together they devoted themselves to ministering to the poor and the sick. Francesca and her sister-in-law even turned part of the family estate into a hospital and distributed food and clothing to the poor from there. In time, they inspired other women to join them in their ministry.
The papacy returned to Rome in 1420 and the city’s revival would begin. In 1425, Francesca established a society of women committed to serving the sick and the poor. She employed the Rule of St. Benedict for the community, but without taking vows. They were known as the Oblates of Mary. Eight years later she established a convent for the women who wished to live in the community and in the same year, they received papal approval to establish a formal religious congregation. The community eventually became known as the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome.
After her husband’s death in 1436 Francesca herself entered the convent and became its superior until her own death on March 9, 1440. She was buried in the church now called Santa Francesca Romana, where her relics still rest and where there is a recumbent statue of her sculpted by Bernini.
St. Frances of Rome is the patron saint of widows and motorists. During her life, she is said to have had a recurring vision for several years of her guardian angel using a lantern to light the road in front of her when she drove her wagon, keeping her safe from hazards. It is thought that this may be the reason why she was named the patron saint of motorists by Pope Pius XI.
Her feast day is March 9.