1384 was a terrible year in which to be born, particularly if you were born in Rome. Two unwelcome interlopers – the plague and the fight for the papacy – both of which would mark your life, would ravage the Eternal City for much of your lifetime.
As the world began to creep out from the Dark Ages, you were growing up along the Piazza Navona.
Your name is Francesca dei Roffredeschi and, as you were progressing in wisdom, grace and age, you longed to become a nun. Your mom and dad had a different idea. They arranged your marriage to Lorenzo Ponziani, scion of one of Rome’s wealthiest and most illustrious families. You had just turned 12.
However, you hit the husband jackpot. Lorenzo understood and supported your ardent desire to alleviate the suffering of people who were poor or afflicted and to advance in holiness. (Of course, the fact that Lorenzo was out of town for large chunks of your marriage commanding papal forces in battles against troops of the anti-popes probably didn’t hurt. You know what they say about absence and the heart.)
With Vannozza, your sister-in-law and erstwhile partner-in-crime, you converted a wing of your family’s country estate into a hospital for people suffering from famine or flood. Legend had it that this change upset your father-in-law until he noticed that every time after you finished praying, his wine barrel was mysteriously replenished. What’s up with that, lady?
Your life had its sorrows, didn’t it? You lost two of your children to the plague. Your husband died in 1436, four years before you, and you spent the last seven years of his life nursing him due to wounds he received in battle.
At some point, you ran into a group of monks who followed the Rule of Saint Benedict. They’re now the Olivertan congregation of the Benedictine Confederation.
You were impressed by them (although anyone would think that they were even more inspired by you). Their spirituality made so much sense to you that in 1425 you founded a group of Benedictine oblates who were all women – but not nuns. Neither cloistered nor under religious vows, they combined a life of prayer with service to society.
You died on March 9, 1440. Pope Paul V canonized you in 1608. More than 60 healings were attributed to you. Not only are you the co-patron of Benedictine oblates (with King Saint Henry II - 972-1024) and widows, but in 1925 Pope Pius XI named you the patron saint of automobile drivers. You really did get around.
Keep praying for us, Santa Francesca!
- Article by Saint Leo Abbey Oblate Ed DeBerri