St. Frances of Rome began her works of mercy at the young age of thirteen. Born in 1384, it was her dream to become a nun, but her family strongly encouraged her to marry Lorenzo Panziano, commander of the papal troops of Rome and member of an extremely wealthy family. Together with her husband’s brother’s wife, Vanozza, Frances ran a large household and educated her three children while also caring for the sick and poor. Frequently, Frances and Vanozza exchanged their beautiful silk gowns and jewels for simple dresses and veils and left the palace to complete their works of mercy.
When the floods and famine crippled Rome, Frances turned her house into a hospital and distributed food and clothing. She would travel the countryside to collect wood for fire and herbs for medicine. It has been told Frances had an archangel as her companion. Visible only to Frances, the angel offered her protection. In 1925, Pope Pius XI declared her the patron saint of automobile drivers because legend told us her angel would light the road with a lantern when Frances traveled.
Frances faced many obstacles that could have tested her faith, but she remained loyal to God with prayer and inhabiting a merciful life. When the plagues hit Rome, she again opened her home to the sick and poor and nursed them back to health despite losing two of her children to the epidemic.
In 1425, Frances founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, a confraternity of pious women. The women were neither cloistered nor bound by formal vows so they would be able to combine their life at home with their life of service to the community. Later the Oblates decided to live a community life, but Frances did not join them until her husband died and her children were adults. In 1436, she moved into the monastery and became the superior. St. Frances died on March 9, 1440 and was canonized by Pope Paul V on May 9, 1608.
- Patron Saint of automobile drivers
- Her shrine is the Church of Santa Francesca Romana in Rom