St. Frances of Rome and the Divine Power behind Almsgiving

A painting of St. Frances giving alms to a man and children. In 1675, it was created by Giovanni Battista Gaulli. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Francesca had always shown great piety at a young age and she wanted to pursue the road to becoming a nun. But following her family’s wishes, to marry into a religious family with wealth, she married Lorenzo Ponziano and the two would have a family including three children. In 1400, a year after Francesca had given birth to her first son, Lorenzo’s mother died. With the head of the house being vacant, Lorenzo’s family, mainly Lorenzo’s father Andreazzo, decided Francesca would take over the management and domestic affairs of the household. Francesca protested the decision, claiming her inexperience and youth didn’t make her the best for the role. She argued that Vannozza, the wife of the eldest Ponziano son, should be granted the position. Despite her cries, the Ponziano men insisted she should be in charge because of her wisdom and virtue. Unable to deny her family’s eagerness and pleas, especially Andreazzo’s, Francesca became the head of the richest house in Rome.1

An illustration in the opening pages of the book “The Life of Saint Frances of Rome” by Lady Georgiana Fullerton and J.M. Capes, published in 1855 | The image shows St. Frances with her guardian angel | Courtesy of Internet Archive

Francesca led the people in her house with firm kindness no matter the relation she had with them. Servants were treated with love and patience, and given encouragement to follow the word of God. She never spoke badly to a servant and she would give them enough leisure time to attend not just Sunday mass but masses on holidays and special occasions. She also expressed the desire for her servants to pass down her compassion to whomever they crossed paths with. About a year after Francesca took on her new role, Rome started to experience famine and disease. Francesca prohibited her servants from turning down any poor person who came to the wealthy Ponziano family for help. She told her servants they could not send away anyone without their request being fulfilled, but unsatisfied with that, she eventually stepped in herself. She would greet each beggar personally and invite them in while she gathered supplies of corn, wine, oil, and clothing for them. Like with her servants, she would also encourage them to follow God, pray regularly, and fulfill their other religious duties. Francesca’s giving did not stop there, as she and Vannozza would visit hospitals and other far corners of the city to give out more supplies.2

Her charity, however, did not go over well with everyone, as Andreazzo grew alarmed that Francesca’s constant giving could possibly backfire on their own family. Fearful of a famine happening in his own home, he restricted the supplies available to Francesca and Vannozza. First, he started by taking away their keys to the granary, but to avoid caving in to their pleas, he started to sell the corn that wasn’t needed to feed the family in their daily life. He followed the same strategy with the wine cellar and sold all the extra wine except for one cask for the family. As each day passed, though more people in Rome started to suffer, Francesca couldn’t stand by and do nothing.  Francesca and Vannozza pushed down any repulsion and shame they might have felt as they took to the streets to beg for the poor. They visited churches, palaces, and followed the rich around in public with tears in their eyes to receive whatever donations they could get. Although happy with what they could collect, they weren’t so happy with the harsh judgment, sneers, and insults they endured while crying for mercy for others. While doing this, Rome’s famine reached its peak and the streets were lined with practically naked, starving, and sick people calling out for death to put an end to their suffering. Francesca was devastated by the groans of pain and the sight of the countless ghastly faces. She would be haunted by this experience day and night. She felt that she would have done anything to end their suffering. She would have even gladly shed her own blood and fed them with her own life.3

A painting of St. Frances attending and praying over those in need with members of the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome. It was created by artist Antoniazzo Romano in Rome in the year 1468 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One day, Francesca was hit with a thought to look in the corn-loft hay piles, as that was what mostly occupied it without the abundance of now sold corn, for any extra corn she could find that she could give to the poor. She had Vannozza and their closest pious servant, Clara, help with the search. The three spent hours on their knees digging through the hay, and triumphantly at the end of it, they collected a measure of corn. Just as the group was exiting the loft, Lorenzo walked into the granary and froze in shock because of what he saw. There in the place of the giant pile of hay that the women had just gone through was miraculously 40 measures of corn. The corn was bright yellow and looked so pristine that it looked like it could have been grown in heaven by angels themselves. Despite this one miracle, the poor needed more than just corn; they also came to the doorstep begging for wine. Francesca was defenseless to deny the numberless elderly men, young children, mothers with infants, and priests. So she took from the only cask of wine they had until every drop was given away. Once Andreazzo found out about the empty cask, he raged at Francesca as he never had done before, as this was the first time he was angry with her. “Charity indeed! Charity begins at home; a pretty sort of virtue this, which, under the pretext of assisting strangers, introduces penury and privation into the midst of a person’s own family,” he exclaimed.4 The other men of the household took Andreazzo’s side and also expressed anger at Francesca. But Francesca did not react harshly to the abuse, but instead, she quietly prayed. She then replied to them in a gentle voice, “Do not be angry; let us go to the cellar; may be, through God’s mercy, that the cask may be full by this time.”5 Begrudgingly, the men followed her to the cellar to watch her stop in front of a barrel and take out the cork. Instantly, exquisite wine started pouring out of it, a wine that Andreazzo confessed to being the best he had ever tasted in his life. Andreazzo turned to Francesca with tears spilling out of his eyes and cried, “Oh, my dear child, dispose henceforward of every thing I possess, and multiply without end those alms that have gained you such favour in God’s sight.”6

An art piece showing St. Frances with her guardian angel | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The story of this miracle was spread around, and humble Francesca did not protest it. She wanted this experience to show the Divine power in almsgiving and motivate the wealthy to give more to the poor, especially to the poor who followed God’s word. At the sight of so many miraculous acts, Lorenzo grew a new respect for Francesca’s dedication to her faith. He then encouraged her to follow any Divine act she wanted and dismissed her of her role in the household. Free from this responsibility, she was given complete freedom to do whatever she pleased at any time she desired. It wasn’t too long until Francesca was off doing what she always wanted to do. She sold all of her expensive dresses, jewels, and ornaments and gave the collected money to multiple poor families. She sacrificed a lot to give to others, not just material things as she would only wear her only old green dress after selling her others, but her body as well. She fasted immensely so she was able to give her portions of food away and she spent so much time trying to help the poor that she looked ill and fragile. It was believed that her health was so concerning that there was no other way she could have survived doing the amount of work she did without miraculous support. Francesca would later on in her life open up a monastery for nuns, who would later be known as the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome. Francesca passed away in 1440, at the age of 56, and was immediately canonized by Pope Paul V.7

  1. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2003, s.v. “Frances of Rome, St.,” by M. Monaco.
  2. Lady Georgiana Fullerton and J.M. Capes, The Life of St.Frances of Rome: Of Blessed Lucy of Narni, of Dominica of Paradiso, and of Anne de Montmorency (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1901), 33.
  3. Lady Georgiana Fullerton and J.M. Capes, The Life of St.Frances of Rome: Of Blessed Lucy of Narni, of Dominica of Paradiso, and of Anne de Montmorency (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1901), 34.
  4. Lady Georgiana Fullerton and J.M. Capes, The Life of St.Frances of Rome: Of Blessed Lucy of Narni, of Dominica of Paradiso, and of Anne de Montmorency (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1901), 35.
  5. Lady Georgiana Fullerton and J.M. Capes, The Life of St.Frances of Rome: Of Blessed Lucy of Narni, of Dominica of Paradiso, and of Anne de Montmorency (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1901), 36.
  6. Lady Georgiana Fullerton and J.M. Capes, The Life of St.Frances of Rome: Of Blessed Lucy of Narni, of Dominica of Paradiso, and of Anne de Montmorency (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1901), 37.
  7. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Frances of Rome (1384-1440),” by Anne Commire.

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22 Responses

  1. This was a beutiful story about the Saint Frances of Rome. You can tell that she was definitely a good person no matter what even if she was rich. I actually never heard this story before so that was a nice feel good story about someone trying there hardest to help everyone. The article was well made and expressed the determination Frances had in trying to help everyone.

  2. The act of alms giving has always been one which has interested me. I find this article particularly interesting as it talks about a very wealthy woman who came from one of the wealthiest families in Rome, and how she, with all her vast wealth, was able to practice the act of alms giving. I also find this story particularly in interesting as it somewhat mimics the miracle of Christ with the loafs and the fishes. As, even though the family wine reserves were empty, there still streamed a stream of wine, even when it was thought that they had completely run out. And because of this not only could the family have enough to drink, but so could the poor that St. Frances wished to help.

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