Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy

Claire Dwyer | October 22, 2019

Our Lady of Sorrows Feast Day: September 15

This week we’ll celebrate two important feasts: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on September 14, and the following day, September 15, we’ll remember Our Lady of Sorrows. Two days linked forever in meaning, inseparable, poignant.

September 15 also happens to be my birthday. And for a long time, as long as I was old enough to realize who I shared the day with, I felt a little – cheated. I mean, it’s a bit of a downer to liturgically commemorate all the bitterness in Mary’s life on a day for celebrating your own. Not that I ever thought it should be all about me, but as a child, it just didn’t seem quite fair. To enter the world as Mary grieved at the Cross.

Eventually I made peace with it. And then I considered it an honor to be born on a Marian day, whichever one it may be. Forever I’ll be tucked into that title, a little footnote on her calendar. And as I got older, the meaning of suffering, hers and my own, took on its own strange beauty and could be appreciated. At least, I reasoned, I have a patroness in all the little crosses I drag reluctantly as I shuffle along, hopefully heavenward.

But today I came to love it.

Suddenly, in my Suburban. A flash of clarity at a stoplight, that came, like most good things, while meditating on the rosary. It was this: Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy.

These are both ancient titles of Mary, but I had never held them together in my heart before, each one like a mirror reflecting the other, returning its own light. Each one meaningless, really, without the other. There is no value in suffering without its little Sunday at the end, and there is no joyful redemption without the cross. There just isn’t. It’s one of those paradoxes our faith is famous for.

First, Our Lady of Sorrows, the woman who tasted bitterness at the prophecy of Simeon, when she hears that a sword would pierce her heart, already fear stabbing her. But then, as always, a yes. Each sorrow a yes. Specifically, we remember seven: The Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, their Meeting on the Way to Calvary, Jesus’ Death on the Cross, Mary’s Reception of His Body, And the Placing of His Body in the Tomb. Those are the big ones. And all the little piercings, too, each step he took away from her, into the crowds that would kill him, each soul that rejected him, each sin she saw, each one was an ache. But every time there is the yes, the giving away of herself into the will of God. Every sorrow was sealed with a “fiat” that gave it eternal power. Until finally it would culminate at the foot of the Cross, with her leaning into that will with a silent agony we can only imagine.

And then. In that darkest hour, in the horrible silence as heaven held its breath, He spoke. “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother.” In that extreme grief, there was yet another yes. And we all flooded into her heart, hollowed out by humility and suffering. The day he wrenched eternal life back for us, he gave us the source of his own human life – he handed us his Mother. 

And we won twice.

So that’s one reason she’s the Cause of Our Joy. Because in another act of generosity only possible for God Himself, she is ours. Our Lady. In the most anguished hour of all her sorrows, we received a gift that the angels would envy if they could envy. We share her with them as a Queen, but only to us can she be a Mother. In all things she shares our life and loves us with unspeakable tenderness. Once we have become her children, we feel the warm gentle weight of her gaze that makes life bearable even in its most difficult days. “Our faith tells us that here below, in our present life, we are pilgrims, wayfarers,” says St. Josemaria Escriva. “Our lot is one of sacrifices, suffering, and privations. Nonetheless, joy must mark the rhythm of our steps. ‘Serve the Lord with joy’ – there is no other way to serve Him.” Every shimmering joy, each a foretaste of the eternal that awaits us, is from her spoon.

She is also the Cause of Our Joy because, by the design of God, it is only through her that He came. Christ, our salvation, came through this little vessel and we are so forever grateful. From the first, the big “Fiat” spoken to Gabriel, divinity took flesh within her and finally, our salvation was underway. She is the first chapter in the book of eternal life. Joy itself comes to the world, and only through Mary. St. John the Baptist was the first to feel it, leaping with joy as an unborn baby as he felt their presence, even as she herself exclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:47)

Appropriately, then, we rejoice too because she is honored in heaven and earth. She is given a seat next to her son, she is crowned Queen of Heaven, the final victory is given to her. “A great marvel appeared in the heaven: a woman, dressed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) If our Mother is Queen, then we take heart. St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us that we are prompted to “acknowledge the basis for this joyful hope. Yes, we are still pilgrims, but our mother has gone ahead, where she points to the reward of our efforts. She tells us we can make it. And, if we are faithful, we will reach home.” So she is the Cause of Our Joy because she is a sign of our salvation. What we hope for she holds high as a promise fulfilled.

Finally, and this is the difficult part, but what brings it all full circle – Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy because, Fr. John Hardon said, “She enjoyed the happiness of suffering with Christ, suffering for Christ, suffering like Christ. How the meaning of happiness is taught us by the mother of God…happiness on earth is a measure of our living lives of sacrifice as Our Lady did. When we address Our Lady as the Cause of Our Joy, we mean it…She is the Cause of Our Joy because our joy will depend on how faithfully we allow Mary to teach us what it means to be happy.”

What he’s saying is this: if joy is union with God, then there’s a cross in it for us. No cross, no joy. We can run away from it, and maybe there’ll be a little relief in the distractions of the world, but no real joy. Only by leaning in, as she did, can true joy be found, and once we do, we find that being so close to a God who suffered takes on a certain sweetness. No Sunday sunrise without Friday’s slow fade. No Queen of Heaven without the Sorrowful Mother.

I guess then, it is a “happy” birthday after all. In the most joyful sense of the word.

Through the Eyes of the Saints | Saint Monica

Claire Dwyer | October 22, 2019

Feast Day: August 27

The canonized women who are mothers add to our altars a special kind of incense – a two-fold fragrance of motherhood, both natural and spiritual. The very definition of their sainthood reveals that the life of the soul was sacrosanct to them, and that while they nurtured the physical life of their children, it was eternal life which they desired to impart above all.

Of these special women, St. Monica is among the most famous, and that is because of her son. What we know about her is almost completely from the Confessions of St. Augustine, who is as well known for his unruly early life as he is for his later saintliness and preaching as Bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa. Now a Doctor of the Church, he started out life steeped in impurity and pride, rejecting morality and Christianity for mistresses and error. His loose living was a tremendous cross for his devout mother.

Monica was no stranger to family crosses. Raised Christian in the fourth century, she had married a violent and unfaithful man, Patricius, who refused to allow her to baptize their three children. While in deep personal pain, her faith was her unshakable anchor. Other women began to notice. It was a common scenario for suffering wives to come to her for strength and comfort in their own difficulties. Years of patient love and powerful prayers paid off in the end, when Patricius converted to the faith a year before he died. 

But the seventeen-year-old Augustine had yet to reform. In anguish, Monica implored the local bishop for help convincing Augustine to surrender both the mistresses and Manichean heresy he had taken up. God’s time will come, the bishop reassured her, but she was so persistent he finally urged, Go now, I beg you. It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.

And so the widowed Monica redoubled her efforts as she followed Augustine to Italy when he left home to continue his education. Although Augustine tried to lose her on the way, she resolutely came after her brilliant but sinful son, first to Rome and then to Milan. All the while, she was pulling down favors from heaven by fasting and praying as only a Christian mother can. Augustine, looking back on those days in the Confessions, remembers the rivers flowing down from my mother’s eyes, by which, before (God) and in my behalf, she daily watered the ground beneath her face.

One answer to her prayer was the friendship of a holy and gifted bishop, Ambrose, who came to admire Monica’s devotion and easily won the trust and admiration of her son. Largely through his influence, Augustine was able to finally embrace the faith and desire to be baptized. His conversion had been a tremendous struggle. In the end, it was a voice from heaven urging Augustine to take up and read the Scriptures which broke his resistance and flooded his soul with grace 

It was a grace won with Christ’s blood and a mother’s tears.

During that Easter vigil in 387 Monica witnessed the birth of eternal life in the son she had delivered into earthly life. It was what she had hoped for all those years. Overjoyed to be of one mind and heart at last, mother and son prepared to go home to Africa. Before they arrived, Monica died from a sudden illness and her 33-year-old son sorrowfully closed her eyes – the eyes which, he said, had wept more for me than mothers weep over their child’s dead bodies.

This time, it was the son who wept.

I cannot tell clearly enough, Augustine emphasized, what love she had for me, and how with greater anguish she brought me forth in spirit than she had given me birth in the flesh.

St. Augustine closed his memories of his mother by asking his readers to pray for her. Now, as a Saint, it is she we ask for help, turning in our own times of anguish to her for intercession for our marriages, for the return of wayward children, and for the flourishing of supernatural life in the souls of all those entrusted to us. 

No doubt she has a few spiritually fertile tears left for us, too.

St. Monica, mother both natural and spiritual, pray for us!

Through the Eyes of the Saints | Saints Louis and Zelie Martin

Claire Dwyer | October 20, 2019

One of the most saintly love stories in history began on a bridge.

It was April, 1858. Zelie Guerin was walking over the bridge of St. Leonard in Alencon, France when she observed a striking, dignified man also making his was across. An interior voice, which she recognized as coming from the Blessed Virgin, spoke: This is he whom I have prepared for you.

The pretty young woman had been noticed by Louis Martin, too, and it didn’t take long for them to be introduced, probably by his mother, who was taking a lacemaking class with Zelie. 

The two had much in common. Both had desired religious life, but had been turned away at the door of both monastery and convent. He, for an inability to master Latin, and she, because, as the Superior of the local order of St. Vincent de Paul mysteriously told her, “It was not the will of God.

They had both set about to learn intricate arts. Louis learned the careful craft of clockmaking. Zelie’s art was lacemaking, specifically, Point de Alencon, a complicated and highly-prized lace the region was known for.

Most importantly, they had a deep devotion to God and to the Catholic faith. They had long since set their hearts on fulfilling perfectly God’s will for them. When He revealed that they were called to marriage, they embraced their vocation and wished for many children to bring them up for heaven. Perhaps, they openly hoped, some of them would be given the religious vocations they themselves had not received.

Married on July 13, 1858, the Lord heard their prayers and soon the home was filled with the gentle joy of children. Marie-Louise, Marie-Pauline, Marie-Leonie, and Marie-Helene followed each other in quick succession. And then, finally, a son arrived, and the family rejoiced, hoping that Marie-Joseph-Louis would grow up to be a missionary priest! But he was called home to heaven just a few months later, ushering in a period of deep grief for Louis and Zelie. Another son was born and died, and then they suddenly lost little Helene shortly after Marie-Celine was born. I thought, wrote Zelie, I would die myself.

Another daughter, Marie-Therese-Melanie was born in 1870, and as Zelie was unable to nurse her babies, had to be sent to a wet nurse in town. Tragically, incomprehensibly, the nurse had let the little girl starve, and she died in agony on Zelie’s lap. It was another bitter cross, and one which could only be borne with a faith deeper than death. But that was, of course, exactly the kind of faith they had.

It was the next child who would bring this family into the light of the whole Church, little Marie-Francoise-Therese, St. Therese of Lisieux. She was a fresh joy, a little winter flower who appeared on January 2, 1873, and she was encircled in a family rich in love. Together they attended Mass daily, prayed, served the poor, and fulfilled their duties with attention to every detail. Zelie continued to work as she raised her daughters; in fact, her business became so successful that Louis sold his own in order to help her manage the lacemaking. Her many remaining letters are filled with the joys and sorrows of daily family life, and themselves laced with faith in a God who works all things for good.

But the warm circle would be broken by another suffering. This time the sacrifice the Lord asked for was Zelie herself, who died after an excruciating battle with breast cancer when Therese was only four years old.

Broken hearted but determined to do his best for his five daughters, Louis sold the lace-making business and their home and moved to Lisieux to be near Zelie’s brother and his family. It would be a move designed by Providence.

In Lisieux was the Carmelite convent where four of the five girls would find their calling. Louis surrendered them to God, generously but not without a bittersweet grief. First Pauline, then Marie, then Therese, his Little Queen, when she was only fifteen. 

Celine’s entrance would have to wait, for a final sacrifice was asked of Louis – in the form of an illness that took his health, his independence, and slowly, his mind. At his final visit with his Carmelite daughters, barely able to speak, Therese would emotionally remember his final gesture to them: his hand raised, his finger pointing upward, and a single, wrenching word: Heaven!

Celine and Leonie alone remained to help care for him until his death in 1894. Then they both would enter the convent: Celine joined her sisters in Carmel and Leonie became a Visitation nun.

For decades, it was Therese, canonized in 1925, who would capture the hearts of the faithful. One of the most loved saints of all time, The Little Flower and her way of spiritual childhood spread like wildfire over our spiritual landscape. But the Church slowly realized that this Flower bloomed on a burning bush, a family itself ablaze with love. Perhaps it was she, this time, pointing us upward to heaven, revealing those who had opened her little-girl heart to Jesus and made Him the King in their home and their lives.

Louis and Zelie Martin were canonized in 2015, the first married saints of modern times and the only married couple to be canonized together. Their 19 years of marriage was rich in suffering but richer still in love, a love which gave birth to a spirituality. Therese’s way of confidence and love really was a rediscovery of the deeper meaning of her own beloved childhood.

The Church, by raising them to the altars, urges us to find hope in their story. Now we are encouraged to call on them for help – in finding a spouse, perhaps, or for a happy marriage, or holy children, or strength in the bitterest sufferings. Certainly the lacemaker and the clockmaker will help us faithfully fulfill the millions of tiny details in our daily duties – to the last stitch and the final screw.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of that divinely-orchestrated meeting on the bridge. How good is God, who guides our steps that we encounter such saints as we make our own way across this life! May Louis and Zelie pray for all of us, that we safely, faithfully, cross the bridge into heaven and join them there.

Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!

Through the Eyes of the Saints | Saint Josemaria Escriva, Prophet of Everyday Holiness

Claire Dwyer | October 20, 2019

The young Spanish priest had felt in his prayer an unidentified urging for several years, a vague call, a sense of something more. On October 2, 1928, while pondering some notes in his journal, Fr. Josemaria Escriva suddenly saw it: the call within a call such as Mother Teresa had received. He saw his mission clearly and definitely – to open a new path to holiness, a way of living out the universal Christian vocation in the midst of the world by sanctifying the everyday and the ordinary.

He would dedicate the rest of his life, until his death on June 26, 1975, to this great Work of God, or Opus Dei as the movement came to be called.  

Fueled by an intense inner life of prayer, he and the tens of thousands of lay men, women and priests who would follow him would find that by perfecting, uniting to the cross, and offering up of their professions, their friendly interactions, their recreation, their family life – all human activity – there was a natural but powerful way to sanctify both the world and themselves.

This Way is a foundational charism of Opus Dei, now a familiar and formally recognized movement in the Church. Fr. Josemaria Escriva would himself be raised to sainthood by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002. But just as St. Josemaria gave himself completely to the whole Church, his message and his means of holiness are meant for us all.

In fact, the mission he received so willingly would prophetically precede one of the central themes of Vatican II – the ordinary baptismal call to holiness of all believers. Each of us has a mission, often unseen (and all the holier for it!) to sanctify all of our everyday realities. And beautifully, paradoxically, it is we who in turn find ourselves sanctified through our small movements of cooperation with God.  

The word of encouragement to a friend, the daily Mass with toddlers in tow, the well-written professional proposal, the deliberate work of a craftsman, the cake baked with care. It’s divine. All of it.

And when we mingle our work with our worship, like water and wine, we find that the division between heaven and earth blurs and God infuses our hearts with Himself. St. Josemaria would foreshadow not only Vatican II, but he would point us to the reality of heaven itself in the here and now.

In the spiritual writings he left behind, this saint of everyday holiness gave us thousands of gems for meditation. Here are a few to take to prayer as we celebrate his feast day:

Do you really want to be a saint? Carry out the little duty of each moment: do what you ought and put yourself into what you are doing. (The Way, 815.)

You want to be a martyr. I’ll place a martyrdom within your reach: to be an apostle and not call yourself an apostle, to be a missionary – with a mission – and not call yourself a missionary, to be a man of God and to seem a man of the world: to pass unnoticed! (The Way, 847.)

We are children of God. Bearers of the only flame that can light up the paths of the earth for souls, of the only brightness which can never be darkened, dimmed, or overshadowed. The Lord uses us as torches, to make that light shine out! It depends on us that many should not remain in darkness, but walk instead along paths that lead to eternal life. (The Forge, 1.)

Live and work for God, with a spirit of love and service, with a priestly soul, even though you may not be a priest. Then all your actions will take on a genuine supernatural meaning which will keep your whole life united to the source of all graces. (The Forge, 369.)

St. Josemaria, pray for us!

Through the Eyes of the Saints | Saint Rita of Cascia

Claire Dwyer | October 20, 2019

It was year 1450, and it the first Holy Year declared in the Church. Lay and religious pilgrims joyfully converged upon Rome including a band of Augustinian nuns from Cascia, in the region of Umbria in central Italy known for it’s saints, as the birthplace of St. Benedict and St. Francis.

Among them was an elderly nun, weak and exhausted from the long journey, but rejoicing to be the great Holy City. 

Little did Rita of Cascia know that 650 years later, during another Jubilee year, she would return to Rome or, her mortal remains would by police helicopter, to be venerated by pilgrims and the Pope himself, in honor of the 100th anniversary of her own canonization.  

Pope John Paul II reminded the crowd gathered there Saturday, May 20, 2000, that she was the first woman to be canonized in the Great Jubilee year of 1900. She was, he said, small in stature but great in holiness, who lived in humility and is now known throughout the world for her heroic Christian life as a wife, mother, widow and nun. Deeply rooted in the love of Christ, Rita found in her faith unshakeable strength to be a woman of peace in every situation.

His voice, trembling with age and suffering, spoke of one of his famous themes. Rita well interpreted the feminine genius, the Pope said, by living it intensely in both physical and spiritual motherhood.

And so she did. 

It had been a long journey, her pilgrimage, not just physically, but in spirit as well. Rita’s life was a series of sufferings, of twists and turns, of losing everything and finding it again.

Born Margherita Lotti in 1381 to aged parents who rejoiced to finally have a child after years of infertility, Rita grew up in a devout home. Anxious to have her future secured as they neared old age, her parents arranged for a marriage when she was a very young teenager. 

Her husband, Paolo Mancini, was an angry man at first, embroiled in the feuds common between Italian families at the time. Rita’s goodness and prayers softened him. Still, he became of victim of the violence and was murdered in a blood feud, leaving her a young widow with two sons.

Adding to her grief, Rita’s anguished sons swore revenge for their father’s death. Her pleas for forgiveness for the killers went unheard. So she turned to the God who always hears, and begged Him to spare her sons from the stain of mortal sin. Shortly after, they both died, probably of the plague, and Rita was utterly alone.

She longed to enter the Augustinian monastery of St. Mary Magdalen, but faced a serious obstacle: one of the medieval requirements for admission was that a childless widow have her relatives’ permission to enter. Her husband’s family would have withheld their permission unless she joined the bitter vendetta. Rita turned again to prayer, and received the grace, miraculously, to forge a peace between the two families. 

She became a nun, devoted the last half of her life to intense prayer, and received the stigmata on her forehead in the form of a wound from the crown of thorns. It caused her unspeakable pain and would have prevented her from making the pilgrimage to Rome during that first Holy Year. When it was time for the nuns to leave, though, the wound disappeared. Rita set out with them, making the difficult journey with joy.

She would live just a few more years before her final pilgrimage to the heaven in 1457. The day of her death is her feast day: May 22.

Who knew, at the time, that this simple woman of the Beatitudes a woman of peace and meekness, who mourned but showed mercy would hundreds of years later be invoked by millions as patroness of impossible causes? Who knew then that one of the greatest popes, a Saint himself, would esteem her as model of the feminine genius and both kinds of motherhood, physical and spiritual? 

St. Rita reminds us that our Church is rich is women who show us what is best about ourselves, whose qualities of holiness transcend time and place. Even now she makes little pilgrimages into our own situations of sufferings in our homes, she journeys with us in our pleas for seemingly impossible resolutions in our marriages and families, and she joins us in our daily prayers to become women of forgiveness and mercy.

St. Rita, pray for us!

Through the Eyes of the Saints | Saint Gianna Molla

Claire Dwyer | October 20, 2019

Almost twenty years ago, when I was a new mom, I slipped out one evening for a presentation, an introduction to the then newly beatified Gianna Beretta Molla. The presenter came to share the story of this doctor, wife, and mother who had captivated the world with her fierce devotion to human life even if it should cost of her own. He came with stacks of holy cards printed with her photograph and the prayer for her canonization.  And he came with her wedding gown. I remember pressing the holy cards to the satiny folds of her white dress. Touching them to a piece of her life, a symbol of the sacrament that she gave herself over to with radical faith and deep love, I felt a connection and a desire to know her more. This will be a relic someday, he predicted. Gianna was saving her dress, hoping to turn it into a vestment if she should have a son who would become a priest. Her son, as it turned out, would not become a priest. But she would become a saint.

She is famous for her final story: the crescendo of self-giving love when she, pregnant with her fourth child, discovered that a tumor was growing on her uterus. She rejected a hysterectomy, which would have been morally acceptable but would have resulted in the indirect death of her unborn baby. Instead she opted for a surgery which would remove the tumor but would allow the pregnancy to continue, all the while knowing, as a physician herself, the risk she was taking. At every step, she was insistent that the baby’s life come before her own. Gianna delivered a healthy ten-pound daughter, Gianna Emanuela, on April 21, 1962, via c-section. Probably because of the surgical delivery, she contracted an infection in her abdomen. After a week of excruciating suffering, which she voluntarily chose to endure consciously, she died in her home on April 28 now her feast day.

This sacrifice, this willingness to lay down her life for another, was only the culmination, though, of a life lived entirely for God and those He sent her. Gianna may be a saint because of one heroic decision, but she became a saint because her whole life was a prayer of praise and a symphony of smaller sacrifices. The loss of an older sister when she was young propelled her into the world of suffering, which she met with a dedication to prayer daily mediation, afternoon visits to the Blessed Sacrament, the rosary. While in high school, she went on a retreat of the Spiritual Exercises, making firm commitments in the spiritual life. Jesus, she journaled on the retreat, I promise to submit to everything that you will allow to happen to me. Only help me to know your will. And submit she did, to the death of her parents, the sorrows of World War II, the struggles of medical studies. She grounded herself in service: leadership in Catholic Action, which involved giving talks and retreats to young women, and her mission her medical work which she saw as a ministry to Jesus in the bodies of the sick. Never judging, always compassionate, she stressed the value of life, especially to those patients who considered abortion. Sometimes, she would leave money behind on the tables of her poorest patients. And always, she would do it with a smile.

When she married Piero Molla in 1955, they both desired a holy marriage and family.  Warmly welcoming three children in quick succession, Gianna was still able to balance work and family, continuing her medical practice up until shortly before little Gianna Emanuela’s birth. And still, every day, every busy day, Gianna stopped in to visit the Blessed Sacrament, to be with the One who gave her the strength for all of it.

What this means for us is this: that our readiness for the bigger sacrifices of life is made possible by our acceptance of every little one God gives us the opportunity for. Our faithfulness to Him begins in the small practices of everyday prayer. And so Gianna is a model of heroic love, true, but it is a lifetime of love we see when we look to her. Meeting each morning as an opportunity for prayer and love in motherhood, in the workplace, in the many nooks and crannies of the world that is possible. And it strengthens us for the heroic, the impossible, the possible-only-with God.

That is the secret of St. Gianna.  May she pray for us all.

A Woman for All Seasons

Claire Dwyer | October 20, 2019

If you are busy woman juggling family, friends, work, and prayer, trying to balance works of mercy with your daily duty, prayer time with household chores, and marriage with ministry, then let today’s saint be an inspiration. There are few women who can’t relate to her in some way- she was a wife, mother, friend, prayer warrior, champion of the sick and poor, and founder of a religious community. But most of all, she was a daughter of the Church who lived both her marriage vows and baptismal promises to the full. March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome.

Her story could be an epic movie. Born to a noble family in Rome in 1384, she wished to be a nun from a young age, but her parents had planned a marriage to a wealthy nobleman, Lorenzo Ponziani. Devastated, the young teenager stubbornly objected and prayed that God would intervene. Her confessor challenged her: Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or you want God to do your will?

Humbled, she accepted her parent’s wishes and married. Lorenzo was kind and good and powerful in fact, he was the faithful commander of the papal troops in Rome during the time of unrest and division within the Church. Together they had three children, and Frances, while devoted to her family, found the life of a noblewoman difficult. Parties and fancy clothes had no appeal for the girl who still longed for a life of prayer. Confiding her secret wishes to her sister-in-law, Vonnozza, Frances found a spiritual companion and life-long friend. Together, the two women would pray in the chapel they had set up in a tower of the family home, attend mass, and visit hospitals and prisons. Always, however, they put their family’s needs first. When her mother-in-law died, Frances, only sixteen, successfully took over administration of the large household.

And then began a time of severe trials. With the feuding in Rome at a fever pitch, violent threats to their family drove Lorenzo out of the city for his own safety. While he was away, invaders overtook their home, kidnapped her oldest son, killed the servants, and destroyed the house. Shortly afterward, the plague took the life of her other children.

With incredible fortitude, Frances redoubled her efforts to serve the poor and turned her ruined home into a hospital. One patient was her own husband, who returned home later a broken man. She cared for him and in gratitude and love he gave her his blessing to begin a lay order of women called the Oblates of Mary. While remaining in the world, these women promised deep devotion to God and service to the poor.

Eventually, the Oblates opened a home for their widowed members, where Frances became the superior upon her husband’s death.  Her childhood dream of religious life had finally been fulfilled but in God’s own perfect time.

St. Frances of Rome is a model of self-surrender, obedience to the will of God, faithfulness to marriage, motherhood, and daily duty, service of neighbor, and the discipline of a rigorous spiritual life. She is patroness to many causes, including drivers (because her guardian angel used to light her way on night-time visits to the poor and sick) but she has also been appointed by the Church as one of the patronesses of all women. May her prayers help our own feminine vocations to bloom in this new springtime of the Church, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II.

St. Frances of Rome, pray for us!