Saint Frances was born in Rome, A.D. 1384. Her parents were Paul and Jacqueline Rofredeschi, both of distinguished families. From her tenderest years, Frances gave indications of those virtues which invariably mark out a soul predestined for heaven. Never heeding the frivolous amusements of childhood, her chiefest delight was to pray and to meditate. At eleven years of age, she announced her intention of becoming a nun; but, her parents opposing her design, she subsequently married (in 1396) a young Roman gentleman, her equal in the social position.
In this state of life, Frances labored sedulously to preserve the spirit of grace that hitherto had animated her. Avoiding all dangerous societies and profane spectacles, she never enjoyed real happiness save when praying and meditating. Nevertheless, her piety was so enlightened that, she never lost sight of her domestic obligations. Her attachment to her husband was marked by such angelic sweetness that she entirely triumphed over his heart. True Christian charity consolidated the links of their union, and, during the forty years they lived together, no cloud ever darkened the calm of their lives.
On the education of her children she bestowed the most religious attention, and she was wont to say that the mother of a family might so regulate herself as never to allow her practical devotions to interfere with the proper management of her household. The only grace she ever begged of God for her offspring was that every act of their whole lives should be an aspiration for the glories of heaven. The tutelar angel of the domestic hearth, her piety communicated itself to everyone about her. She treated her servants as brothers and sisters, nay, as coheirs to the future heavenly kingdom; and, animated with this sentiment, she zealously labored to advance their eternal interests.
In deference to her husband, she occasionally relaxed her penitential austerities; but, whensoever she had liberty, she gave herself up to the most rigorous mortifications. She interdicted herself the use of meat and wine, and renounced everything that pampered the senses. Her nourishment consisted of a little bread and water, and she would frequently exchange her good bread for the crusts which mendicants begged at the doors of the charitable. Her dress was of the coarsest material, and she always wore sack-cloth.
Such was the influence of her example on the Roman ladies that many of them adopted her manner of life, and addicted themselves to privations and penitential austerities.
God, wishing to try her, suffered her husband to be banished from Rome in 1413. Nay, she saw herself robbed of all her property during the troubles of that period, when her eldest son was taken from her as a hostage. Whitall, she never lost her serenity of soul, and, amidst all these calamities, she constantly repeated the versicle of Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; may the name of the Lord be blessed!” But the Disposer of all caused these afflictions to pass away, and her husband, son, and property were soon restored.
Her truly religious husband, appreciating the sanctity of his companion, permitted her to found a monastery (in 1425) for maidens and married women who might wish to renounce the world. She placed this monastery under the rule of Saint Benedict. In 1433, she found that this monastery was too small for the members flocking to it, and she therefore enlarged it considerably. The Order was sanctioned as that of Oblates, in 1437, by Eugene IV.
On the decease of her pious husband, Frances, after arranging all her temporal concerns, went immediately to join her dear children. She prostrated herself humbly at the gate of her own monastery, and prayed admission like a mere beggar. She took the habit of the Oblates on the feast of Saint Benedict, A.D. 1437; and, far from esteeming herself as the foundress of the new institution, she devoted herself to its duties, even as the humblest of her community. Her habitual meditation was the passion of our Lord, and her soul was never absent from the hill of Calvary. Whenever she assisted at the holy sacrifice, she seemed as though she had been translated to heaven. Her devotion to Saint John the Evangelist was very great; but her devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the patroness of her Order, edified and enlightened everyone around her.
Being obliged to leave her monastery for a while to minister at the death-bed of one of her children, she herself was smitten with the contagion. She foretold the time of her decease, and, after receiving the sacraments of the Church, expired on the 9th of March, 1440.