Move over St. Christopher! This lady is the patron saint of those in the driver’s seat

She also is the patron saint of Benedictine oblates, widows

By Pedro A. Moreno, O.P.
Director, Office of Hispanic Ministry

Many Saint Christopher medals have been handed out to new car owners and young drivers throughout the years. One of my daughters even has one hanging from her rearview mirror.

But, the enigmatic Saint Christopher, whoever he actually might be (originally Christopher was more like a title and not an actual name), is not and never has been the patron saint of drivers. He is the patron saint of travelers.

The actual patron saint of car drivers is a lovely Italian woman who was born in 1384. This is nearly 100 years before Leonardo da Vinci's self-propelled vehicle was sketched out on paper, 400 years before Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot of France built a steam tractor for the military, 450 years before Robert Anderson of Scotland built an electric carriage and 500 years before Karl Friedrich Benz of Germany built the first actual gasoline-powered automobile.

Even more impressive, while headlamps for automobiles didn’t arrive until the 20th century, this model of Christian living had already been traveling at night with her own unique headlamp leading her way in the darkness of Rome back in the 14th century.

Her life was a bit uncommon. She was born in a wealthy family and surrounded by many advantages and comforts. As a very young girl, she was impressed with the many religious sisters who walked about the Holy City. Their holiness, their religious habits, from various communities, and their happiness and joy impressed the young girl so much that she expressed an early desire to become one of them. But, her parents had other plans.

Shortly after entering her teenage years, she was married to Lorenzo Ponziani, commander of the papal troops of Rome. This marriage, a very loving one, lasted for more than 40 years.
 
While Lorenzo dealt with his military issues, our saint would invite her sister, Vannozza, to join her to pray, visit the poor, care for the sick and be involved in various other acts of charity with those most in need. Her example was contagious, and she motivated others to do the same. One source on her life mentions that she became known by the nickname “the queen.”

Her marriage was a fruitful one. Six children were born in the Ponziani family. Sadly, two died during the plague. Wars and many other hardships did away with her family’s wealth and many possessions, but her suffering did not end there. After being wounded in battle, her loving husband would succumb to his wounds when she was in her mid-50s. But, this widow continued her pious and charitable works.

She founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, a confraternity of pious women. She also founded a convent for common life. She received approval of Pope Eugene IV to establish a religious congregation of nuns. A community that became known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome.

She loved Jesus and served Him present in the poor and suffering. She motivated many others to do the same. She died before her 60th birthday.

She was canonized in 1608, and in 1925 Pope Pius XI declared her the patron saint of automobile drivers because of a legend that her guardian angel used to light the road in front of her with a lantern when she would go out at night to help those in need.

Saint Frances of Rome, patroness of drivers, pray for us.