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FOLLOWING IN HER SISTER’S FOOTSTEPS

Father Francis's picture
Saint Agnes of Assisi

Any parent will tell you that teenage daughters can be rebellious and headstrong. They like their own way and their little sisters want to copy them. Spare a thought, then, for the father of Saint Agnes of Assisi.

It was in the year 1212 that his 19 year old daughter Clare had just run away from home to follow a shabby mendicant friar and now, only a fortnight later, her 14 year old sister Agnes announced that she wanted to join her. He must have feared for the safety and sanity of his two girls. How could he know that they would achieve sainthood, in company with that most holy man, St. Francis?

Agnes fled to the convent where Francis had found temporary lodging for her sister Clare. Both girls had been captivated by the preaching of Francis and all they wanted was to try to follow his example, living in poverty and love of Christ. Their father and several other relatives went to the convent and tried to remove Agnes by force. It is said that as she was being dragged along by her hair she suddenly became rooted to the spot and could not be moved! Her father left her in peace.

Francis found a home for Agnes and Clare in a house near the church of San Damiano. As more young women joined them, this became their first convent, with Clare as its superior. It was there that Agnes received her habit. She began to live a life of great austerity, giving as much time as possible to prayer and meditation.

Francis had such admiration for Agnes that when she was only 24 years old he sent her to Florence to take charge of a new convent. Later, in several other cities in northern Italy, she opened new houses for the Order. Everywhere she went, people were impressed by her piety and sincerity. Her words, and above all her actions, attracted many women to the Franciscan way of life.

When Clare fell ill and was approaching death, she sent for Agnes so that they might be together during her final days. She comforted Agnes by telling her, "You will soon come and re-join me with the Lord." Three months later Agnes followed her, on 16 November 1253, and she was 56 years old.

Agnes disobeyed her father but never disgraced him. She was a daughter of whom he could be proud. Good parents are always anxious for their daughters' welfare. Today, when vocations to the religious life are in decline, how many parents would actively encourage their daughters to enter a convent? Perhaps, like Agnes' father, most would try to dissuade them. They might not use force, but by subtle means try to make them choose some other way of life. Let us ask Saint Agnes to watch over all our young women, especially those who may be considering a religious vocation.