Cloistered Dominican Nuns Corpus Christi Monastery

Story of A Soul Completely Surrendered to God: Saint Agnes of Montepulciano

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Let us pray and continue to pray, even when misfortunes and calamities fall upon us.

-St. Agnes of Montepulciano

The story of St. Agnes of Montepulciano is the story of what God’s grace can do in and through a soul completely surrendered to Him and trusts in His Divine Providence. Agnes was born in a little town near Montepulciano and from the start, she showed a thirst for God and the things of God and a docility to His leading. When hardly old enough to pray, she was already showing great progress in her prayer life and would often seek solitude to be in prayer. When she was about five or six, she asked her parents whether she could enter religious life and consecrate herself to God completely. They refused her, with many reasons any parent would understand. Yet, Agnes persisted in her desire.

A few years later, while walking by a hill on top of which sat a brothel, a flock of crows swooped down from the house and attacked poor Agnes. As her family marveled why they attacked, and in particular only Agnes, she explained it was a spiritual attack and it was connected to her vocation to God. Her parents finally relented and at the age of nine, she entered a community of nuns commonly known as the Sisters of the Sack (because their habits were made of coarse sackcloth).

In this austere and devout community, lives of sanctity were common, yet Agnes was still noted for her piety and holiness, and God revealed her sanctity in numerous and extraordinary ways. By the age of fourteen, she was made procuratrix, that is, she was put in charge of all material goods for the entire community (this includes managing the goods possessed by the community and procuring any goods a sister and/or the community needs). She managed to discharge her responsibilities with a tender heart and firm hand, without lessening her devotions and prayers. Soon after, she was chosen by another sister to help her begin a new foundation at Proceno. Soon after the two sisters arrived in Proceno, Agnes was made superior of the new foundation by the pope. She was then only fifteen years old.

Agnes was deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother, Eucharist, the Passion of Christ, and the Infant Jesus, and she experienced miracles and extraordinary graces in connection with each of these devotions, as answers to her prayers. She was settled and at peace in Proceno, yet after a visit to Montepulciano, the brothel where she had been attacked by the crows kept returning to her mind and bothered her. She prayed fervently that God would reveal His will her in this matter. Finally, she received a response to her prayer in the form of a vision.

She was standing on the shore facing a great ocean, with its waves raging and foaming under a dark sky. Three ships began to approach her on the sea, until they were close enough she could see the person standing at each helm. Each was of dignified bearing and she recognized them as St. Augustine, St. Francis and St. Dominic. Each pressed and invited her to enter his boat. Agnes was in doubt as to which vessel to choose, until St. Dominic said, “The Lord has disposed that she should embark on my boat.” As the vision vanished, an angel descended and revealed its meaning to her. “The life of mortals on this low region of earth is precisely a sea agitated by a violent storm. Fly, therefore from its perils, and leave those who serve the world to be shipwrecked. You have already separated yourself from it, by following part of the rule of St. Francis with the religious of the Sack, and embracing part of that of St. Augustine here in Proceno. But God further wills that you should return to your country, and consecrated yourself to the institute of His servant Dominic, and build a monastery in that very place, where, as you well know, incontinence now reigns…” Agnes was overjoyed and wasted no time.

In 1306, when she was thirty-eight years old, she returned to Montepulciano and immediately sought to by the property where the brothel stood. Armed with boundless confidence in God’s divine providence, she overcame every obstacle: funds for purchasing the property through friends and family, permission to build from the bishop. The church and convent were completed at the same time and build in the humblest and poorest manner. Women had begun to seek entrance to the new foundation and Agnes was unanimously selected as the first superior. Agnes then announced her intention to introduce the Rule and Constitutions of the Dominican Order and have the new foundation be a Dominican monastery. After a few days of prayer, the community agreed.

Agnes was zealous, but also tender, in seeing that each precept of the Rule was precisely followed. She would frequently explain that the most minute points are of incalculable importance, since, in a system composed of closely connected parts, the smallest cannot be disjoined from the rest without altering the whole. Yet, Agnes was to face a tremendous trial, one that would test her faith in Divine Providence. While no one expected the construction of the church and monastery to last forever, as it was humbly built, it was also a complete horror when the walls crumbled within four or five years. This greatly grieved Agnes, but she consoled herself that no one had been hurt. Still, what were they to do now? God once again provided through the local community in some surprising ways.

After a lifetime of trials overcome by trusting in God’s grace and providence and always seeking to grow in virtue, Agnes became worn out by her labors and illness. But she was never more joyful than when she realized death was near. When she saw the religious gathered round her bed weeping, she addressed them with these words: “What! Do you not love me enough to rejoice when you see that I am soon to go to God, Who is the only end for which all creatures were made?” When they answered that they wept because they were to be deprived of so faithful a guide, she responded: “Do not be afraid of losing my assistance; I shall be your mother, your companion, and your sister, whenever in your wants you call on me to be so.” Then there was a pause as she looked up, her face beaming as she then said most joyfully: “I go to Him Who is my only Hope.” She was forty-nine years old.

When we pray, may we follow the example of St. Agnes and always speak to God with confidence, being assured that He loves us; may we not be content with the flowers of good desires, but draw from prayer the fruit of good works.

St. Agnes, pray for us!

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