Worcester’s Own [Saint] Frances

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 

- Deuteronomy 15, 7-8 

With the recent accession of Pope Francis I as head of the Roman Catholic Church, the name of Assisi’s compassionate saint is enjoying renewed popularity. But how many people are aware that Worcester has its own [Saint] Frances? (That’s “Frances,” with an “e,” the feminine version of the name.) The saint is a twentieth century career woman, wife and mother, Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor in the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet, and architect of Social Security. In 2009, the Episcopal Church officially recognized her as a holy woman, or saint, and assigned the date May 13 as her feast day, as listed in the church’s calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. (The passage from Deuteronomy, above, is recommended reading for her feast day.) 

Born in Boston in 1880, Fannie Coralie Perkins (as her parents christened her) was brought to Worcester as a toddler when her father opened a stationery business in the city. After graduating from Classical High School, Fannie earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Mount Holyoke College. Thanks to her American History teacher, Annah May Soule, who conducted field trips into the local industries, her middle-class consciousness was confronted with the plight of the working classes. 

While teaching science at a girls’ school in Illinois, Frances (as she then called herself) was drawn to the Episcopal Church. Abandoning the Congregational faith that she had been raised in (her family worshipped at Pilgrim Congregational Church), she was confirmed in the brand new Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois, in June 1905. As her biographer, Kirsten Downey points out, although her religious conversion was sincere, it just also happened to place her in “the most upscale social milieu” and gave her “a ready social stepladder.” In the years to come, the common religious bond would ease social -- and political-- access to such important people as Winston Churchill and, of course, the Roosevelts.

Published Date: 
February 12, 2015