On March 2, the Franciscan family and the people of the Czech Republic honor the memory of St. Agnes of Bohemia (Agnes of Prague). Born in 1211, she was the daughter of Ottokar II, King of Bohemia. Her mother was a Hungarian princess, and so Agnes was a first cousin of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. As a princess, it seemed that Agnes' life would be programmed for her to marry a foreign monarch for the benefit of her country; however, after two attempts to arrange such a marriage failed, Agnes refused to be a political pawn any longer but to follow her own path in life. Franciscan friars came to Prague in 1232, and Agnes was soon attracted to their preaching and values. Supported by her brother, King Wenceslaus, she built a church and friary, and then a hospital that she endowed with her dowry. She also invited Poor Clare sisters from Italy to establish a monastery in Prague, which she herself entered in 1234.
This radical decision inspired St. Clare to begin a correspondence with her that endured for two decades. Clare praised Agnes for having made a “great laudable exchange: to leave the things of time for those of eternity, to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth.” These letters also reveal Agnes’s determination to follow Clare’s vision of Franciscan life rather than the one being imposed by church authorities. Unfortunately, we possess only four letters of Clare to Agnes, and not those of Agnes to Clare. Agnes, as abbess of the monastery, continued to care for the sick and lepers, and led her community in Prague until her death in 1282. Pope John Paul II canonized Agnes in 1989, a decision that was credited with helping inspire the “Velvet Revolution” that led to the collapse of the authoritarian Communist regime in her homeland.
Let us keep in mind Clare’s words to Agnes: “What you hold, may you [always] hold. What you do, may you [always] do and never abandon. But with swift pace, light step, and unswerving feet. . . go forward securely, joyfully, and swiftly, on the path of prudent happiness, believing nothing, agreeing with nothing which would dissuade you from this resolution or which would place a stumbling block for you on the way, so that you may offer your vows to the Most High in the pursuit of that perfection to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.”