It has been a season of milestone celebrations for several communities of Poor Clares, members of the contemplative Franciscan Order named for St. Clare of Assisi.
Three Poor Clares professed their final vows recently at two monasteries – in New York and New Jersey – and in Ohio, an anniversary was commemorated. Holy Name friars participated in all the celebrations, recognizing both the long connection of the friars to the sisters as well as the significance of the Poor Clares.
The monastery of St. Clare of Chesterfield, N.J., between Philadelphia and New York City, held two professions this summer. Karen Stapleton, OSC, of Virginia, professed her final vows on June 17 and on July 22 Sr. Nelia Acuna, OSC, of the Philippines, professed her vows.
Roughly 75 miles north of New York City, Sr. Clare Marie Olson, OSC, professed her final vows at the monastery of St. Clare of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., on June 17.
The sisters of the New Jersey and of Wappingers Falls monasteries are members of Holy Name Federation of which Thomas Hartle, OFM, of Butler, N.J., is a spiritual assistant. The nuns in these monasteries are members of the Holy Name Federation of Poor Clares that are under the spiritual care of the Province through which the provincial minister of Holy Name Province serves as their ‘ordinary,’ the church term for overseer/bishop.
“When a woman makes her solemn vows to be a Poor Clare, she is saying to those who will hear that she is open to the grace of transformation,” said Tom. “She is saying, in effect, that she has been called to be an “alternative” to ruin. Just as Francis was called at San Damiano to rebuild the house of the Lord which had fallen into ruin, so the Poor Clare, vowing to follow in the footprints of Jesus, offers her life to rebuild what has fallen apart, to heal wounds and to restore those who have lost their way.”
Joy and Gratitude
“We are very thankful and filled with joy that our Father of Mercies has given these women a Poor Clare vocation and that they have opened their hearts to his grace by saying yes to his gift,” said Sr. Etta Patton, OSC, abbess of the Chesterfield monastery, where 13 women live.
Ronald Pecci, OFM, who attended the profession ceremony for Sr. Clare Marie and Sr. Nelia, said he values the connection to the sisters.
“I have known the nuns of that monastery for many years and Franciscan women are an essential part of the Franciscan family, my family,” said Ron, who celebrated the Mass at Sr. Nelia’s profession. “Without Clare, we would not have the Franciscan Order/family of today.”
John Frambes, OFM, who lives at St. Francis Friary in Beach Haven, N.J., attended the professions of Sr. Karen and Sr. Nelia. “They are both lively people. I attended their professions because I feel an attachment to their community and their celebrations of vows were momentous events for their community.”
“The friars in Beach Haven have been friends with the Chesterfield Poor Clares for a long time,” said John, adding that Kevin Daley, OFM, introduced him to the Poor Clares. “The Clares are wonderfully hospitable and they invite friars into friendship. Conventuals in the Trenton, N.J., Diocese are also friends of theirs. I go to the monastery for Mass once a month and stay for noontime dinner and usually a visit with one of the sisters, who is my spiritual director.”
People from all connections to the sisters participated in the celebrations. The professions included family members and friends, as well as members of religious communities.
At Sr. Clare Marie’s profession, Ron said, “approximately 60 people were present: nuns from her monastery, nuns from the Langhorne Poor Clare monastery, sister’s family, Carmelite and Redemptoristine nuns, Secular Franciscans and some local Franciscan sisters and friars.”
The three newly-professed women were called to religious life after leading full lives.
Sr. Clare, who grew up near Boston, joined the Poor Clares in 2010. Though she said, she had thought about religious life when she was a child, it was not until about 1999 when Sr. Clare thought seriously about joining. Because she was looking for a contemplative life, a friend suggested she consider the Poor Clares and “ended up here up here in Wappingers Falls.”
A licensed practical nurse, Sr. Clare worked in jobs related to human services including as an activities coordinator at a nursing home and vocational instructor for the disabled. She lived in Florida, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., before moving to Wappingers Falls.
“I felt both joy and gratitude,” she said. “It was wonderful to have my family here. All of my six living siblings – and even my 94-year-old mother, who was overjoyed, came.”
Sr. Clare is looking forward to visiting a Poor Clare community in Bolivia in November. “They are in our Federation, the Holy Name Federation,” she said, adding “It is a visitation. Normally, the Federation presidents and religious assistant go, but there was an opening as one of the presidents couldn’t go. I put my name in the hat, so to speak, and my name was drawn.”
Sr. Karen, a native of Brooklyn, practiced law for 38 years in Virginia, where she raised a family. After her husband died, and then feeling motivated by a talk by a priest, Sr. Karen was drawn to religious life.
She participated in a retreat led by a Capuchin Franciscan who suggested she contact the Poor Clares of New Jersey, where she spent seven years in Franciscan formation. Photos of Sr. Karen’s profession can be found on the Monastery Happenings blog page of the Poor Clares of New Jersey website. The album includes images of student friars Casey Cole, OFM, and Javier DelAngel de los Santos, OFM, who participated in the celebration.
Sr. Nelia, a native of the Philippines, was a nurse before she entered. She was working at a veterans hospital in Raleigh, N.C., where she met Julian Jagudilla, OFM, when he was stationed at St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
“He helped her make contact with us and the rest is history,” said Sr. Etta. “She grew up in Cavite, Philippines, and worked in the Middle East.” Photos of Sr. Nelia’s profession can be found on the monastery’s website and Facebook page.
“Our community is a group of women from all over the United States: New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio,” according to the website. “We come from different regions and are united in one purpose: to love God and others and the whole world.”
The Poor Clares of New Jersey are “a vibrant and hope-filled community of 15 women from various backgrounds and experiences,” the website says. “We believe that our calling to be intercessors for the world through prayer is as relevant today as it was when St. Clare started her contemplative community. Our greatest desire is to pass on the tradition of St. Clare’s Gospel way of life.”
On June 24, two Holy Name Province member participated in a Poor Clares celebration of a different type. Thomas Cole, OFM, of Butler, N.J., and Peter Schneible, OFM, of Allegany, N.Y., attended the golden jubilee of Sr. Dianne Short, OSC, at St. Anthony Shrine in Cincinnati. Originally from the Poor Clare Monastery in the Bronx, N.Y., Sr. Dianne was a foundress of the Monastery of St. Clare in Cincinnati.
“Dianne was a spiritual director for many of the postulants in the Bronx,” said Thomas. “Peter and I were also present for her silver jubilee celebration 25 years ago to the day.”
Holy Name Province is responsible for the spiritual care of 11 monasteries stemming from Mother Maddalena’s foundations, which form the Poor Clare Holy Name Federation, primarily located along the Eastern seaboard, but also in Montana, Japan, and Bolivia. Information about the Order and the monasteries can be found on the St. Clare and her Sisters page of HNP.org as well as on the Poor Clares of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., website.
Other Poor Clare monasteries that are part of Holy Name Federation include those in Langhorne, Pa., Delray Beach, Fla., Travelers Rest, S.C., Great Falls, Mont., and Andover and Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Before the death of St. Clare in 1253, roughly 100 monasteries were founded in Europe. Since that time, the Order has spread throughout the world. In the United States, roughly 40 communities have been established since 1875, according to the poorclaresosc.org website.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- St. Clare of Assisi reflection by Thomas Hartle, OFM
- “Poor Clare Nun Makes First Vows” – May 28, 2014, Catholic New York
- “Poor Clares Gather at St. Bonaventure to Commemorate 800th Anniversary” – July 18, 2012, HNP Today
- “Province Affiliates Poor Clare Chaplain in Florida” – March 3, 2010, HNP Today
- “Poor Clares Celebrate Anniversary” – Sept. 30, 2009, HNP Today
- “Montana Poor Clares Welcome Friars” – May 20, 2009, HNP Today