Poor Clares Gather at SBU to Commemorate 800th Anniversary

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Traditionally enclosed Poor Clare nuns from monasteries around the world came together at St. Bonaventure University last month to celebrate the 800th anniversary of their founding.

More than 100 sisters from 32 monasteries in the United States, Canada, Guatemala, Ireland, and several other countries met from June 10 to 17 to hear speakers and celebrate their vocations of living a contemplative life dedicated to prayer as Poor Clares.

“Because the Poor Clares are enclosed, the event was very historic,” said Sr. Suzanne Kush, CSSF, director of SBU’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern. “For them to come and meet with Clares from other monasteries, to be enriched by speakers and share their own experiences of the movement together in their life as Clares, became a very special time.”

Historic Event
“The opportunity to gather on campus to celebrate the 800th anniversary of their form of life was a blessing and joy for them,” said F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, shown in photo above. St. Bonaventure’s vice president for Franciscan mission and acting director of the Franciscan Institute. “We were privileged to host them.”

Edward added: “The Poor Clare gathering was an historic event in the life of the movement. Small groups of sisters (30 to 36) have been coming to campus for the past 16 years for the Poor Clare Enrichment Program. In addition to the shared learning opportunity, SBU’s enrichment program has provided the Clares a unique opportunity to establish an important network of relationships among the different monasteries.”

The anniversary, normally celebrated in their individual monasteries, commemorated St. Clare’s departure from her home in Assisi, Italy, in 1212, to join the Franciscan movement, begun by St. Francis.

“Everyone was upbeat and excited about the presentations that were given and the chance for so many of the Poor Clares to come together from so many different monasteries,” said Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM.

The week’s agenda included a talk on June 12 by Edward titled “The Clarian Influence Today,” and a Mass on Wednesday, celebrated by  John O’Connor.

Francis Di Spigno, OFM, SBU’s executive director of university ministries, served as the emcee of a June 13 banquet. Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, assisted Sr. Suzanne Kush, with logistics for the celebration.

SBU president Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, one of the world’s foremost experts on St. Clare, had invited the Poor Clares to campus for their celebration. The first and third orders of the Franciscan movement had previously come to St. Bonaventure to commemorate their significant anniversaries in 2009 and 2007, respectively.

Family Celebration
The event, that carried the theme of “Growing Together in the Unity of Mutual Love,” enabled the entire Franciscan family to celebrate their respective anniversaries at SBU. The gathering was organized by a committee of sisters representing the two federations of the Poor Clares who worked with Suzanne and Ed to do the planning. “Suzanne was the operations manager from SBU with all the details on her shoulders,” Ed said.

“The Franciscan Institute has had the privilege of hosting many educational seminars for the Poor Clare nuns, thanks to a generous endowment for this purpose,” said Sr. Margaret. “We are thrilled that the monasteries of the United States chose our campus for the historic celebration of their 800th anniversary and the election of two federation abbesses. Their presence deepens our connections to the universal Franciscan family in all of its branches. Their prayers have sustained us in the past and will in the future.”

The commemorations of the history and impact of Clare of Assisi is continuing on the Allegany campus. Last weekend, to celebrate the July 15 feast of St. Bonaventure, a specialist on St. Clare — Dr. Maria Pia Alberzoni of Milan — gave two lectures about the saint at the university. The first was titled “Clare and her Sisters” and the second was “Clare as Mirror and Model.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.