St. Clare and Her Sisters
Around 1193, St. Clare was born into one of the families of the lower nobility that had traditionally dominated the economic and political life of the Assisi region. They were thus the natural opponents of the upwardly mobile middle class to which Francis’s family belonged. As a result of the uprising of the commoners in 1198, Clare’s family was exiled from Assisi until 1205.
In the years after her family’s return to Assisi, the young Clare increasingly devoted herself to a life of prayer, penance, and charitable works, deciding to remain a virgin rather than enter a socially advantageous marriage. Hearing of her virtue, Francis talked with her, and on Palm Sunday in 1212, Clare left her family home to join Francis in his way of life.
Francis settled Clare and several other noble women who joined her at the Church of San Damiano outside Assisi, drawing up a brief form of life for these “Poor Sisters.” Around 1228, Pope Gregory IX replaced this with regulations he had composed. However, Clare continued to press for her own vision of Franciscan life and, shortly before her death in 1253, Pope Innocent IV approved the Rule she had composed.
Following Clare’s canonization, her sisters became known as the Order of St. Clare, or “Poor Clares.” Like the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares have experienced a number of reform movements, the most notable being the one begun by St. Colette of Corbie in the 15th century.
The Poor Clares blend traditional structures of monastic life with the Franciscan charism, emphasizing Clare’s cherished values of simple living and sisterhood. Each monastery is autonomous, although since the 1950s, most have joined in various federations for purposes of formation. The sisters are primarily contemplative, devoting themselves to prayer and supporting themselves by the work of their hands.
The Poor Clares were not able to find a permanent home in the United States until 1876, when Mother Maddalena Bentivoglio established a monastery in New Orleans, which soon moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and then to Omaha, Neb., in 1878.
Holy Name Province is proud to be 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.
Provincial Spiritual Assistant to the Poor Clares
Fr. Thomas Hartle, OFM