Chiara and Francesco
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When Chiara di Offreduccio felt drawn by a powerful stirring of the Holy Spirit to leave her Umbrian home in order to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, she was graciously received by Francis and his friars as their sister. Since those founding days the "Poor Ladies" and the "Lesser Brothers" have been closely bonded as a family. They have provided for each others' needs, and together they have confronted the complexities and uncertainties involved in initiating new concepts of religious life, happily sustaining one another through nearly 800 years.
At this time in history we find ourselves caught up into another remarkable stiring of the same Spirit that called Clare forth. One that inspired our Holy Father, John Paul II, to proclaim how important it is for the Church and for the world to discover again the charism of Francis and Clare. Because of the limitations of an enclosed our gift may oftentimes remain a bit too hidden. The Internet offers an opportunity to tell you about it.
13th century
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Beginning with the Damianites of the 13th. century who carried on after Clare, our charism has been lived out by a cast of many thousands. Those of us who live it today are entwined in a saga of 8 centuries of valiant women who have channeled its spirit to us.

We are heirs to a tradition of prayerfuness initiated by our earliest members like Clare's sister Agnes, Ermentrude of Brugge, Helen Elsemini, and Philippa of Mareri.


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We have been made strong by the endurance of countless dedicated women with strong hands and backs who have composed perhaps the majority of our membership. But we were also formed by the dignity and gentleness of many royal or noble ladies, like Agnes of Prague, a princess, Cunegunda, daughter of the King of Hungary, and Queen Isabella of France along with a host of others of the nobility. All are equal in Clare's communities.

We have been born of the bravery and blood of our 74 proto-martyrs of Antioch in 1268, and by more than 150 others who witnessed to their love of Christ with their lives in that century alone.
14th. century
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The 14th. century was the time of our greatest expansion; we grew to 15,000 members. Three-hundred houses were added to the 110, or more, existing before Clare's death. But our success brought us wealth and power and, like other great Orders, we drifted from our ideals.

Still, there were always faithful women who kept the Clare-flame alive through those regretable circumstances; women like Catherine of Rufini, Battista of Montefeltro, Matthia of Nazareth, and Constance of Donatus. For all its difficulties, it was in this century that we grew to experience a more solid relationship with the friars, one that come closer to the ideal the first Clares had known.
15th century
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The 15th century has been called the "Second Franciscan Spring." This revitalization of the entire Order was brought about through the collaboration of Friars and Clares. We owe our successful reform at that time to the initiative of the Observant Friars, who included us in their efforts to return to the spirit of our founders.

At this crucial phase of our history, the Clares displayed extraordinary leadership through holy and capable women, like Antonia of Florence, Felice of Milan, Cecilia Coppola, Eustochia, Seraphina, and others, who led the way to renewal in Poor Clare monasteries of Europe.
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We owe a great deal to these reformers, as well as to Colette of Corbie, who traveled around France to reform our Order there.

We have been inspired by pioneers of the spirit among us like Battista Varana (+1524), who contemplated Christ's passion beyond His physical pain and entered into the deeper sufferings of Christ's heart. She is considered forerunner of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
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We have benefited from women of the arts among us, like Catherine of Bologna (+1463). Her paintings and calligraphy are preserved in Art Galleries of Spain and Italy. Her writings on the spiritual life transformed her monastery into a center of spirituality. Less is known of her music on the viola, but perhaps she's a likely candidate for patroness of guitarist
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16th. century
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Our minds have been formed by scholarly women like Caritas Pirckheimer (+1532), who exerted a lasting influence on the 16th. century. As an educated person herself, she persisted in teaching her sisters scripture, theology, and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, in Latin and German, all subjects women were not considered capable of understanding in those days. It was the foundation of these studies that enabled Caritas and her sisters to stand boldly when every kind of force was used to make them abandon their Catholic faith. Through it all she composed her spiritual writings. We have been strengthened by her fearlessness and that of others, like Joanne of Jussie, who also wrote boldly in defense of her faith. Some writings of these courageous women are extant, though not presently available in English, while others lay unedited in monastery archives.
17th. century
We have been formed to be women with hearts big enough to hold the whole world and convert it to Christ. In the 17th. century the world's first woman missionary to the Philippines was a Poor Clare: Jeronima of the Ascension. The Clares of the 17th. century also led new reforms to call us back to the highest ideals. Among these women were Mary of Calvary in France, and Frances Farnese in Italy.

Luise of the Ascension (+1649, Spain) was known as La Monja de Carrion. [The nun of Carrion.] She was another Clare who exerted a powerful influence upon her society. Luise was brought before the Inquisition because of the popularity of her writings. Her name was never erased from the memory of the people.

We have been formed by the heroism of victims of the French Revolution in the 18th. century. Jeanne le Royer and whole communities suffered years of imprisonment and exile bravely. Josephine Leroux was martyred for the faith.
18th. century
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Our spirituality has brought forth many extraordinary mystics who recorded their spiritual journeys. Among them Mary Magdalen Martinengo, whose volumes are now being edited, and Veronica Giuliani, a stigmatic of the 18th. century, who penned 14 volumes already widely known and studied.
19th. century
Marie Dominique Berlament was a 19th. century Poor Clare with an extraordinary desire to spread our charism throughout the world. She simply traveled about founding new Monasteries.
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This was the century that gave us our own Mother Maddalena Bentifoglio and the coming of the Poor Clares to the United States. We still re-tell stories of Mother Maddalena's loving kindness amid deep sufferings. This more immediate experience within memory of at least some of us has enabled us to actually feel the vibrations of a charism being handed on, all the way down to - yes, the 21st century!
Old martyrologies still hold the records of over 800 outstanding Clares, most of whom we've never heard of. Hundreds of books or monographs about these women, or their writings, are scattered throughout the world. We do well to keep our eyes on the example of those forerunners of our Order, and on the early events that shaped us, but we can't rest there. The continuing work of the Spirit among us today is no less colorful to relate.
20th. century
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The vocation story of a north American Poor Clare, Bernadette of Texas, and another recent autobiography of the fascinating journey of Mother Veronica of France repeat the story of the call to be a Poor Clare today. The missionary spirit of the countless Clares who leave their homes, families and friends to bring our charism to other nations witnesses even now to the life-giving thrust of the Clarian charism.

We have received our charism from Clares we will never know about, all those whose life stories are not so famous, but who passed the Clare-flame to us. And we receive the gift from those who have influenced us intimately by their daily living example of fidelity. In Clare's garden of consecrated women we have much to celebrate!
Throughout the 20th. century our life-giving legacy continues in exceptional Clares like Marie Imelda of the Eucharist, born and raised right here in Marlboro, Massachusetts. Her community in Canada wrote of her exceptional holiness.

And we see it in a biography written by our sisters in Africa concerning 24 year old Sister Clare of the Eucharist who died of cancer in 1984.
Our Times
The women who follow Clare today strive to be models and examples of the transcendent dimension of Gospel poverty and prayer, and to offer the service of loving intercession with God for the needs of all. But we want to renew, strengthen and celebrate the expression of our contemplative form of life in this grace-filled time in which we Clares of Boston are privileged to live, so that it will be an ever greater source of life for our city and our world.

In his book entitled "Behold the Spirit" Allan Watts describes the advantage of our age as one in which Western Christianity is pivoted at a turning point in the history of religion. He displays the externalism and legalism of the Middle ages as the trappings of spiritual childhood. Christianity's adolescence of revolt against tradition followed in the succeeding centuries. Now he sees its physical phase approaching a climax as materialism fails to come through with the fulfillment it offered. A sign of progressive spiritual maturity is the increasing awareness, gradually taking hold, that God is given to us now, that real religion happens in the "flesh" of daily experience. We are on our way to a fuller experience of the Spirit, to the consummation of Karl Rahner's prophecy that "The coming Christian will have to be a mystic."
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I've observed a parallel growth taking place in many of our monasteries across the United States. We've outgrown our childhood stage in the conviction that we can't remain in the externalism and legalism of 13th. century religious life, nor need we glory in the "little flowers" of earlier days.
As for our liberation from adolesence: we have no desire to reject the wisdom and inspiration of our founders but, on the contrary, we are drawn to study it, again and again, and learn from it. And as for resting in materialities: we have passed through a purifying night that has freed us from the temptation to weigh our progress and security by numbers or large, wealthy monasteries. Just as a deeper interiorization of religious convictions is taking place in the world today, we too are being prompted by this current quickening of the Spirit to embrace, with all our hearts, the highest ideals of our Clarian spirituality.

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, is calling upon us to influence and foster throughout the Church the development of this innermost kernel of the Gospel upon which our Poor Clare life is based. We are being summoned to be, as Clare would have us be, "mirrors and examples" for others of the union with God people are longing for.
Clare's Charism Today
Since Vatican II, our efforts to understand our roots more fully, have brought us to a greater understanding of the particular thrust of our vocation. Clare's followers are especially called to be lovers of Jesus Christ. It is our vocation to be images of the Poor Christ as Clare was. We are to be women of the Word, open to the spirit of the Lord. We are to be Mothers of Jesus, learning from Mary how to make a home for God within ourselves and how to bring Him to birth in our world.

To quote from the letter from the four Ministers General, Clare bids us "and all Christians, to recognize our need to concentrate on the Person and Life of Christ, a life which frees and develops the human condition, and contains all the values needed today." (#59) For this reason, we are urged to "make the 'way' of St. Clare a potent force again in our times," (#48) and by this means "give flesh to the Gospel." (#57)
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Clare was, very likely, riding the momentum of the 13th. century "women's movement," when she dared compose a religious Rule - something no woman had done before. We are striving to make our life, too, reflect women's advances in our society, where intellectual and technical work has long replaced the skills in fine needlework expected of women who entered 60 years ago.
We are trying to do this with the support and strength that comes from a more thorough knowledge of Clare and our vocation. Otherwise, we risk imitating a course of action suitable for other contemplative communities, or repeating mistakes of the past. The study of our history constitutes the kind of positive action that will insure the preservation and continued progress of our very long and utterly marvelous tradition.
Our particular form of contemplative life, spanning so many centuries as it does, bears witness to the presence of certain catalysts for spiritual growth inherent in the following of St. Clare of Assisi. Her graces are woven like threads throughout the lives of each living Clare, creating unique patterns in each of us. It's all in our hands now. Those who follow Clare are challenged to be especially present to the world at this great moment of humanity's spiritual ascent, as the life-giving fountain Clare was for the people of her day. We celebrate this energy and are working to direct it into this new millenium. We invite you to join us!
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Sister Mary Francis Hone, O.S.C.
Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA

References:
"Clare of Assisi: A New Woman." Letter of the Ministers General. Franciscan Publishers.

Watts, Alan. "Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion." New York: Vintage Books, Random House, 1971.
Coordinates:
Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 920 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Phone
+1 617 524-1760 or 7866
FAX:
+1 617 983 5205

If you would like to know more about us and our way of life, please contact Sr. Mary Francis, Vocation Directress, by mail, fax, phone or e-mail:
Bostonpoorclares@yahoo.com.