Our Historical Setting

[The painting above is the work of St. Charles DeFoucauld when he worked as a gardner at the Poor Clare Monastery in Nazareth.]

In 1212, in the city of Assisi in Italy, a young noble woman by the name of Clare di Faverone di Offreduccio gave away her inheritance and left all she had in order to follow in the footsteps of Jesus according to the example of Francis Bernardone and his friars. St. Clare started something new: A form of monastic life in which ordinary working class women could be nuns, and in which both upper and lower classes of women lived together in love and peace, serving one another, working with their hands, and trusting in Divine Providence.

Many foundations spread quickly all over the world. In 1233, Clare founded Sts. Cosmas and Damian Monastery in Rome. From there the Monastery of San Lorenzo of Panisperna in Italy was established in 1305. It thrived until 1870 when Garibaldi’s troops entered Rome and suppressed religious life. San Lorenzo was taken from the sisters.

The Minister General of the Franciscan order, Bernardino of Portuguaro, and the nuns themselves, felt led by the Holy Spirit to introduce the Primitive Rule of Saint Clare into the United States in order to assure its future. In 1875 Sisters Mary Magdalen and Mary Constance started off with the blessing of Pope Pius IX to establish the Poor Clares in the USA.

After many disappointments and untold sufferings and rejections the first Monastery of Saint Clare was officially established in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1878.  Other foundations were made from here. Mother M. Magdalen had long wanted to send sisters to Boston.  In 1905, days before her death, the awaited permission came from Cardinal John O’Connell of Boston. A small group of sisters were sent from the monastery in Evansville, Indiana to a building situated amid the smoke stacks on Bennett Street in the South End of Boston. After 28 years of hard work, and difficult times, and the help of many friends, they had raised enough money by 1932 to purchase land and begin building the present Franciscan Monastery of St. Clare at Arborway and Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. From this monastery alone, sisters have been sent to start five new foundations, the last in Kiryu, Japan.  Thirty-two monasteries descended from Mother Magdalen’s first foundation in Omaha.

Poor Clare Nuns have monasteries on most of the world’s continents, with approximately 13,000 nuns in about 600 monasteries throughout the world.


Holy Name Federation of Poor Clares


We belong to the Holy Name Federation of Poor Clare Nuns which was formed in 1960.  The photo above was the first meeting of our federation which took place in the community room of our monastery at 920 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.  The Abbesses from our sister monasteries, shown in the photo, elected Mother Mary Virgilius as the first President of our Federation.

There is a federation website for the Order of St. Clare – http://poorclaresosc.org – which tells more about Poor Clare Nuns, and features the sites of all the monasteries of both the Holy Name of Jesus and Mother Mary Bentifoglio Federations.