[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, Italy, a young noble woman by the name of Chiara 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. Clare started something new: A form of monastic life in which the spirituality of St. Francis was lived rather than the traditional monastic spirituality of Sts. Benedict or Basil. In Clare’s community, ordinary working class women could be nuns, and 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. With the help of our friars our Order became widely known and many foundations spread quickly all over the world.
The Monastery of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, Italy, was established in 1305 following the Poor Clare Rule of Isabella, and later that of Poor Clare Urbanists following the Rule of Pope Urban IV. It thrived as an Urbanist monastery 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 called by the Holy Spirit to return to the original Primitive Rule of Saint Clare. Pope Pius IX also wanted to send nuns living the First Rule of Saint Clare to the United States to pray for that wild young country. Sisters Mary Magdalen and Mary Constance were chosen from the volunteers. In 1875, they left San Lorenzo and went to stay with the Poor Clares in Marseille, France, who lived the First Rule of St. Clare, where they made profession according to the First Rule. They started off for New York, with the blessing of Pope Pius IX, to establish the Poor Clares of the Strict Observance in the USA.
After a long sea voyage they landed in New York. There were many disappointments and untold sufferings and rejections before the first Monastery of Saint Clare was officially established in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1878. Other foundations were made from here. Mother Mary Magdalen had long wanted to send sisters to Boston. In 1905, days before her death, the awaited permission came from Archbishop John J. Williams of Boston. I 1906, a 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 our Rev. 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.