When I came to our diocese, one of the first questions I asked was whether there was a contemplative community of nuns or monks in the diocese. I learned that there was not. The reason I asked that question was that I had experienced the help of the powerful prayers of contemplative nuns in my former diocese.
What a blessing it is for me and for our diocese that, on August 9th, a contemplative community of nuns was instituted in our diocese: the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare. A group of wonderful women, formerly the Franciscan Sisters Minor, who have been present in our diocese the past two years, thanks to the hospitality and generosity of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Fort Wayne, have now begun a cloistered life. They live at the former Saint Andrew’s Parish in Fort Wayne.
The enclosure of this community took place following a beautiful Mass at Saint Andrew’s Church on August 9th. The church was filled to overflowing. The Mass (and the Holy Hour and Vespers the evening before) was spiritually and emotionally quite moving. To witness the vows made by these faith-filled women, to meet their families and friends, and to celebrate with them was truly a blessing for all in attendance. Father David Mary and the Franciscan Brothers Minor were a great help to the sisters in their move to Saint Andrew’s and in their embrace of the contemplative life.
I have spoken to many people about this form of consecrated life in the Church. Many have questions about this form of life and wonder about such a radical way of life, one that is enclosed and seemingly removed from the world. It is certainly a unique way of life, one that does not make sense to many in our culture, yet one that is esteemed by the Church and a rich part of the Church’s Tradition of consecrated life.
Blessed John Paul II wrote the following: Institutes completely devoted to contemplation, composed of either women or men, are for the Church a reason for pride and a source of heavenly graces…. In solitude and silence, by listening to the word of God, participating in divine worship, personal asceticism, prayer, mortification, and the communion of fraternal love, they direct the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God. In this way they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church’s love for her Lord, and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness to the growth of the People of God.
Since the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare are a new community, they have not yet been established as a religious institute. Canonically, they are a public association of the Christian faithful who have made private vows. After some years of proven stability, the community may petition to become a religious institute and the members will be able to make public vows. In the meantime, they will be living the cloistered life and following the Form of Life of Saint Clare of Assisi which was approved by Pope Innocent IV in the year 1253. The Sisters began their cloistered life on August 9th, the very day that Pope Innocent approved Saint Clare’s Rule, two days before her death on August 11, 1253.
I wish to share with you some words I addressed to the sisters during the Mass on August 9th:
“My beloved Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, motivated by the love of God, you embrace the contemplative life, lived by Saint Clare and her followers through the centuries. The Lord has instilled his love in your hearts. You will live a hidden life, not as an escape, but as a path to holiness. You will be vital members of Christ’s Body, the Church. In fact, you will help to sustain the Church through your prayers and sacrifices. You are and will be a blessing to me and our diocese and indeed to the whole Church.
You embrace this way of life with joyful generosity in response to the Lord’s call. The Church needs your prayers for her holy task of evangelization. Within the cloister, you will be important agents of the new evangelization since union with God is vitally necessary for the fruitfulness of the Church’s activity. Jesus has told us: I am the vine, you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing. There is an intimate connection between prayer and the spreading of the Kingdom of God. Dear Sisters, your role as cloistered nuns is important for the life and spiritual vitality of the Church. In your lives of prayer, you will constantly sing the praises of God and you will intercede for the Church. In doing so, you will be living, not apart from the Church, but in the very heart of the Church as did Saint Clare and so many contemplative nuns throughout the Church’s history.”
Blessed John Paul II called Saint Clare “the passionate lover of the poor, crucified Christ, with who she sought to identify absolutely.” Let us pray that our Poor Sisters of Saint Clare may grow in the cloister as passionate lovers of the poor, crucified Christ and identify with him more deeply each day.
It is beautiful to know that the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare will be praying for us each day. Please feel free to send the Sisters any special prayer intentions that you may have. I am so grateful to Mother Celeste Marie, the superior of the community, and to all the Sisters for their prayers for me, our priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and all the faithful of our diocese.
May God bless the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare as they begin their cloistered life! May Saint Francis and Saint Clare intercede for them and for our diocese!
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