Before Jesus parted from the disciples to enter His divine mission of redemption, He implored them, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). Intending to encourage His friends for the trials ahead, He also reminded them of the many proofs of the Father’s love they had experienced along the way.
With some similarity, the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare will soon be departing from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to continue their own divinely appointed vocational mission. These cloistered sisters, who have lived adjacent to the former St. Andrew Church on New Haven Avenue in Fort Wayne since their founding in 2012, have been given new direction to enter into the spirit of their Franciscan charism more fully.
A recent Vatican instruction on women’s contemplative communities entitled “Cor Orans” stipulates that unattached communities which desire to continue living the Rule of Saint Clare, which the sisters each previously professed to follow, need to belong to a community of Poor Clares with greater existing foundations and facilities.
The Order of Saint Clare, founded by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare in the year 1212, allows for women to live a contemplative expression of the Franciscan spirit, specifically by following the “Rule of St. Clare”, approved by Pope Innocent IV in 1253. Today, there are various expressions of living the Rule, which include the Order of Poor Clares, the Capuchin Poor Clares, and the Colettine Poor Clares (named for the influence of St. Colette of Corbie in living the Rule).
Since the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare in Fort Wayne remained only at the status of “Public Association of the Faithful”, had not received many new vocations in recent years, and had lived in a physical structure which did not fully meet the requirements of a monastery, they had little choice but to look elsewhere to continue their vocational journey.
The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare have steadfastly prayed and offered sacrifices on behalf of the diocese for more than a decade. Mother Celeste Marie (of St. Joseph) Carey exclaimed, “Our hearts are here in Fort Wayne. We love this place.”
Each of the sisters continues to feel deeply convicted about their calling to remain a Poor Clare, even if it means having to go elsewhere to live out the Rule. Sister Marie Veronica (of Jesus) Goins exclaimed, “Poor Clares are who we are, it is the heart of our very identity. To pursue any other course of action would be like losing my vocational identity and so clearly not the will of God.”
Providentially, God came to reveal a way for them to remain rooted in their spiritual identity while bringing them into larger religious families. Upon learning the news, the Poor Clare Nuns of Kokomo, Indiana (a Colettine Community), graciously and generously invited all the Fort Wayne sisters to join their community. This is an unusual occurrence, as many cloistered communities have an age limit for new members and could find it difficult to take on several additional sisters at one time. Mother Celeste expressed her own gratitude for the Kokomo sisters’ charity and humility to open their doors to welcome them in with hospitality and love.
While each cloistered convent lives uniquely, there are many similarities between the Kokomo and Fort Wayne sisters in their ways of life and spirituality – including praying the Divine Office seven times a day and spending significant time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. After a few months of discernment, six of the seven Poor Sisters of Saint Clare have decided to enter the Kokomo convent as the next phase of their Franciscan religious life.
Sister Marie Veronica, however, shared that while her sisters have chosen to join the Poor Clares in Kokomo, she has discerned that the Lord is calling her to enter the Capuchin Poor Clares in Denver, Colorado. While she steadfastly asserted, “this is the path to my holiness”, the anticipation of her adjustment
has not been easy. She revealed, “it is like losing my own sisters and everything that is familiar. Thinking about the loss that we will experience in a couple months threw me into great grief. But through prayer, in remembering how God has led me and is leading me – how He is faithful – lifted my spirit again. At the end of our lives, everything will be taken away. We are continuing to grow in total detachment. Thanks be to God that we get to follow so closely to Jesus and Mary. There have been tears and grief, but I also have joy!”
“This new community is comprised of entirely Mexican sisters, so it is a huge culture change, but God has led me,” she added. “The discernment has been so clear, and I can completely see His hand in all this. It is a great grace to be under the blessing of the Church and to have this heritage that goes back to the beginning, back to Clare. There is such a family history. You can see that the Holy See is taking care of her women’s religious communities, they are being buoyed up by this to live their vocation.”
While the sisters will not have any public formal events to commemorate their departure, Mother Celeste Marie, on behalf of all the sisters, expressed heartfelt gratitude for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, the many priests who have served them sacramentally during their 10 years here, and the countless lay faithful
who have supported and prayed with them.
She exclaimed, “In the cloister, we have heaven on earth, not simply because we are blessed to pray and live with Jesus, but because we live with people who only want to do God’s will. That is what we have in each other. That is the treasure within, but our vocation is to support those out in the world trying to be holy. By this move to Kokomo, we will be going deeper in prayer to support the ones out in the battlefield of the world who don’t have the same ‘heaven on earth’ experience we are so blessed to have in each other. We don’t want to leave Fort Wayne, but we want everyone here to trust that we are praying for them, and we are utterly grateful for every temporal and spiritual benefit we received from the faithful of Fort Wayne. It was not wasted – love is never wasted – it has all prepared us for what God is asking!”
In a private ceremony, Bishop Rhoades led a ritual for closing the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, thanking God for the gift of the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare and asking blessings upon them in their vocational journey. He concluded, “May God our Father, who has placed in your hearts a desire to consecrate your lives to Him in a special way, guide you as you end this experience of monastic life in Fort Wayne and transition to a new future. May He bless your efforts to let the seed of your life fall into the ground of God’s goodness and mercy. As this seed dies, may it flourish in new life and bear fruit for the Church and the world. We ask this and all things in the name of Jesus.”
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