St. Clare of Assisi, Virgin and Religious

September 8, 2012

The Pastor's Page

St. Clare was born in Assisi, Italy, the same hometown as St. Francis, in 1193, twelve years after Francis was born.  Both came from upper class, wealthy families.

When Clare was 18 she listened to a Lenten sermon preached by St. Francis, and she was so moved that on Palm Sunday evening, 1212, she left family and friends to be a religious sister.  Her hair was cut.  She gave up her possessions for a sackcloth robe and a life of simplicity.  At first she went to a Benedictine convent where she received her formation in religious life.

Francis invited Clare to return to Assisi to live in a small house near the San Damiano church, and joined by a number of other women from local families, she took up residence in 1213.  Two years later Francis appointed Clare as the abbess or the religious superior of the new community, a role that she reluctantly accepted, and she lived inside the convent for forty years.  Her sister Agnes entered at the age of 15, and her mother Hortulana, widowed, and her sister Beatrice followed sometime later.

Clare embraced a rigorous, austere life.  The nuns were supported by the work they did inside the convent and donations brought from the outside.  They observed a strict fast every day except Sundays and Christmas.  They abstained from meat entirely.  At night they slept on the ground, while during the day they wore no shoes, socks, or sandals, and observed major silence, forgoing conversation for hours at a time.  As a penitential practice, Clare wore a hair shirt, a coarse, bristly, abrasive undergarment, an aggravating irritant to her skin, and during Lent she lived on bread and water alone.

Both Francis and the bishop viewed these practices as too harsh and asked Clare to soften them.  Not only did Clare comply, but she asked the other sisters to moderate also.

Clare was deeply saddened by the death of Francis in 1226.  She lived another 27 years, most of them in poor health, often confined to bed.  When she was able to work, she sewed altar linens and vestments in her room.  She spent much time in prayer, and she had a special devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Two great miracles are credited to Clare.  The city of Assisi was attacked twice.  Because of her reputation for sanctity, the townsfolk carried her on a mat to the city walls along with a pyx that contained the Blessed Sacrament.  In each case the hostile forces retreated, both attributed to her intercession and the miraculous power of Christ.

Clare founded the Order of the Poor Ladies, now known as the Poor Clares.  She was the first woman to write a Rule of Life that was formally approved by the Church.  Their special charisms are intense prayer, both private and communal; radical poverty and simplicity; as well as cloistered living in a residence secluded from the public.

Clare died in 1253 and was canonized two years later by Pope Alexander IV.  She is the patron saint of embroiderers, and in 1958 Pope Pius XII named her the patron saint of television.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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