Sister Mary Connor elected president of Poor Clares

GREENVILLE — After 30 years as a contemplative religious in South Carolina’s Poor Clare Monastery, Sister Mary Connor’s life is about to change.

At the April 2005 general meeting of the order, the Chicago native was elected president of the Holy Name Federation of Poor Clares, one of only two such organizations in the United States. She will serve until the next general meeting in 2008.

“It was really a shock to learn of it,” Sister Connor said. “I’ve been doing a lot of praying since then.”

The presidency involves some travel, since she is expected to visit each Poor Clare community in the federation at least once, and a lot more communication than she is used to as a cloistered nun. She is the first federation president to come out of South Carolina in more than 20 years, so there is not much local precedent to rely on. But she will not have to exercise authority in her new role.

Each Poor Clare community, even the ones so small as to resemble households more than monasteries, is autonomous. The federations were designed in 1961 to pave the path of dialogue and coordination among the various communities within the greater Franciscan order and to facilitate such things as novitiate formation and on-going education. Each monastery has an abbess, but the Poor Clares are egalitarian.

“With Poor Clares, the idea of leadership is being sisters. I consider this (presidency) a position of service,” Sister Connor said.

Since many of her fellow Poor Clares regard her as an older-sister type they can talk to about things, she said, choosing her as president might have seemed logical to the electors. But she just doesn’t know why her name surfaced or why she was elected. Still, she said, the installation ritual was beautiful and she felt the force of the sisters’ prayers.

“It was a powerful experience for me. I felt the election as a call, and now I want to serve,” she said.

Sister Connor views the administrative position as another opportunity to have an impact on lives by the way one lives oneself. She follows the credo of St. Francis of Assisi, who said: “Preach all the time; when necessary, use words.”

She also views her presidential duties as a challenge, a challenge she will have to meet without much special consideration. Her responsibilities within her own Greenville religious community will remain the same during her tenure as president.