Poor Clares celebrate 800 years of prayerful service

TRAVELERS REST—On Palm Sunday, the Sisters of the Poor Clares in Travelers Rest will join with thousands of others in their order in a year of celebrating their 800th anniversary.

The celebration will last until the feast of St. Clare on Aug. 11, 2012.

“We hope it will be a special time when people will come to the monastery, because Franciscan places have always been places of pilgrimage, peace and healing and reconciliation,” said Sister Mary Connor, OSC, abbess. “We invite them to come at their convenience for the Eucharist, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, maybe for a retreat.”

The year will include a series of events, and a May 14 meeting in Travelers Rest with sisters from other monasteries.

Sister Mary said there are currently about 17,000 Poor Clares worldwide, and each monastery is autonomous. In the Upstate, 14 sisters live a cloistered, contemplative life.

St. Clare of Assisi was born Clare Offreduccio to a wealthy Italian family in 1193. On the night of Palm Sunday 1212, she left her home in secret to escape an arranged marriage, and joined St. Francis of Assisi and his followers. Together they founded the Franciscan order.

St. Clare lived a life based on prayer, love and service, and encouraged her order to promote those values. During her life, she was known for a gift of healing. The order took the name Poor Clares after her death.

The first Poor Clare sisters journeyed to the United States in 1875, and the Upstate campus opened in 1955. Twelve women, including Sister Mary Lucy Reynolds, came to Greenville from a monastery in Jamaica Plain, Mass., at the invitation of Bishop John Russell. (See obituary here)

The sisters moved to their current location on property surrounded by rolling hills and woods in 2008. The site includes an ecumenical retreat house, La Foresta, proceeds from which help support the sisters.

Their primary source of income, however, is providing altar bread for Catholic churches.

Daily life is focused on the liturgy of the hours and praying for the worldwide church, its leaders, and an ever-changing list of submitted intentions. Sister Mary said many people e-mail prayer requests through their website, www.poorclaresc.com.

Poor Clares commit themselves to poverty and community, and live out their entire lives at the monastery. Though they are cloistered, they interact with members of the community who visit to pray with them and attend Mass.

The 800th anniversary offers the congregation a chance to reflect on their vocations.

“It’s more than a birthday celebration, because when we have these kinds of celebrations it changes us,” Sister Mary said. “In recent years, we’ve learned more about the writings of St. Clare and St. Francis just as we’ve learned more about Scripture. It has helped us to go back and reflect on what the saints were setting out to do, trying to understand it better.”

The sisters have learned more about the unity between all members of the Franciscan family, the friars, nuns and third order religious.

“We’ve come to see how we’re called to live the Gospel life more fully in our own culture, how attuned St. Francis was to nature and ecology and what that means today,” she said. “We know we’re going to come out of this renewed and recreated.”

Sister Nancy Shively, OSC, hopes the year will lead people to learn more about St. Clare and the message of prayer and hope she offers the world, and also offer the sisters a chance to contemplate their role in history and today’s society.

“We will renew our gratitude,” she said. “For 800 years, God has been taking care of the Poor Clares, and we know that God is not going to stop now, no matter what the circumstances. That’s a wonderful gift to reflect on and rejoice. Eight hundred years is also a challenge to us. It’s a time to ask, what does a Poor Clare look like in the 21st century? How can we be faithful to St. Clare and her values today? This challenges us to look at that up close, and be creative about our future.”