Sister Maryann celebrates five decades of prayer with the Poor Clares

TRAVELERS REST—Sister Maryann Jenkins joined the Poor Clares at a time when women in the contemplative religious order were not allowed to use the phone and had to receive visitors while sitting behind a grate in a parlor.

Fifty years later, residents of her monastery in Travelers Rest answer prayer requests by email.

Much has changed since the Philadelphia native professed her first vows on June 30, 1962, but she said the changes only enhance the life of prayer, work and devotion to Christ she chose as a young woman.

“I feel overwhelming gratitude for God’s faithful love and for each of the 50 years,” Sister Maryann said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “I’m grateful for all who have been a part of my Poor Clare life and my vocation, and I especially think of my parents who first taught me the value of prayer.”

She marked her golden jubilee on June 28 at the monastery with family, friends and members of her community by renewing her vows at a Mass celebrated by Father Thomas Thorne of Westport, Conn. Franciscan Father David Hyman, from the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia in Athens, gave the homily.

Religious life was not initially Sister Maryann’s goal.

In high school, she thought she would enter nursing school, marry and have children.

She landed a job working at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia as a nurse’s aide, where she saw religious sisters caring for the sick, and realized her life would take a specific path.

“I was moved by their prayerfulness and dedication, and I knew this attraction was put there by God who was inviting me into His heart,” she wrote in an essay that described her
vocation story.

She explored religious orders that worked in medical missions overseas, but decided to visit the Poor Clares in Philadelphia after reading about them in a library book.

“These were ordinary women living an extraordinary life for Christ, and I knew I wanted to do the same,” she said.

Her father was initially disappointed she did not choose an order that was more active in the outside world, but she said both parents had often prayed one of their children would choose religious life. They accepted her decision after learning more about the Poor Clares.

Sister Maryann made her first vows at the Philadelphia monastery in 1962, and then transferred to Greenville.

In 1985, she left to spend 18 years as a founding member of the Monastery of St. Clare in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., before returning to Greenville in 2003.

When she first took her vows, Sister Maryann said she slept in a small cell with a straw mattress and entered a world focused almost entirely on prayer and shut off from the noise, bustle and change of the outside world.

“There was no newspaper or TV…entering the monastery seemed like a flight from the world,” she said. “I really did not know what to expect when I entered. I just wanted to give my all to God.”

The Second Vatican Council brought changes for the Poor Clares, as they were encouraged to learn more about the daily news and conditions in the outside world as a way of deepening their prayer life. The sisters now have access to television, newspapers and computers.

“This has made my prayer for the world more meaningful,” Sister Maryann said. “I see these things as a tool towards compassion and mercy.”

Read more in the July 26 edition of The Miscellany