St. Clare Of Assisi, Founder Of The Poor Clares (1194-1253) -- By: Mimi Haddad
PP 8:1 (Winter 1994) p. 5
St. Clare Of Assisi,
Founder Of The Poor Clares (1194-1253)
Mimi Haddad is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, who is serving as Field Consultant for CBE.
Accompanied by her chaperone, sixteen year old Clare would sneak off, without the knowledge of her parents, in order to hear the preaching of St. Francis. What attracted this young, wealthy beauty to the teaching of Francis? Why would she exchange the pleasures of a landed and aristocratic inheritance for the shorn hair, sackcloth, barefooted, celibate seclusion of the female Franciscans?
So moved with “Jesus’ love and the joy of poverty,”1 as preached by Francis, Clare is said to have yearned for nothing more than to join his company in the only way permitted women, as a Second Order Franciscan. In pursuit of this goal Clare journeyed to the church of St. Mary of the Angels on Palm Sunday, 1212, where she renounced her life as she had known it, and consecrated herself in service to God. Clare’s father, Count Favorino Sciffi, was quite dismayed, not only because he had intended an important marriage for his daughter, but worse, Clare was soon joined by her sister Agnes. Together Clare and Agnes became the first two women installed as Second Order Franciscan nuns, the ‘Poor Clares,’ as her order was later called.
Francis built an adjacent house to his chapel at St. Damian for Clare and Agnes, who were later joined by their mother and other wealthy friends, including the princess of Bohemia and the king of Hungary’s niece. Ten thousand women eventually followed Clare, perhaps as evidence of the need women had to participate in an organized clergy.
Though the Poor Clares began in the small town of Assisi, by the time of her death Clare would establish branches of the Poor Clares in France, Germany, Rome, and other major cities in Italy and elsewhere. These bare footed sisters, Second Order Franciscans, sought a life of simplicity and poverty, and thereby challenged a church troubled by greed and corruption.
In an effort to emulate the life of Christ, the Franciscans lived in the barest of dwellings, and satisfied their hunger by begging for food. Though food was scarce in San Camiano, Clare and her sisters of poverty continued to follow a most severe ascetic lifestyle, even more so than their male counterparts. So intense was their self-discipline that Pope Gregory offered to free Clare from her rigorous lifestyle with these words:
“Remember that of your own free will you have followed the divine call, that you have enclosed yourself in these poor cells to the end that being free from the tumult of the world, and preserved from the s...
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