They carry on 800 years of prayer and work
Poor Clare sisters at the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception in Palos Park prepare the altar on March 18 for a Mass with Cardinal George celebrating the 800th anniversary of their order. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World
Six women living a life of simple poverty in an enclosed world inside Immaculate Conception Monastery in Palos Park are part of an 800 year-old religious community dedicated to prayer and penance. They are Poor Clare sisters and on March 18 they celebrated their anniversary during a Mass with Cardinal George.The order was founded in Assisi, Italy, in 1212 when a young woman named Clare left her wealthy family to begin a community of religious women under the guidance of St. Francis.
At the time of St. Clare’s death, 50 communities were in place in the Franciscan tradition of the Poor Ladies, as they were then called.
The women take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure living in a cloister and shutting themselves off from the rest of the world to live a life of prayer and work.
“Enclosure is a way of living Sabbath permanently,” Cardinal George explained in his homily during the March 18 Mass. On the Sabbath, Christians take the time to be quiet and listen to God.
“The life of the Poor Clares is not just a life marked by enclosure. Most especially it is marked by contemplation,” he said, to seek and understand what God is saying. In a particular way, the Poor Clares contemplate Christ crucified, to whom they are espoused.
“In that image of a crucified Lord we find eternal life,” the cardinal said.
Through their life of voluntary poverty, the Poor Clares “clear the mirror” from distractions so they might see Christ crucified all the better, he said.
The Poor Clares came to Chicago in 1893 residing in a monastery on Laflin Street. In the 1960s they moved to a location in Hickory Hills. However, in 1992 the monastery closed because of dwindling numbers and the remaining sisters moved to a monastery in Roswell, N.M.
In 1999, Cardinal George travelled to Roswell and asked that the Chicago monastery be restored. The sisters agreed and they returned to the area and took up temporary lodging in a convent on the grounds of St. Symphorosa Parish, 6135 S. Austin Ave., until their new monastery in Palos Park was completed. The cardinal dedicated the new Immaculate Conception monastery in 2003.
The sisters wear full habits, which they make themselves, and go barefoot in a spirit of poverty. They have a garden where they grow their own food and they also rely on the aid and generosity of friends and benefactors to obtain other food staples and support.
Once a sister enters the monastery she normally stays in that same place for the remainder of her life — except for medical purposes or if she is asked to help start a monastery in another location.
“The whole of our life is dedicated to God. It’s all consecrated to him,” said Poor Clare Mother Teresita, the monastery’s abbess. “But then we do our daily work, keep the monastery going, and then we go to prayer. It’s a life of prayer and work.”
They spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament praying on behalf of the needs of the archdiocese, the church universal and any special intentions given to them.
Mother Teresita, who was interviewed through a screen at the monastery, said the sisters are praying for eight new vocations to their monastery to coincide with their 800th anniversary — and for more to join their community around the world. March 18 is not the end of the celebration. The sisters will also note the anniversary on St. Clare’s feast day, Aug. 11.
The Poor Clares’ 800th anniversary is an affirmation of faith and St. Clare’s calling, Mother Teresita said.
“This was one young girl, 800 years ago, she went out in pure faith to the man that people thought was crazy — this Francis di Bernardone,” Mother Terista said. “She went out to join him but she had no clue who was going to come to join her.”
The number of Clare’s sisters grew, through the grace of God, and for eight centuries has born a radical witness to the Father’s love.
“Not everyone is called to live like we are but everyone is called to give God the primacy of their lives. So that’s what our life says,” Mother Teresita said. What else does this anniversary affirm for the Poor Clares?
“And also, God is enough,” Mother Teresita said. “We really don’t need anything else.
The public can join the community for Mass daily at 7 a.m. The sisters also accept prayer intentions. To learn more, visit www.chicagopoorclares.org.