On August 11, the Franciscan family celebrates the feast of St. Clare of Assisi (1193/94-1253), the first woman to join Francis and his brothers in their new Gospel way of life.
Clare was born into one of the feudal land-owning families of Assisi, spending some years in the neighboring city of Perugia due to class warfare in Assisi. Several years after her family's return to Assisi, she determined to embark on a life of penance in her family home, but, inspired by conversations she had with Francis, she decided to abandon her family and social status, and in 1211 or 1212 became part of the new movement of a "life according to the Holy Gospel" at the Portiuncula. She and several other women who soon joined her quickly settled at the church of San Damiano. Francis told them:
"Since by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters and servants of the most High King, the heavenly Father, and have taken the Holy Spirit as your spouse, choosing to live according to the perfection of the Holy Gospel, I resolve and promise for myself and for my brothers always to have the same loving care and special solicitude for you as I have for them."
Clare and her Poor Sisters lived simply and prayerfully at San Damiano for over 40 years, supporting themselves by the work of their hands. Clare had to fight to maintain her distinctive vision of religious life - her Rule was finally approved by Pope Innocent IV shortly before her death in 1253. She was canonized just two years later, in 1255.
As she wrote to St. Agnes of Prague: "If so great and good Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin's womb, chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty and want, suffering hunger for heavenly nourishment, might become rich in him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then rejoice and be glad! . . What a great and praiseworthy exchange: to leave the things of time for those of eternity, to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth, to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed and eternal life!"
A blessed feast to all our Poor Clare sisters! Holy Mother Clare, pray for us!
The writings and early biographies of St Clare are available to read on this website. Sign up for the Early Franciscan sources to gain access.
The image of St. Clare is a detail from a painting by Giovanni Battista Moroni (c.1520/24-1579), done in Trent in 1548 during the Council of Trent. It is housed in the diocesan museum in that city.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.