At the entrance to Poor Clare Nuns’ chapel, a framed sign hanging above the holy water font serves as a daily reminder: “When we pray the Divine Office for the whole Church in union with Jesus Christ, we labor for the salvation and sanctification of souls in a measure we cannot comprehend.”
This is the place where the sisters pray the Divine Office seven times a day, offering their intentions for the whole world. There is no technology — no internet, no social media. The sisters stay informed of the news — such as the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio — via more traditional means such as the newspaper and from conversations with visitors.
The contemplative Franciscan community of women religious, who have had a presence in the Archdiocese of St. Louis for 60 years, have a mission to live the Gospel in total poverty, through a life of prayer and penance.
While the sisters are physically separated from the world by means of their cloister, they do so “for the world,” said abbess Mother Mary Leo. That means they offer themselves in prayer for the intentions of the whole world. To live out that charism, the sisters take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure.
“We consider the prayer our active apostolate by bringing people in touch with God and bringing forth their intercessions,” said Mother Mary Leo. “It deeply saddens us, the difficult things that are happening in our world. It’s incentive for our prayer to make it more intense, more faithful. Of course there’s a lot more that we don’t hear about, but we hear enough of it to realize how difficult it is.”
The sisters also pray for the good things that are happening in the world, Mother Mary Leo added. It was edifying to read about thousands of teens who recently attended the Steubenville St. Louis Mid-America youth conference in Springfield, Mo., for example, she said. “It’s encouraging for us to see that there are such good young Catholic people who are doing wonderful things and being brought closer to God,” she said.
In 1212, foundress St. Clare left her home in Italy to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. She was clothed in a poor habit as a sign of her consecration to God. Several others joined her at the Church of San Damiano, just outside of Assisi, and began what was called the Poor Ladies. After St. Clare’s death in 1253, the community became known as the Poor Clares or Nuns of the Order of St. Clare.
The Poor Clare Nuns established a monastery in St. Louis in 1959 at the invitation of then-Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter. As a bishop in Indianapolis, he knew the Poor Clares who had a monastery in Evansville, Ind. The Monastery of St. Clare of the Immaculate Conception was erected in Oakville in 1958, and the following year, six nuns moved into the new monastery. Today, there are 10 women in the community, ranging in age from their 30s to 70s. In 2010, the sisters completed work on an addition that expanded the monastery’s size.
The sisters’ daily schedule includes prayer, readings, communing with God and silent meditation. Living in community is another critical aspect of the sisters’ charism. They share responsibilities for the upkeep of the monastery. The community also has a specialty of making altar breads for use in the Holy Mass.
By giving their full attention to God through prayer, the sisters see their role as helping people all over the world. “There’s no limit to who we’re touching,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, vicaress. “It’s a life of faith because we don’t always see the results.”
60th anniversary Mass
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will celebrate a Mass commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Poor Clare Monastery in St. Louis.
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14
WHERE: Monastery of Saint Clare of the Immaculate Conception, 200 Marycrest Drive in Oakville
MORE INFO: To learn more about the Poor Clare Nuns, visit www.poorclaresstl.org. The sisters have a chapel that is open to the public. Mass is celebrated 6:15 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 6:30 a.m. on Sundays. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament with Evening Prayer is at 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. A Holy Hour takes place at 7 p.m. on the first Friday and Saturday of each month and includes Benediction.