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History and Charism
“The Sisters of the Poor Clare Monastery in Roswell have been,
and continue to be, a tangible blessing to the people of the
Diocese of Las Cruces. Their tireless ministry of prayer on
behalf of our Church and its faithful members represents an
invaluable support to our mission as People of God in the modern
world.” – Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, C.S.B.
St. Clare of Assisi
The eldest daughter of an influential Italian family, St. Clare was born in Assisi in 1193
or 1194. The goodness, charm and piety of this favored child
seemed to point to a future couched in luxury, wealth, and
prestige. Yet God had fashioned the heart of Clare for something
greater, and the sparks of that "something" were fanned into a
great flame of response at the preaching of her fellow townsman,
the future St. Francis of Assisi.
The Gospel ideals of the Little
Poor Man found their truest echo in the heart of the young
noblewoman, who at midnight of Palm Sunday, 1212, left her
paternal home and made her way to the little chapel of St. Mary
of the Angels outside Assisi. There she exchanged her finest
gown for the rough, cross-form habit of the Order of Penance,
after St. Francis himself cut her long golden hair.
Clare was soon joined by her
younger sister Agnes, and the two settled in the ancient church
of San Damiano. There for forty-two years she spent her life in
joyful sacrifice for the needs of the Church and the world,
embodying her ideals in the simple Form of Life which she handed
on to her daughters of all time as the expression of her whole
First spiritual daughter of St. Francis Foundress of the Order
of Poor Clare Nuns
This Rule of Life (the first in
the history of the Church written by a woman) received papal
approval on August 9, 1253, just two days before Clare's death
on August 11. At that time, 125 monasteries were observing the
form of life inspired by her courageous following of the Gospel.
St. Clare was canonized by Pope
Alexander IV on August 15, 1255. Her feast day is celebrated on
Colette of Corbie:
In the centuries following the
deaths of Saints Francis and
Clare, their soaring ideals were
compromised by many of their followers in favor of an era of
mitigation and relaxation that reached its height at the end of
the fourteenth century. And so it was that God raised up St.
Colette of Corbie, born January 13, 1381, to restore their
beautiful dream to its first fervor. Granted papal authorization
for the restoration of the Franciscan Order to primitive
observance, Colette labored tirelessly in the work of reform. By
the time of her death on March 6, 1447, she had founded sixteen
monasteries faithful to the primitive Rule of St. Clare and had
written Constitutions which insured the observance of this Rule
as a practical way of life.
St. Colette was canonized in 1807
and her feast day is celebrated on February 7. Her monastery in
Ghent, Belgium, founded in 1442, established a foundation in
Tongres in 1845, which in turn sent nuns to Dusseldorf, Germany
St.Colette of Corbie
Forced into exile by Bismarck's
Kulturkampf, the Dusseldorf Poor Clares carried
the primitive ideal first to the Netherlands and then to the
United States, establishing the first Poor Clare monastery of
the reform of St. Colette in Cleveland, Ohio in 1877. From this
Cleveland motherhouse, other American foundations were made,
including a monastery in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893.
Our Roswell Foundation:
It was in November of 1948 that a small group of Chicago
Poor Clares set out for Roswell, New Mexico, responding
to the urgent invitation of now deceased Archbishop
Edwin Byrne of Santa Fe to found a new monastery in his
ancient and historic archdiocese. For he wanted "the
praying nuns," as he fondly described the cloistered
Poor Clares, to encircle his vast archdiocese with the
arms of their lives of prayer and penitence. The late
Cardinal Samuel Stritch of Chicago agreed, although not
without sadness, to let them go. And that, one might
well have thought, would have been the end of that. One
could scarcely have expected young girls to flock into
the little farmhouse-turned-monastery.
The original farmhouse purchased by the founding group of
sisters in 1948 to which a chapel and additional wings were
Yet, flock they did, to the extent that the Roswell
community was enabled by God to found six daughter-monasteries:
five in the United States (two in Virginia; one in Los Altos Hills, California;one
Illinois; the latest in Chicago, Illinois) and the sixth
across the sea in
Netherlands. In more recent years, God's call has been
heard and answered by generous young women from not only
all parts of the United States, but also from Australia,
Singapore, and El Salvador. The story of the coming of
the little pioneer group of Poor Clares from Chicago is
told in the book, A Right to Be Merry, by our Mother
Mary Francis, one of the seven foundresses. Published
first by Sheed and Ward, this classic went into five
editions and six foreign-language translations. A new
edition was published in the year 2001 by Ignatius
Press, which likewise published Mother’s account of our
first five foundations in Forth and Abroad, a sequel to
A Right to Be Merry.
Charism: our contemplative vocation
But what do these enclosed nuns
do? What are they all about? Verbi Sponsa, the document on the
contemplative life issued in 1999 by the Vatican Congregation
for Institutes of Consecrated Life, states clearly and
beautifully what the Church expects nuns to do and to be: “The
contemplative life is the nun’s particular way of being the
Church, of building the communion of the Church, of fulfilling a
mission for the good of the whole Church. Cloistered
contemplatives therefore are not asked to be involved in new
forms of active presence, but to remain at the wellspring of
Trinitarian communion, dwelling at the very heart of the Church
… by means of constant prayer, the oblation of self and the
offering of the sacrifice of praise. Their life thus becomes a
mysterious source of apostolic fruitfulness and blessing for the
Christian community and for the whole world.” Prayer requests
may be sent to the community, which intercedes day and night for
all the needs of the world.
Utterly dependent on Divine
providence and the alms of the faithful by her solemn vow of
poverty, a Poor Clare works hard as the poor must always do. All
share alike the work and maintenance of their monastery home.
There is gardening, artwork, music, sewing, printing, cooking,
and all things else. And so are the works of the cloistered Poor
Clares offered to God in a daily symphony of love, each sister
aware of the blessed paradox that her work is her own particular
grace while yet an indispensable part of the symphonic whole in
which each one busy at her own tasks is likewise in blessed
measure serving in all tasks.
In a booklet on the contemplative
life, Mother Mary Francis describes the call to the cloister in
this way: “‘The King has brought me into his rooms.’ A vocation
to the cloister is just as simple and yet as incredible, as
exquisite and still as demanding as that … The most enduring
right to be merry is realized within the King's rooms” (from The
In a letter to Pope John Paul II written after theSynod of
Bishops on Religious Life, she urges, “It is vital that we offer young
people a clear and uncompromising modus vivendi as the enclosed
contemplative nuns whom we have been called by God to be. What
we have to offer the young who seek us out is nothing ‘active’
or ‘useful’ or ‘modern’ as the world might reckon it. It is,
rather, the intense interior activity of contemplation which
calls us not out of our enclosure but deeply into it from which
alone is our religious calling answered.
We can reach the whole world in the ‘activity’ of prayer and
compassion and sacrificial love. Young people readily understand
that the enclosed contemplative life is ‘useful’ to the Church
and to the world. These modern young folk find our ancient way
of life an inviting mystery which demands the whole of their
modernity to fathom” (Letter to Pope John Paul II, 1994).
of a newly-clothed novice, encircling her crucifix, is placed on
the altar step in the nuns’ choir on the day of her Investiture
This wondrous call is further explored in Mother’s book, Forth
and Abroad: “For what the enclosure encloses is a woman in love.
love pertains to the core of the heart, and it can make
suffering demands, demands in their turn made desirable
just because of love. It is a blessed circle and
expressed in the ring circling the Poor Clare’s finger. The ring bears the
outline of a heart.
And of a cross. Spouseship
is, in the end, the most beautiful expression of power,
the unleashing of such love and willingness to suffer
the lot of the Bridegroom as alone makes for the triumph
of womanhood in whatever vocation.
At the ceremony of a Poor Clare’s solemn
Profession, when a young nun tosses her life like a song into
the Heart of Christ as alms for all in his kingdom, a ring is
placed upon her finger. And then a crown of thorns upon her head.
That is the proper order of things for it is only love that
makes bearing the reality of thorns possible. The newly ringed
and crowned young nun who has pronounced her vows with her hands
placed in those of the abbess while the bishop looks on in
witness lifts her gaze to the eyes of her abbess. It is a moment
that never fades.”
The community in Roswell presently numbers twenty-three. Mother Mary Angela is the
abbess. Mother Mary Francis, who served as abbess of the
monastery for forty-one years, received the title of “Mother Emerita” in October 2005, four months before her death on
February 11, 2006.
between the ages of eighteen and thirty who are interested in a
contemplative vocation may contact Mother Angela.