Cloister vocation offers life of joy
By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — As the Year of Consecrated Life, declared by Pope Francis, comes to a close on Feb. 2, a community of faithful women in Fort Wayne continue to live their charism for the Lord and His people. The Poor Sisters of St. Clare, a public association of the faithful, live in cloister at Our Lady of Angels Monastery under the “Form of Life of St. Clare.”
St. Clare, said Sister Karolyn Grace, who will profess her permanent vows Feb. 2, was “a woman so ahead of her time, full of womanly strength and virtues.” St. Clare was the first to follow St. Francis’ charism, Sister Karolyn Grace said, adding that hers was the first rule written by a woman to be recognized in the Church.
The 10 women — two postulants, seven professed sisters and one novice — live as family secluded from the outside world where they say there are fewer distractions to their efforts to deepen their relationship with God. Each lives out her own charism according to the rule of St. Clare and all humbly rely on friends and benefactors for their daily needs.
A cloister vocation in the Church, said Sister Karolyn Grace, is “a very special call. We are called to be given completely to God with our whole minds, bodies, hearts and souls in a very radical way because we live within the bounds of our enclosure. We especially as cloistered nuns image the Bride of Christ the Church and it’s because we are exclusively given to Him with prayer as our primary work or apostolate or ministry that we are here to belong to God. And by belonging completely to God we belong completely to the world and to the whole Church through this very special union that we have with our Lord Jesus in His offering to the Father.”
Several of the sisters were first part of the Franciscan Sisters Minor, founded in 2000, and following the rule of St. Francis. However after discovering St. Clare, they were refounded as the Poor Clares in 2012. As a public association of the faithful, the sisters have begun the process of forming a new religious community in the diocese under Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ discernment. “Right now we are aspiring to be religious,” said Sister Stella Francis, a perpetually professed sister, who adds that when the bishop discerns that the Poor Clares have born the fruits of the Holy Spirit, “We would have canonical status as religious.”
The cloistered sisters begin their day at 3 a.m. when they rise to pray the Divine Office, the first of seven times they will pray the prayer throughout the day. Eucharistic Adoration takes place before the celebration of Mass at 7:45 a.m. with various local priests as celebrant. Bishop Rhoades visits the sisters once each month to celebrate Mass as well.
In between prayer times the sisters complete their everyday tasks, such as cooking and sewing, and participate in classes. A communal meal takes place at 4 p.m. when the sisters enjoy a spiritual reading along with their meal, after which recreation time allows for projects, games and “talk time.” Vespers and recitation of the rosary ends their day.
Though the sisters live a contemplative life, they may talk to each other or visitors periodically throughout the day as they keep the spirit of prayer, but from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. they abide by a “grand silence” where complete silence is kept save for emergencies.
As for vocations, Sister Marie Veronica, who will profess her permanent vows on Aug. 15, said many come through conversations the women have with the Franciscan Brothers Minor who are in active ministry around the diocese. Any interested join the community as a postulant, wearing a jumper with no veil and keeping her Baptismal name. After a year of discernment if she feels called to go on she would spend two years as a novice, taking a new name, wearing a habit with a white veil and rope belt. After two years as novice, the sister would make temporary vows for three years and receive a black veil and four knots in her rope signifying the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and the Marian vow. Finally, when taking perpetual vows the sister is given a ring to signify being a Bride of Christ. “Our rings are made of wood,” said Sister Karolyn Grace. “It reminds us of the cross.”
Of their community, Sister Karolyn Grace is quick to point out that “Once you walk through the door you’re not locked in or stuck here. We lock out the world but nobody gets locked in.” Joining a cloister is different, she said, than joining an active religious community. “The women who join us are very courageous and it’s a heroic act of faith to decide to seriously discern in the cloister as a postulant.”
One of the many gifts of this consecrated life of cloister is the great freedom for each sister to follow the charism the Holy Spirit has placed on her heart, said Sister Karolyn Grace. Novice Sister Rose Caritas, who will make her first profession on Feb. 2, feels this is her second vocation and says, “It’s the biggest joy of my life.” After living in the world as wife, mother and grandmother who participated in the sacraments daily and worked with people and missions she says, “You divide yourself up so much. In cloister you can do it all.” Her special charism is intercessory prayer.
All 10 sisters spend time in intercessory prayer for the world and for the people of the diocese, feeling united with God and His people. They are grateful for their benefactors for supporting them with their prayers and meeting their daily needs. But they especially appreciate their faith in their prayers. “The faith of the people is what is making our prayers heard,” said Sister Karolyn Grace.
The sisters said they stay connected to the diocese by reading Today’s Catholic and speaking with those who visit during portress hours everyday but Friday from 11 a.m. to noon and 12:20-1 p.m. They extend their fervent love for those they pray for saying, “We love all the people of the diocese in a thousand ways!” Sister Rose Caritas concludes, “It (the cloister) allows Jesus to fill us up with love and it overflows into the world.”
The Poor Sisters of St. Clare honor any prayer intention they receive with fervent prayer. Send or deliver prayer requests to Poor Sisters of St. Clare at 2610 New Haven Ave., Fort Wayne, IN 46803.