History of Poor Clares Reveals Family Affair

Everyone knows Saint Clare of Assisi, foundress of the Poor Clares. What is less well known is that she had a younger sister who also became a Poor Clare nun and a canonized saint. She is Saint Agnes of Assisi. The order of the Poor Clares is celebrating the eighth centenary of her birth this year. Agnes was born in 1197 or 1198, the second daughter of Favarone and Ortolana Offreduccio. Clare and Agnes had a third sister, Beatrice, who also became a Poor Clare, and is said to have helped establish the order in France. The mother of all three, Ortolana, joined her daughters at San Damiano, the first monastery of the Poor Clares, after the death of her husband. Because Favarone was a knight and often away from home, Orotolana and her daughters had formed a holy circle in the privacy of their castle home. This loving and devout family spirit influenced the order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare, and endures to this day. Clare received the charism to follow Christ in evangelical poverty, chastity and obedience and enclosure. Her first followers numbered not only her mother and sisters, but three cousins and many of her friends as well. Agnes was only 14 years old when she decided to join Clare. An uncle and other relatives literally carried her away from the monastery in protest to a second marriageable daughter making her own life decisions. Clare prayed, and Agnes became so heavy that 12 men were unable to carry her over a little brook that stood in the way. Agnes arose with joy to join Clare and walk with light step and unstumbling feet on the way of poverty for the rest of her life. She died a holy death at age 56, having herself set the monastery in Florence on a firm foundation of the Privilege of Poverty, granted to the order by Pope Innocent III. That meant living a monastic, contemplative life in Franciscan dependence on divine providence instead of having rents from extensive properties, serfs and other securities. Because Saint Agnes followed Clare with such joy and fidelity, she is the patroness of the novitiate of the Poor Clares in Alexandria. Each year the postulants, novices and junior professed Sisters prepare for her feast, Nov. 19, by nine days of prayer. One of their perennial intentions is to pray for those whom the Lord is preparing to join them in the same call Clare and Agnes had, and which has been faithfully handed down through almost eight centuries. The first Poor Clares centered their day around the Mass and the Divine Office in choir and adored the Blessed Sacrament, as we do. They slept on poor beds and arose at midnight for Matins, fasted and went barefoot in a spirit of penance. We do the same. They were obedient to the pope and bishop and prayed for the Church and the world as we do today. They preferred menial tasks, made their own poor garments and took care of the sick. Theirs was a life of silence and charity, such as the early monks and nuns observed, in a renewed spirit of Gospel poverty, humility and simplicity. That life is ours to cherish and sustain as we stand on the threshold of the third millennium. If you think God may be calling you to follow Christ and, in the prophetic words of Saint Francis of Assisi, "by a holy way of living to glorify our heavenly Father throughout His holy Church," please contact for further information: Mother Miriam, P.C.C., Monastery of the Poor Clares, 2505 Stonehedge Dr., Alexandria, Va. 22306, telephone 703/768-4918.
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