TODAY we remember the life and works of Saint Clare of Assisi.
Saint Clare of Assisi was the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, and Ortalana (who became Blessed Ortalana di Fiumi). She was born on July 16, 1194, in Assisi, Italy, and was given the name Chiara.
As a young girl, Clare was prayerful. In 1210, she got enchanted by the Lenten preaching of St. Francis of Assisi and developed a great desire to imitate him. On the evening of Palm Sunday in 1212, Clare secretly left her home and went to Saint Mary’s Church in Porziuncula to meet with Francis and his brethren. Before the Blessed Virgin’s altar, her long hair was cut and she was given a sackcloth tied with a cord around her waist as her penitential habit.
Clare was first placed in the Benedictine Convent of Bastia and then in the community of Sant’Angelo in Panza in Mont Subasio. Soon, her sister Caterina (who later became St. Agnes) joined her. Her parents attempted to take Clare and her sister home but Clare refused. When the Damiano church outside of Assisi was restored, Clare and Agnes moved there. It was there that the Order of Poor Ladies (later known as the Poor Clares) was founded and other young women who wanted to be consecrated with Jesus joined them. St. Francis chose Clare to be the leader of the convent. However, it took him three years of prayerful urging before Clare accepted the position of “Mother Superior” of the order.
The Poor Ladies lived a life of total austerity. They went around barefoot, slept on the ground, fasted every day, abstained from eating meat, and spoke only when necessary. Their lives consisted of prayer and hard work. Yet, the sisters were happy serving the Lord all the time. When a Church Council had decreed that the Poor Ladies should follow the Rule of Saint Benedict rather than St. Francis, Clare defended them. She continued to promote her order and fight every attempt to impose a rule on her order that would be against the practice of St. Francis.
In 1228, when Gregory IX offered Saint Clare a dispensation from the vow of strict poverty, she said: “I need to be absolved from my sins, but not from the obligation of following Christ.” Accordingly, the Pope granted them the Privilegium Pauperitatis (property privilege), that nobody could oblige them to accept any possession.
In 1229, Clare received her sister Beatrice to her congregation. Soon, her mother and several other women, after giving up their titles and estates, came to join her three daughters. Afterwards, Bianca, her aunt, also joined them.
She wrote the Rule of her Order which dictates that good sense would guide everyone in the convent. Clare instructed them to wear something poor, reminding them that Jesus was born in a manger. On August 9, 1253, the Papal Bull Solet annure confirmed that Clare’s Rule would serve as the governing rule for the Order of Poor Ladies.
Clare died on August 11, 1253, at the age of 59. On September 26, 1255, she was canonized as St. Clare by Pope Alexander IV. She was declared patron saint of television on February 17, 1958, for it was believed that when she was so ill and could not attend Mass, she reportedly was able to see and hear the mass on the wall of her bedroom.
In 1263, the Order of Poor Ladies was officially changed to the Order of Saint Clare by Pope Urban IV.