To mark the anniversary of the founder of what came to be known as the Poor Clares, the sisters of the Order of St. Clare will welcome visitors to celebrate 9 a.m. Mass and join them afterward for a reception in the garden of their cloistered Uptown monastery on Monday, Aug. 11. Novenas will be held at 7 p.m. on nine consecutive evenings, Aug. 2-10.
The occasion is the annual celebration of St. Clare of Assisi, who took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure more than 800 years ago. New Orleans was the order’s first permanent home in the United States, founded in 1885.
Poor Clares pray and sing five times daily, starting with morning Mass.
“The idea is to consecrate the whole day,” Sister Charlene, the abbess, said.
The monastery property at the corner of Magazine Street and Henry Clay was purchased in 1887, on land that had been on the Etienne Bore sugar plantation. In 1891, the sisters built a wood-frame building and, in 1912, laid the cornerstone for the current buildings, surrounded by thick, brick walls.
The monastery includes a chapel with intricate German woodcarvings and turn-of-the-century stained glass windows fabricated by Emil Frei Art Glass in St. Louis. The spacious yard has gardens, a labyrinth and mausoleum.
St. Clare’s Monastery has been a pillar of the Uptown community for more than a century. So much so, that the abbess received a phone call from a Hurricane Katrina evacuee who made the decision it was OK to return as long as the sisters were back. When the Poor Clares arrived home, they found a bouquet of flowers sent by local merchants welcoming them.
The sisters continually receive letters and calls from supplicants requesting prayers dedicated to their causes.
“We’re here to be a prayer presence, but also here to pray for the needs of New Orleans. There’s a long list,” the abbess said.
Not only do they pray for individuals’ concerns but also the “larger world community where there is a breakdown of governments and civil war and fragile places — the environment and wetlands,” she said.
The order, which dedicates itself to a contemplative life, is nevertheless skilled in adversity. In the 19th century, Mother Mary Magdalen and her Sister Constance left the Monastery of San Lorenzo Panisperna in Rome to establish a St. Clare foundation in New York, then Cincinnati and Philadelphia — each without success. In a godsend, Archbishop Perche, of New Orleans, in 1877 wrote a letter inviting them to his diocese in New Orleans.
But the sisters were yet to be relocated twice again to Cleveland and Omaha before finally re-establishing themselves in New Orleans in 1885.
Though not Catholic, Orissa Arend bicycles to the monastery almost every morning to hear Mass in the chapel.
“I love the carefully attended-to and worshipful space, the honesty and audacity of these thoughtful women,” Arend said.
“The liturgy is focused on the prayers. In four-week cycles, we cover all the psalms and the Bible over the course of the year,” Sister Charlene said.
The Lady Clare, who was born in Italy, was greatly influenced by St. Francis, the son of Barnardone, who began a brotherhood preaching the gospel of peace and forgiveness. She secretly left her family and cut off her hair, donning the Franciscan habit to adopt a life of prayer and contemplation and to found the order that would bear her name.