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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Few Miracles in the Early Life of St. Colette

There are many wonderful stories surrounding St. Colette - that happened to her and many others she did for others: cured a Dominican nun that was a leper, raised the dead, etc.   Below are just two of these stories, shortened.   

Forget the "Mary had a little lamb story", children should be told of how St. Colette had a lamb that followed her around and prayed with her!:

Birds flew about her, and a lark drank from her cup, while a lamb trotted after her and stood quiet in her oratory while she prayed.

                                     (St. Colette and her little lamb.)



Colette's "tiny no more" story:

Colette was nearly grown up, but at sixteen she was no taller than she had been at ten or eleven.

"You are so small that you will never be able to keep the house clean when your mother dies," remarked her father one day, seeing Colette in vain trying to lift something from a shelf that was out of her reach, and though the words hurt her the girl knew that they were true. What would become of them when her mother died? and she was nearly sixty now. Night and day the thought [281] troubled her, and at length she resolved to go on a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint not very far from Corbie to ask for help, as many of her friends had done before her.

"Let me become tall and strong," she prayed, and tall and strong she became, to her great joy, so that when her mother died she was able to take her place and do all that was required of her. St. Colette was small on the day of her departure to this pilgrimage shrine and on the day she returned, she was much taller!  God granted her prayers.

(A Franciscan friar listening to tiny Colette preach - before her miraculous growth spurt!  Her little friends helped raise her up.)

St Colette de Corbie

St Colette de Corbie, Reformer of the Poor Clares


Feast Day – February 7th


In the little town of Corbie, France, St Colette was born on January 12, 1381, of exemplary working people. She was a child of grace, an answer to her mother's incessant prayers, for the latter was already 60 years old then and had been childless up to that time.

The little girl took great pleasure in prayer, in compassion for the poor, and in rigorous mortification, making of her soul and of her tender body a sacrifice to God. Up to her 14th year St Colette de Corbie remained unusually small in stature; the was a great grief got her father. St Colette begged God to console her father in this matter, and then she began to grow very rapidly to normal height.

On the other hand, St Colette de Corbie asked God to deprive her of the rare beauty she possessed, which she believed might be the occasion of danger to herself and others; that request, too, was granted, and Colette developed features of a severe cast which inspired great respect.

When both her parents had died, St Colette de Corbie, at the age of 22, obtained the permission of the Church authorities to shut herself up in a small abode directly adjoining the church; from a small window in it she could see the Blessed Sacrament. There she expected to spend the remainder of her life as an anchoress. She had embraced the rule of the Third Order of St Francis, in accordance with which she endeavored to live in perfect poverty, severe mortification, and constant prayer in order to become daily more and more like the Seraphic Father. She received many consolations from heaven, but on the other hand she also experienced severe temptations and even corporal abuse from the spirits of darkness.

Almighty God had destined St Colette for something extraordinary. He excited in her the desire to re-introduce the strict observance of the rule of St Clare, which many convents of Poor Clares then observed in a modified form.
The humble virgin recoiled at the thought, which she tried to persuade herself was an illusion of the proud spirit of darkness. But the inspiration returned again and again, and when St Colette de Corbie continued to resist it, she was struck dumb and later on blind, until she finally resigned herself to the will of God, like Saul before Damascus.

"Lord," St Colette de Corbie sobbed in her heart, "what wilt Thou have me do? I am ready to do anything Thou desirest of me."

At once her speech and her sight were restored. The Lord sent her a special director under whose guidance she was to perform extraordinary things. And so, after spending four years in her retreat, and with the authority and the blessing of the pope, she established one convent of Poor Clares after another, so that the number reached 17 during her lifetime.
After her death similar foundations were established in countries other than France, in which the primitive rule of St Clare began to flourish anew.
St Colette de Corbie endured untold hardships in fulfilling the task assigned to her, but heaven supported her even in visible ways; numerous miracles, including the raising to life of several dead persons, occurred in answer to her prayers and in confirmation of her work. So, the great foundress remained ever humble, regarding everything as the work of God, who often chooses the lowliest of people as His instruments.

On this foundation of humility she endeavored to foster in her convents the spirit of prayer and simplicity of heart, she placed great value on the recitation of the Divine Office in choir, undoubtedly in remembrance of the practice existing in her native town, and infused this esteem into her fellow sisters. She was also filled with zeal for the salvation of souls, and once in a vision she saw souls falling into hell more swiftly than the snowflakes in a winter's storm.
St Colette reformed the Order of Poor Clare's and founded a branch of the Order that is still known as the Colettines.

St Colette had a special devotion to St John the Apostle, who appeared to her on one occasion to place a miraculous ring on her finger. As he did so, he said: "by my own right and on behalf of the sovereign King and Prince of virginity and chastity." This ring was visible to all, and was a beautiful and very precious ring of gold.

St Colette had a great desire for a relic of the True Cross. One day when she was contemplating Our Lord's suffering in the midst of her community, she was drawn into an ecstasy. When her contemplation was over, she realized she was holding a small gold crucifix that had not been there before. It contained a small relic of the True Cross. Years later, upon preparing for her death, she gave away her few possessions. The abbess of Besancon received this cross as St Colette told her: "Keep it and treasure it, for it is from Heaven."

After laboring for 40 years, she was to receive her eternal reward. She died in her convent at Ghent on March 6, 1447. At the moment of her departure from this world she appeared to several sisters in different convents. Pope Urban VIII beatified her, and Pope Pius VII.

*from: The Franciscan Book of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm.

Chaplet of St. Colette of Corbie



Chaplet of St. Colette

Blessed be the hour
in which our Lord Jesus Christ,
God and Man was born.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit
by whom he was conceived.
Blessed be the glorious Virgin Mary
of whom the Incarnate Word was born.
May the Lord hear our prayers
through the intercession
of the glorious Virgin Mary
and in memory
of that most sacred hour
in which the Incarnate Word was born,
that all our desires may be accomplished
for your glory and our salvation.
O good Jesus!
O Jesus our Redeemer,
do not abandon us as our sins deserve,
but hear our humble prayer
and grant what we ask
through the intercession
of the most blessed Virgin Mary
and for the glory of your Holy Name.
Amen.

As God pleases,
As God wills.
(repeat ten times)

Let us praise the Father in his mercy
and the Son by his passion
and the Holy Spirit
the fountain of peace and sweetness and love.
Amen, amen without recall!

(You may choose to precede the Chaplet with a reading from scripture or I may take one of the Lord's self revealing proclamations:)


I am the Way.
I am the Truth.
I am the Life.
I am the Resurrection.
I am the Good Shepherd.
I am the Gate of the Sheepfold.
I am the Light of the world.
I am the Alpha and the Omega.
I am the First and the last.
I Live. 

The Joyful Mysteries

The first coming of the Lord

Blessed be the hour
in which our Lord Jesus Christ,
God and Man was born.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit
by whom he was conceived.
Blessed be the glorious Virgin Mary
of whom the Incarnate Word was born.
May the Lord hear our prayers
through the intercession
of the glorious Virgin Mary
and in memory
of that most sacred hour
in which the Incarnate Word was born,
that all our desires may be accomplished
for your glory and our salvation.
O good Jesus!
O Jesus our Redeemer,
do not abandon us as our sins deserve,
but hear our humble prayer
and grant what we ask
through the intercession
of the most blessed Virgin Mary
and for the glory of your Holy Name.
Amen.

As God pleases,
As God wills. (repeat ten times)


Let us praise the Father in his mercy
and the Son by his passion
and the Holy Spirit
the fountain of peace and sweetness and love.
Amen, amen without recall!  

The Sorrowful Mysteries

The second coming of the Lord

Blessed be the hour
in which our Lord Jesus Christ
is our Passover
Blessed be the Holy Spirit
given to us from the Cross
Blessed be the glorious Virgin Mary
on whom the Incarnate Word bestows the Church
May the Lord hear our prayers
through the intercession
of the glorious Virgin Mary
and in memory
of that most sacred hour
in which we receive the Passover of Christ.
that all our desires may be accomplished
for your glory and our salvation.
O good Jesus!
O Jesus our Redeemer,
do not abandon us as our sins deserve,
but hear our humble prayer
and grant what we ask
through the intercession
of the most blessed Virgin Mary
and for the glory of your Holy Name.
Amen.

As God pleases,
As God wills.
(repeat ten times)

Let us praise the Father in his mercy
and the Son by his passion
and the Holy Spirit
the fountain of peace and sweetness and love.
Amen, amen without recall!

The Glorious Mysteries

The last coming of the Lord

Blessed be the hour
in which our Lord Jesus Christ,
King and Judge will come
Blessed be the Holy Spirit
who prepares our hearts for his reign
Blessed be the glorious Virgin Mary
with whom the Incarnate Word will come again.
May the Lord hear our prayers
through the intercession
of the glorious Virgin Mary
in memory of that most sacred hour
in which heaven shall be opened to our eyes.
that all our desires may be accomplished
for your glory and our salvation.
O good Jesus!
O Jesus our Redeemer,
do not abandon us as our sins deserve,
but hear our humble prayer
and grant what we ask
through the intercession
of the most blessed Virgin Mary
and for the glory of your Holy Name.
Amen.

As God pleases,
As God wills.
(repeat ten times)

Let us praise the Father in his mercy
and the Son by his passion
and the Holy Spirit
the fountain of peace and sweetness and love.
Amen, amen without recall!

Litany of St. Clare of Assisi


THE LITANY OF ST. CLARE, FIRST-BORN SECOND ORDER
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us. 

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, graciously hear us. 

 
O God the Father, of Heaven: have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world:
have mercy upon us.
O God, the Holy Ghost: have mercy upon us.
O Holy Trinity, one God: have mercy upon us. 
 
Holy Mary: Pray for us.
Immaculate Virgin: Pray for us.
Mother and Mistress of our Order: Pray for us. 

 
St. Clare, first-born of thy Order: Pray for us.
St. Clare, spouse of the Crucified:
St. Clare, lover of the Blessed Sacrament:
St. Clare, lover of the Sacred Heart:
St. Clare, lover of the Sacred Wounds:
St. Clare, lover of the Sacred Name:
St. Clare, lover of the Sacred Gospel:
St. Clare, to thy mother forenamed "resplendent":
St. Clare, resplendent with the light of Jesus:
St. Clare, resplendent in thy noble heritage:
St. Clare, resplendent in thy renunciation thereof:
St. Clare, resplendent in clinging to the altar as thy portion:
St. Clare, resplendent as first abbess of a great Order:
St. Clare, resplendent in putting the Saracens to flight:
St. Clare, resplendent in reparation for the sins of the world:
St. Clare, resplendent in wondrous miracles:
St. Clare, little plant of St. Francis:
St. Clare, princess of the poor:
St. Clare, duchess of the humble:
St. Clare, mistress of the chaste:
St. Clare, abbess of the penitent:
St. Clare, alabaster box of ointment broken at the feet of Jesus:
St. Clare, received at death by a choir of virgins:
St. Clare, censer of sweet perfume filling heaven and earth: Pray for us. 


O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: spare us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: graciously hear us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us. 

 
V. Pray for us, O blessed Clare. Alleluia.
R. That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ. Alleluia.

Let us pray.
 
(Choose one of the following Collects below.)
 
O God Who hast raised up blessed Clare as a shining lamp of holiness to lighten the way before a multitude of virgins: by her merits and prayers grant to us who do call to mind her commemoration, that in this life we may walk in Thy light, and in the life to come, may forever enjoy the light of Thy countenance. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
We beseech Thee, O Lord, that like as we do celebrate the memory of blessed Clare thy Virgin: so she may intercede for us; and that we may become partakers with her of eternal joy and joint heirs of Thy Only-Begotten Son. Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen. 
 
O God, Who hast filled the world with the splendid virtues of blessed Clare, Thy Virgin, by whom Thou hast also increased Thy Church with a new offspring: be pleased to grant; that we may so follow in her steps as to attain unto the splendor of her eternal glory. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Litany of St. Francis



LITANY OF SAINT FRANCIS OUR SERAPHIC PATRIARCH
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, graciously hear us.
O God the Father, of Heaven: have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world:
have mercy upon us.
O God, the Holy Ghost: have mercy upon us.
O Holy Trinity, one God: have mercy upon us.
Holy Mary: Pray for us.
Immaculate Virgin: Pray for us.

Mother and Mistress of our Order: Pray for us.
St. Francis, Seraphic Father: Pray for us.
St. Francis, Patriarch of the Poor: pray for us.
St. Francis, Founder and Leader of three armies of God:
St. Francis, Abraham of the Gospel by reason of thy countless children:
St. Francis, like unto the Baptist in the preaching of penance:
St. Francis, like unto Moses, giving the law of perfection:
St. Francis, like unto Elijah, borne aloft in a fiery chariot:
St. Francis, herald of the great King:
St. Francis, messenger of peace:
St. Francis, valiant knight of Christ:
St. Francis, mighty lover of souls:
St. Francis, ensample of Gospel perfection:
St. Francis, spouse of Lady Poverty:
St. Francis, model of dedicated chastity:
St. Francis, master of holy obedience:
St. Francis, sublime in corporal penance:
St. Francis, uplifted in heavenly contemplation:
St. Francis, marked with the Stigmata of Jesus:
St. Francis, verily a living crucifix:
St. Francis, wholly set on fire of seraphic love:
St. Francis, lover of the Babe of Bethlehem:
St. Francis, lover of the Sacred Passion:
St. Francis, lover of the Blessed Sacrament:
St. Francis, lover of the Name of Jesus:
St. Francis, lover of the Holy Scriptures:
St. Francis, lover of all the creatures of God:
St. Francis, physician of the sick:
St. Francis, light of the blind:
St. Francis, healer of the lepers:
St. Francis, raiser of the dead:
St. Francis, terror of demons:
St. Francis, enthroned in Lucifer's place:
St. Francis, apostle of the infidels:
St. Francis, martyr in desire:
St. Francis, confessor of the Faith:
St. Francis, virgin in soul:
St. Francis, endowed with the virtues of the Sacred Heart:
St. Francis, our Advocate: Pray for us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: spare us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: graciously hear us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.

V. Pray for us, O blessed Father Francis. Alleluia.
R. That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ. Alleluia.

Let us pray. (Choose one of the following Collects.)

O God, Who by the merits of our blessed Father Francis dost increase Thy Church with a new offspring: grant, we beseech Thee; that after his pattern we may learn to despise all things earthly, and ever to rejoice in the partaking of Thy Heavenly bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, when the world was waxing cold, to the inflaming of our hearts with the fire of Thy love didst renew in the flesh of our most blessed Father Francis the sacred marks of Thy passion: mercifully grant that by his merits and intercession, we may be enabled ever to bear Thy Cross, and to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen. 
 
O God, Who in many fashions didst shew forth in Thy Confessor our blessed Father Francis the wondrous mysteries of the Cross: grant us, we beseech Thee, ever to follow the pattern of his devotion, and, continually thinking on the same holy Cross, thereby to be defended against all temptations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
O God, Who didst bestow Blessed Francis on us, for to be our teacher and leader in following the ways of Thy Only-Begotten Son: grant, we beseech Thee, that we who do honor his memory on earth; may one day be partakers of his glory in Heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
O God, Who resisteth the proud, and givest grace unto the humble: grant us, through the intercession of our blessed Father Francis, to decrease in pride, and to increase in that humility which is so pleasing to Thee; that following in his footsteps, we may attain the gifts of Thy grace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

PCCs Minooka - “DAYS OF CHEER BEFORE ENCLOSURE NUNS HOLD OPEN HOUSES, WILL RETREAT INTO SILENCE”


(Older article just after new (current) monastery was built)

MINOOKA -- The Catholic nuns who built Annunciation Monastery warmly welcomed bustling throngs of friends, well-wishers, benefactors and neighbors during several open houses this week. But this newly built monastery west of Minooka soon will fall silent after the nuns retreat completely into a quiet life of prayer and contemplation.

The nine Poor Clare nuns who call Annunciation Monastery home have taken a vow of enclosure. In doing so, they have promised to lead their lives in silent seclusion on the monastery's grounds. Their solemn vow was relaxed for the nearly three years it took to build the monastery. During that time, the nuns interacted with people from all walks of life, including architects, contractors, professional laborers and community volunteers.

A construction-savvy Mother Mary Dorothy Urschalitz, the monastery's abbess, joked about dealing with Grundy County code inspectors. "Really, you'd like the codes to go jump," she said after conducting a tour of the monastery during an open house Tuesday.

The Poor Clares adhered to their traditions as closely as possible with work going on all around them. But with the monastery completed, the time has come for the nuns to return to their former lifestyle. Bishop Joseph Imesch, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Joliet, will dedicate Annunciation Monastery during a Mass at 2 p.m. today. The bishop also will establish a papal enclosure that will take effect this evening. At that time, the Colettine Poor Clare Cloistered Nuns of Joliet will retire into prayerful solitude behind the monastery's walls. All dealings with the outside world will be handled by two externs -- Poor Clare nuns who do not vow enclosure.

This week's open houses offered a rare glimpse into a private world. Annunciation Monastery's facade, with its gray brick walls and blue-tiled roof, conceals a spacious interior of modest decor.

A chapel and a visiting parlor are the only public areas.

Community members will be invited to attend daily Mass at the monastery. The sisters, however, will attend the same service in an adjacent chapel.

The Poor Clares may greet family members four times each year at the monastery. But because of their vow of enclosure, the nuns remain behind a steel grate during the visits.

The nuns sleep in Spartan private quarters they refer to as cells. The tiny blue room that was open to the public this week contains a firm bed, a desk, a chair and a small closet area. A single crucifix hangs on the wall. The monastery's 10 cells are all much the same, Mother Dorothy said.

The Poor Clares built their monastery with help of volunteers from throughout the area. A local carpenter, for example, transformed old oak pews from Rockford's St. Bernadette Church into cabinets and bookshelves for the monastery's library. Two volunteers who asked that their names not be used for this story stained the wood last winter.

The nuns also proved to be skillful collectors. The monastery is adorned with religious statues, stained-glass windows and crucifixes that were donated by churches and community members. The bell tower from St. Mary Immaculate Church in Plainfield also found a home at Annunciation Monastery.

The tornado of Aug. 28, 1990, knocked over the tower that stood in front of the church since the late 1970s. The parish returned the tower to its designers, Anzelc Welding and Fabricators of Rockdale, while a new church was built. But the parish council didn't want it back because it didn't fit with the new church's design, said owner Tom Anzelc. The structure sat in the company's yard for eight years. Anzelc was preparing to scrap the tower when Mother Dorothy came across it while she was commissioning volunteer work from him. She convinced Anzelc to galvanize the tower and install it with a statue of the Blessed Mother at the front of the monastery. "It started out in Plainfield, and it ended up in Minooka. But it's still standing. And it's found a good home," Anzelc said.

In 1990, the Joliet Diocese began a quest to find a contemplative order interested in making its home here. The Poor Clares in Rockford responded to the local church's call by allowing nine of their nuns to found a monastery within the diocese. Mother Dorothy, who was abbess of Rockford's Corpus Christi Monastery, agreed to oversee the founding of the Joliet monastery. After a lengthy search, the pioneering nuns settled on 27 acres of wooded property on East Minooka Road. The land is bounded on the north by Interstate 80 and on the west by Aux Sable Creek.

"It's a nice place, very close to the little village (Minooka) and to Joliet," Mother Dorothy said. "And it isn't too noisy if you don't listen to I-80."

The nuns moved onto the property in 1995 and lived there quietly -- first in a mobile home, and later in a small ranch-style house they built while construction began on the monastery. The house will provide extra work space for the nuns. Mother Dorothy is matter-of-factly philosophical about the nuns' vow of enclosure. "It's an extra penance. We should do something for the Lord. He's done so much for us," she said.

PCCs Minooka: "REVEALING GOD'S TRUTH THROUGH A LIFE SPENT IN SOLITUDE”


April 11, 1998 - before current monastery was built

Every day, just before 12:30 a.m., a digital alarm clock rings in the basement of a home along Minooka Road. A few minutes later, five women walk upstairs to a living room that has been converted into a sanctuary. The women are barefoot.

They are clad in gray robes and have black hoods pulled over white head covers that leave only their faces exposed. The floor in the living room area is tile, the walls are pale blue. At the center is a simple wooden altar, crowded with candles, a statue of the Virgin Mary and a colorful box. Above the altar hangs a crude wooden crucifix.


The air in the room is permanently stained from the incense burned there daily. Amid the still of midnight the women begin to worship. They sing a hymn and chant Psalms. Then they meditate in private prayer. At 2 a.m. they return to bed. They'll sleep for three more hours before they wake up again and silently file back into the makeshift sanctuary. They worship and pray for 2-1/2 more hours. Then a priest arrives to celebrate Mass.
 For more than 750 years, women have become Poor Clare nuns. In doing so, they physically close themselves off from family and friends and devote their lives to prayer. To a nun's ordinary vows -- poverty, chastity and obedience -- Poor Clares add a fourth vow: enclosure. They do not teach. They do not care for the sick. They do not counsel. They do not read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio. They don't eat meat or snack. When relatives visit, which is allowed four times a year, the sisters must speak to them from behind a metal grate. They don't talk much. Their rule is speak when necessary, but always in a low voice.


What do the Poor Clares do? They pray for the church and for people who don't pray. They worship.
 They read the Bible and Catholic writings. They sing hymns and chant Christian creeds. They also labor, attempting to be as self-sufficient as possible. Catholics call such orders cloistered or contemplative, because part of their job is to contemplate the church's teachings. Mother Mary Dorothy Urschalitz, who has been a Poor Clare for 38 years, knows how odd their lives appear in today's world. "They (lay people) think we have a hard life," she said. "I think they have a hard life."


The Annunciation Monastery of Poor Clares in Minooka is the first contemplative order in the Joliet Diocese. In 1990, the diocese's priest senate began looking into bringing a contemplative order to Joliet. The diocese sent letters to 20 different orders. Nineteen responded that they did not have enough nuns to start a new order. But the Corpus Christi Monastery located in Rockford said it was interested. The Rev. James Lennon of Joliet's St. Patrick Parish went to Rockford and urged the sisters to found a new monastery in Joliet. The sisters agreed to move nine nuns, and the bishops sanctioned the venture. It took nearly five years for the Poor Clares to find a new home.


The nuns almost bought land near Yorkville until neighbors and Kendall County officials raised concerns over the Clares' need to maintain their own cemetery. The Warpinski family heard about the nuns' plight from a priest and offered to sell them 20 wooded acres in Minooka owned by the family business, Central Sod Farms. The Warpinskis' asking price was nearly five times less than the sisters had offered. The Poor Clares bought the land. In October 1995, the sisters moved to their new home at 6200 E. Minooka Road in northern Grundy County.


At first, the sisters lived in a mobile home while they waited for their temporary house to be built. In 1996, they moved into the ranch house where they will live until the monastery is completed, possibly by August. They now use the mobile home as an office.


Mother Dorothy, who was abbess of Rockford's Corpus Christi Monastery and is now abbess in Minooka, said that from her dealings with contractors and architects, she has gained understanding of how people become so wrapped up in their lives that they neglect God.
"I keep reminding myself this is just an earthly building," she admitted. The women of the Annunciation Monastery are considered pioneers by the sisters who remained in Rockford. The move was somewhat unthinkable for the sisters, many of whom believed they would never set foot outside the stone wall of the Rockford monastery. In pioneering, the sisters have sacrificed some of their solitude.
Since being at Minooka, they have done things they wouldn't have thought likely before, like enduring newspaper reporters and photographers. Lennon said the Poor Clares were brought to the Joliet Diocese in part because they pray for local priests and parishes. But Lennon believes all people benefit from the work of the sisters. "The fullness of the Catholic Church finds its expression in both the active and contemplative life," Lennon said. "Today there is a great need for these sisters. A large number of people, Catholics and non-Catholics, are looking for quiet time. It's harder than ever to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and listen to God. That's not pie-in-the-sky; that's realism." Because of their seclusion and rule of silence, the Poor Clares have more capacity for communicating with God, he said.


"The average person today might ask the questions: Why shut yourself off and withdraw from the world? Is it selfishness?" Lennon said. "And yet, the opposite is true. This is, we believe, a part of grace or a calling from God. They're embracing the spiritual life for us in a fuller way."
Mother Dorothy said that through talking with God and studying the Bible, people learn to act like God. "The praying church is the heart or breath of the church," Mother Dorothy said. "In prayer and worship, the Christian soul is formed. ... The devil can quote scripture, but he can't live it."
 Although the nuns are shut off from the outside world, they don't seem unworldly. The priests keep them abreast of major news when they come for Mass. They laugh and smile often. "They're not the meek, mild, shy girl in the corner," Lennon said. "They're hard workers. They don't spend all their time in chapel."


In Rockford, the sisters grew much of their own food. In Minooka, they operate and perform maintenance on a tractor and station wagon. "We're a bit of Jack-of-all- trades," said Sister Mary Bernadine. "There isn't much we can't do."


During their one hour of daily recreation -- when the sisters may speak freely -- they make rosaries and knit vestments, altar linens and Communion veils. Sister Bernadine said some days she feels like bursting out with chatter at recreation time. Other times, the hour is as quiet as the rest of the day.


Bird seed dribbles over the top of the many feeders outside Don and Gloria Maxwell's home. The Maxwells often look out the window over their kitchen sink to follow the activities of the mysterious, wild creatures. The Maxwells feared the worst when they heard someone was inquiring about the Warpinski property, diagonally across Minooka Road from them. But upon learning about the Poor Clares, the Maxwells credited divine intervention. Nineteen years ago, their daughter, Anita, 14, was killed in a car wreck at the edge of what is now the sisters' property. "I can't help but feel she (Anita) had something to do with bringing them here," Gloria said.


During the Poor Clares' first winter in Minooka, it got too cold for them to stay in the mobile home. The Maxwells helped out, and a neighborly bond was formed. Now, besides regularly attending the 7 a.m. public Mass, Don and Gloria track their neighbors' progress. The Maxwells delight in the times they catch a glimpse of a sister outside. "They're the sweetest people in the world," Gloria said. "They ask for nothing, and they do with very little. They've really sacrificed their lives for all of us."


Dick Warpinski Jr., co-owner of Central Sod Farms, said working with the sisters prompted him to do some soul searching. "It kind of makes you step back and think a little bit about why you're going through this rat race," he said. "They don't have all the comforts we have, but they probably have more peace of mind."


Although Gloria Maxwell knows the sisters pray for all people, she can't help but feel they're praying especially for her family. "It's just very comforting. You go out there and see them, they're a sign of peace and hope and trusting in God," Gloria said. "You don't know them or hear about them, but there are people in your corner praying for you."
While the other sisters eat in the refectory, Sister Dorothy visits with the Rev. Jim Lennon in the parlor. Although their small temporary residence is inadequate to the demands of cloistered lifestyle, the Poor Clares try to keep their vow of enclosure with drawn curtains and closed doors. The monastic tradition dictates that the nuns not speak during meals. after a prayer of thanksgiving, the nuns listen to tape-recorded lectures from religious leaders as they eat the main meal of their day. Sister Rose and Sister Annunciata hold hands for support as they walk through the fields of Annunciation Monastery. Sister Rose entered the sisterhood at 19, expecting to live and die inside the walls of Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford.
 

A Life Of Devotion: Poor Clares Lead A Simple Existence At Their Minooka Monastery


"A Life of Devotion: Poor Clares Lead a Simple Existence"

1997 Chicago Tribune article


There is a new family in Minooka, one with a way of life both timeless and radical.

                                           (Aerial view of the monastery).


On a clear day, a traveler heading down East Minooka Road might catch a glimpse of the four women as they cut away brambles and scrubby trees while their dog, Duchess, runs in lazy circles around them. At another time, in their home, the sweet music of a mandolin played by one of their number and voices joined in prayer can be heard from the other side of a curtain that separates household members from their visitors.

They are Mother Mary Dorothy Urschalitz and Sisters Agnes Ortiz, Adoracion Malabano and Bernardine Siebenaler. They are Sisters of the Order of Clare, more commonly known as Poor Clares, a contemplative order of religious women.

Formed in 1212 by St. Clare, a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, the group originally was called the Second Franciscan Order. They also were known by Francis as the Poor Ladies because, like Clare, many of the women had left lives of privilege and wealth to live in poverty. The members added their foundress' name to the order after her death.

"The life of a Poor Clare," Urschalitz says, "is a radical statement that God suffices."

                (For St. Francis, St. Clare and St. Colette and all Franciscans, God suffices.)

Their vocation is to contemplate and to fix their attention upon God, offering praise and thanksgiving as well as prayers for the needs of God's people. The sisters do this in the same manner as the followers of Clare did, living a cloistered life in silence, physically enclosed in a monastery behind grilles or metal bars.

Responding to an invitation from the Joliet diocese, the four sisters in 1995 established temporary quarters for Annunciation Monastery in Minooka. It is one of 1,000 monasteries worldwide, 46 of which are located in the United States, and the third in Illinois (others are located in Rockford and Belleville).
Barefoot or in sandals, the Poor Clares wear the traditional gray woolen habit with black veil, sleep on straw mattresses, eat a simple meatless diet and live from the proceeds of their manual labor and the gifts of benefactors. They vow poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure.

                            (Sisters receive Our Lord on the tongue while kneeling.)

"It's not an escape from the world by any means," says Urschalitz, a member since 1959, "but rather a different way of being in the world and finding God. It's not easy, and it's not for everyone. But, we must ask ourselves, is anything worthwhile easy?"

"The Poor Clares bring a contemplative life to the Joliet Diocese," says Bishop Joseph Imesch. "We have no special religious order of men or women dedicated to a life of contemplation. They bring a whole new dimension of spiritual life by their witness of a life of prayer, particularly prayer for priests. For that reason alone, I am happy to have them in the diocese, knowing that they are praying for all of us, but priests in particular."

(The sisters eat their breakfast of coffee and bread standing, facing away from each other in the refectory.)

Saying yes to the diocesan invitation wasn't easy. "It was a little hard to leave (Corpus Christi Monastery in) Rockford and the family we had been. You don't expect to give it up," says Urschalitz, who said that more than 30 sisters remain in Rockford.

But the sisters acceded, and a search for land began. It was complicated by zoning regulations in many communities and the order's requirement to have a cemetery for their members on the grounds. "To tend your faith, you need a view of the cemetery," Urschalitz explains. "It reminds you of the purpose of life."

Their land search ended in 1995 with the assistance of the Warpinski family, who sold a parcel of 27 acres in rural Minooka at a price too good to walk away from, according to Urschalitz.

"Our family was impressed by Mother Dorothy's persistence and her long search for the right land," says Richard Warpinski, a Yorkville resident and spokesman for the family that owns Central Sod Farms of Plainfield.

"Although we didn't know much about the order, we learned. We are proud that we were able to help. We think they'll do a lot spiritually for the community."
The four sisters attended groundbreaking ceremonies for a temporary monastery in October 1995 and have lived there since it was completed in March 1996.

                                     (Monastery, round window is public chapel.)

Four additional sisters will join them when the 8,000-square-foot permanent monastery, designed by Frye, Gillian, Molinaro Architects of Chicago, is completed this December. Construction will begin this spring on the $1 million building, which will house 8 to 10 sisters and include a chapel open to the public for private prayer and for days of spiritual recollection. (Although a curtain separates the sisters from the public in their temporary home, a grille will provide a more permanent divider in their new quarters.)

The building effort has been financially supported by the Rockford monastery, memorial donations from friends and benefactors in Rockford, and assistance from the Joliet diocese. Memorial donations are still welcome, Urschalitz says.

An abbess at the Rockford monastery for 19 years, Urschalitz was given a leadership role in planning Annunciation Monastery, which involved meeting with architects, lawyers and the public. Upon the building's completion, the sisters will elect an abbess and Urschalitz will return to her cloistered existence.
The busyness of moving to a new home does not overshadow their focus or their daily routine, which begins at 5 a.m. when the sisters leave their rooms, or cells, and join each other in the chapel.

"It is one of the most irksome things in the world to be regular about meeting our spiritual needs," Urschalitz points out. "But we prove that we love God when we are faithful to our prayers whether it suits us or not."

They pray the Divine Office, which includes Psalms, readings and prayers. "Prayer is a means of sanctifying the day," she says, explaining that the sisters will pray the Divine Office five more times during the day before they retire at 9 p.m. They will sleep for 3 1/2 hours before rising for another hour of prayer at 12:30 a.m. Mass, a high point of each day, is celebrated by visiting priests, and guests are always welcome, Urschalitz says.

                                  (Sisters entering choir for prayer, Divine Office.)                                   

Rev. James Lennon, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Joliet, is a frequent visitor to the monastery and says mass there every Wednesday. A member of the priests' senate of the Joliet diocese, he initiated the process of bringing the sisters to the Joliet Diocese, and he looks forward to the day when the monastery is completed.

"The Poor Clares were a powerful presence on the South Side of Chicago for many years," Lennon recalls. "People were drawn there by the joyfulness, warmth and peace that permeated that monastery. While the Poor Clares are a unique gift to our diocese, we must remember that we are all called to prayer and to affirm the prayer ministry of other religious communities and the laity."
The sisters schedule time for meditation, praying the rosary, reading scripture and praying for others. Daily, they receive letters and phone calls requesting prayers for specific intentions. Although physically separated from those for whom they pray, there is a special bond, Urschalitz explains: "People are made close by an expression of faith, when they talk and share and pray together."
Gloria Maxwell considers her next-door neighbors "a blessing to the community. It's good to know that the sisters are in our corner, praying with us and for us."
Maxwell and her husband, Don, are frequent visitors to the monastery. "We'll stop over with a loaf of homemade bread, Don's specialty, and Mother Dorothy will respond, 'May God reward you,' " Maxwell says. "But we're already rewarded with their presence."

Choosing a simple existence of prayer and work has its merits, Urschalitz explains.

"You lose a lot when you get involved with too many things. It's better to do what I know," she says. "I know how to pray. I know I can run a chain saw, cut the grass and sew."

For the sisters, work is an act of obedience, a sacrifice of time and effort and a form of penance. They schedule work in two-hour intervals in the morning and afternoon. With the help of modern conveniences, they do their own building and grounds maintenance, cook and garden. They will install the floor tile and paint the interior of the new monastery.

"When we perform manual labor, we identify with the poor and those who work so hard with so little compensation," she points out.

                                    (Postulant puts varnish on crucifix.)

The Minooka sisters raise money by making rosaries, vestments for priests, First Communion veils and hand-smocked baptismal gowns. They design and craft spiritual bouquet cards for a number of occasions, pressing wildflowers, operating their own letterhead-press and adding religious pictures and a touch of calligraphy. These items are for sale at the monastery.

                                              (Handmade calligraphy card.)

During their one hour a day of recreation, the sisters relax and break their silence. The hour is punctuated with laughter and spent visiting about anything but monastery business. It's healthy and a way for the mind to relax, Urschalitz explains. The sisters might play a game of catch or, if numbers permit, start a volleyball or baseball game. In keeping with monastic tradition of feeding the soul as well as the body, meal times are quiet, she says, except for the voice of one sister who reads scripture or inspirational material.

                                     (Franciscan joy - the nuns at recreation.)

"We find God in our lives here and in the sisters. And we become a family, but the young sisters have a difficult time at first, separating from their own families," Urschalitz says. She explained that they may not return home for any occasion, even the funerals of parents. Their families may visit them (separated by the grille) at the monastery four times a year. Communication is done by letters, though families will telephone with important messages such as a birth in the family.

When cloistered, a sister may leave the monastery only for medical appointments and to vote. In every monastery, one sister--Urschalitz in this case--is an extern, serving as a representative to the public and handling the sisters' outside business.

When a woman enters the order,there it is followed by six years of preparation, beginning as a postulant and concluding with final vows.

Today, the order counts 17,000 members internationally. What attracts a woman to a strict order are the very things that would seem to discourage it. According to Urschalitz, the discipline of cloistered life is liberating, setting them free to grow spiritually. The women entering the order today are a little older with more life experiences than her generation, who entered after high school. The eight sisters who will occupy the Minooka monastery range in age from 35 to 70.

Urschalitz recalls one woman's arrival in Rockford. "She was a businesswoman, a computer expert, all dressed up in a beautiful suit with a scarf draped just so over her shoulder.

"Just one year away from her final vows, the new member drives a tractor, moving wood chips. She tells us that she can't understand how she lived differently than she does now."

                                             (From the nun's website:  a nun on a tractor!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Poor Clare Nuns Embrace An Arduous, Spiritual Existence

**Below is an article on the PCC monastery I have been accepted too and hope to enter very soon, the Poor Clare Colettines of Minooka, IL - http://poorclaresjoliet.org/ - they were founded from the Rockford, IL PCC.  Some of the pictures below were from my visit to them.**

"Poor Clare Nuns Embrace An Arduous, Spiritual Existence"

Chicago Tribune article:


By some measures, it might be the most exclusive club in the Chicago area.
Thirteen women, bound by a singular devotion to God, eat, sleep, work and pray inside a humble south suburban monastery virtually hidden in plain sight. Inside the smooth gray walls, set back beneath the trees, the Poor Clares, a cloistered order, leads lives of silent sacrifice.

                       (Monastery outside - the big round window is the public chapel).


Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2009/03/07/1274264/poor-clare-nuns-embrace-an-arduous.html#storylink=cpy

They rarely speak and move around the home with bare feet. They sleep on thin straw mattresses and eat only grains and vegetables that they’ve grown in their backyard or that have been donated. Ask why they suffer and they’ll tell you it’s because Jesus suffered, and who are they to put their needs above his?


(The nuns go barefoot indoors year round but wear sandals or foot wear    to appropriate work outdoors if on doctor's visits, etc.)


At a time when fewer women are entering Catholic religious life and the average age of nuns is in the 70s, it might be tempting for religious institutions to ease some of their strict rules to better fit the modern world. Nonsense, say the Poor Clares, whose Minooka, Ill., chapter last month added just their sixth new member since the monastery opened in 1996.

“It’s not enough to simply focus your attention on God, you have to have the blessing of obedience,” said Mother Dorothy Urschalitz, the community’s abbess, or leader.

(View from public chapel - above the altar and back wall are 2 windows and opening where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, on the other side of this wall is the nun's choir.  To the right of the altar is a place for pews where the nuns hear mass.  Behind the Blessed Sacrament in the nun's choir on the back wall is a huge crucifix of Our Crucified Lord - barely visible in the picture above.)

(From public chapel: altar that faces nuns for regular mass - when they have the Traditional Latin mass they use the altar along wall with window (see photo below).  The large window in back wall is one of two that is the nun's choir.  The curtain wooden grille is to the nun's section where they hear mass.  The choir is for their daily adoration, prayer times and seven Divine Office hours, etc.)

 (This is the same altar they use for regular mass but the priest stands on another side and faces the Tabernacle.  Nuns's choir behind the Tabernacle and the nun's mass area is to the right of the priest.  They have the Traditional Latin mass several times a month and a lot of Latin in the regular and Sunday masses that aren't the Traditional ones.)


“It’s a hard life. It’s supposed to be hard. You wouldn’t want it to be easy when so many have it so hard.”

The Poor Clares pray for others, including the clergy, and their intense spirituality offers assurances to many. To accomplish their mission, their lifestyle is reduced to the most basic food, shelter and sleep.



Urschalitz, who entered religious life in the 1950s, knows the appeal of such a simple routine in difficult and harried times like now. So when people contemplate religious life, orders like the Poor Clares want to make sure they are doing so for the right reasons.

“It’s inevitable when times get tough that people start looking at the meaning of their lives more intensely,” said the Rev. Joe Noonan, vocation director for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Sometimes, they discover a moving in their heart and hear the Lord’s calling to serve.”

The journey into sisterhood is intentionally long and difficult, Urschalitz said. The handful of women each year who approach the Poor Clares, either in Minooka or its sister chapter in Rockford, go through months of interviews to weed out those simply trying to escape problems at home.

The Poor Clares used to administer psychological tests but stopped when results seemed to give no clearer a picture than face-to-face interviews.

“A person can be psychologically normal and still not be called to a monastic life,” Urschalitz said.

One significant challenge is that today’s women find it difficult to break free of the life they know, whether it’s marriage, career or even simple hobbies, she said.

Urschalitz recalled one prospective nun who let it slip in her interview that she hoped to still pursue graphic arts, perhaps by designing pamphlets or the group’s Web site. Another woman was turned away because she expressed regret that she’d never be able to go tobogganing again.

In Rockford, Ill., abbess Mother Regina Dice said her Poor Clares did not let a woman enter because she didn’t want to give up playing the electric organ.
“They think when they come here that they’ll have all this time to pursue this interest and that one, but it’s not like that,” said Dice, whose chapter has dwindled from more than 30 members in the mid-1990s to 20 today.

“This isn’t a job where you can expect to leave after six hours of work and do something else,” Urschalitz said. “When I went, I went with the intent to give it all up.”

So, too, has the Poor Clares’ newest member, a 39-year-old Michigan woman who entered the monastery last month in the traditional way: kneeling before the front door and asking permission to be received. Afterward, the woman donned the gray woolen habit with a white veil, signaling that she is a postulant, or a first-year member.

                                         (A sister on her First Profession day.)


Urschalitz said the woman, who declined to be interviewed by the Tribune, had wanted to be an artist but left midway through art school when tuition bills started piling up and job prospects seemed slim. It took many lengthy interviews and deep discussions about faith before the Poor Clares granted her entry.
Those who enter the monastery do not take their final vows until their sixth year. In the first five years, prospective nuns study and learn the ways of the convent as they graduate from postulant to novice.

They learn the humble life, surviving mostly on public donations, funding from the diocese and the small amount of money they raise through selling crafts they’ve made.



(The sisters make and sell Infant of Prague statues as well as handmade cards for all occasions, rosaries, etc.  They also have a small gift shop of books, DVDs, statues, medals, rosaries, prayer cards, etc in the monastery lobby - see photos below.)


                  (Book case that has books for sale.  On top is visitors and adoration log.)


               (This cabinet holds statues, medals, pamphlets, scapulars, etc.)


(Across from the glass cabinet is another large, long cabinet that held their handmade cards.  This big statue of St. Clare was beautiful!  Across the room from these cabinets was another cabinet that held DVDs and more items for sale.)

They’re free to walk away at any time, Urschalitz said, and occasionally some do. The real commitment comes in the sixth year when nuns take their final vows and receive a shiny silver ring symbolizing their relationship with God.

"It’s too soon to know whether the newcomer will reach that milestone", Urschalitz said, but the nuns are hopeful. To ensure that their postulant had gotten the “real world” out of her system before she entered the monastery, the Poor Clares encouraged her to take in a little sightseeing in Chicago.

“See the science and industry museum, see the Art Institute, the planetarium,” Urschalitz said. “I told her to go ahead and see them all. Then, come see us.”

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2009/03/07/1274264/poor-clare-nuns-embrace-an-arduous.html#storylink=cpy

More photos of their public chapel going clockwise from the front/altar, left side:

(An extern sister standing at the beautiful statue of Our Lady on the left side of the altar area on public side of the chapel.)
 
(On the other side of the opening to the altar area, is St. Joseph and Child Jesus statue to right of opening to the altar.  To the right of this starts the replica of the Shroud of Turin and Stations of the Cross, see below).
 

(Opposite wall from chapel door is a replica of the Shroud of Turin and Sacred Heart statue on the right.  Below the Shroud are the Stations of the Cross.)

(A close-up of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue in back wall left corner, part of Shroud of Turin upper left.  To right of Jesus, beautiful stained glass window.)

(To the right of the Sacred Heart statue is a Divine Mercy picture centered on the back wall with a beautiful stained glass round window of the Holy Spirit.)

(On back wall is another beautiful stained glass window with more of the Stations of the Cross and St. Anthony with the Child Jesus statue in the back right corner.)


(Picture of the nun's visiting parlor.  I had just visited with a sister and she left to get a book for me so she hadn't closed the curtain all the way over so I took a quick picture of their parlor and beautiful large crucifix on the back wall.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Poor Clare Colettine nuns Cleveland, OH

Website:  http://www.poorclarecolettines-cleveland.org/ - scroll down, their site is alittle off at the moment!

Two photo galleries for these nuns are at: http://cmykstudios.com/poorclares/index.htm  and http://photos.cleveland.com/clevelandcom_photo_essays/2010/12/poor_clare_nuns_a_look_inside.html .)



poor-clare3.JPG 
(Nuns of the Poor Clare Colettine monastery assemble in the private chapel to pray several times a day in their cloistered monastery on Cleveland's West Side.)
Editor's Note: Throughout the month of December, Cleveland's cloistered order of the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns extended a rare invitation to The Plain Dealer's Joe Crea and Lisa DeJong. The sisters welcomed the writer and photographer into their private dining room, workshops, kitchen and chapel, as well as other parts of the 104-year-old monastery. With few exceptions, guests are generally not allowed beyond the convent's parlor, chapel and a small gift shop.
 
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Rocky River Drive just north of Lorain Avenue and Kamm's Corners is a showcase stretch of Cleveland's West Side. Its rows of handsome homes are easy enough to tune out -- except perhaps one sprawling, fenced enclosure.

Shaded by groves of trees, its groomed lawn leads up to a stately early-20th-century building. A sense of quiet reserve cloaks it. Apart from some discreet holiday ornaments marking the Christmas season, there's something about the property that conjures a sense of mystery, of . . . separateness.

Its distinction is heightened by its tenants. This is the home of the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns, a medieval order of cloistered Roman Catholic sisters formed in the early 13th century by St. Clare of Assisi, a follower of St. Francis of Assisi.
Vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure mark their outward attributes. Prayer and reverential silence fill their inner life. Fasting and sparse meals reflect their penitence.

But at Christmas, the routine changes. The spirit is festive, the food glorious, austerity gives way to bunting and pine sprays, and a sense of celebration fills the air.

Sister Maria Gleason, a 62-year-old nun who grew up in Detroit, serves as house cook. She had no idea how the cloistered nuns would observe Christmas when she joined the monastery at age 35.

"I just figured it would be very simple," she says. "Then the decorations started coming out -- and everything was decorated! Every windowsill had a creche on it, we had a scene for the refectory [dining room], there were flowers and, oh, Christmas trees here, there and everywhere. I was just overwhelmed by it. And oh, the food!"

The convent's bread baker, Sister Chiara Francesca Petrizzo, turns out oversize wheaten loaves for the sisters' daily breakfast and supper. For Christmas, though, she produces fine white bread speckled with golden raisins.
"I'd never baked bread before," says the former obstetrics nurse in the broad, distinctive tones of a New Yorker. ("Brooklyn, if you want to know. Though actually I was born in Da Bronnnnx," she adds, hitting the phrase hard as a joke.) But I learned on the job, as they say."

The holiday bread will be augmented with gifts of food, cookies, fruit and candies brought by family members and friends of the order. And trays of chocolate. And butter, rather than the usual margarine.

"And coffee," says Mother Dolores Warner, the monastery's leader, or abbess.
"COFFEE!" Sister Maria sighs.

"That's the best part of the meal," Sister Chiara Francesca chimes in. "It smells sooo good!"

As part of the vow of poverty, the sisters drink tea with breakfast every day except Christmas, Easter and Pentecost Sunday.

Traces of the secular and monastic life cross paths. The biological sister of one of the nuns visits the convent each year before Christmas, along with her husband, to decorate a tree with silver and white ornaments. Relatives and friends of the Poor Clares drop off donations and food gifts.

On Christmas Eve, the nuns rise at 5 a.m., as is customary, and fill their day with chores and prayers, including morning Mass.

For their evening meal around 6 p.m., they will have bread with margarine and a treat of some nuts, dried fruit and cheese. They will rest before rising again late that night for prayers, midnight Mass and afterward a few carols around the Nativity scene.

(Video/slide show on same page this article is from: http://www.cleveland.com/living/index.ssf/2010/12/poor_clare_nuns_in_cleveland_e.html)

Sleep comes in the wee hours.

They awaken on Christmas Day to the sound of music. "Normally, it's a bell," says Sister Maria. "Ding-dong, ding-dong."

The festive breakfast starring Sister Chiara Francesca's special bread follows morning prayers. Though a huge departure from daily dining rituals, the feast is not a dissonant note in the observance of Franciscan abstinence.

"St. Clare herself said that throughout the year we fast and live in poverty, but on the day of the birth of our Savior we rejoice and celebrate," Mother Dolores explains.

The nuns return briefly to their private bedrooms, called cells, for meditation and prayer -- and to read all the personal mail that has been withheld during the Advent season, the four Sundays preceding Christ's birth.

Receiving gratitude rewarding, humbling

After Mass, the nuns gather in the parlor to greet those friends of the community who attended the service, a tradition they will repeat again on Easter Sunday. That gathering is an opportunity to meet and thank the benefactors whose support helps sustain the order's life of prayer.

"We hear their names all year round -- but when they come into the parlor, you have a face to put with their names. It's so nice," says Sister Maria.

"And we see the children," adds Mother Dolores. "They're so excited because Santa's just been there, and they're so happy."

Often, adds Sister Chiara Francesca, the guests will thank the sisters for their prayers.

"They'll follow up, telling us what has happened after they've asked us to pray for them. It's very rewarding. It's humbling, too, to know that they're counting on our prayers. "

Members of the order who agreed to be interviewed for this story say the contemplative life brings a sublime joy.
poor-clare2.JPGFor the Poor Clares' "everyday" breakfasts and suppers, Sister Chiara Francesca Petrizzo turns out wheaten loaves called Graham bread, which is served with margarine. For the Christmas feast, she will bake fine white bread with golden raisins, which the sisters spread with butter.)
For many years, the Cleveland sisters numbered upward of 40 members. Today, a somewhat smaller group --the oldest in her 80s, the youngest in her 20s -- shares living quarters with two cats, Muffin and Punkin. Some of the sisters entered the cloister as teenagers. Others pursued careers, dated and lived workaday lives for years before realizing their destiny.

"The sisters should arrange the details of their daily living that there is no dichotomy between work and prayer," reads the order's constitution.

The Poor Clares pray constantly, during formal sessions at assigned hours, and on behalf of petitioners seeking everything from good health, employment and the safety of loved wars in war zones to the recovery of a missing pet. Petitions received daily are posted in the corridors.

All the while, the nuns devote their lives to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated host that in church teaching is the living incarnation of the body of Jesus Christ. Individual nuns keep vigil around the clock in the private chapel, which is directly behind the public sanctuary.

Daily life is spartan. Sisters walk in bare feet, unless outdoors or working in the convent's basement. They dress in the traditional full habit: a linen headpiece topped by a veil, and a gray-and-brown tunic cinched at the waist with a white knotted cord. Cloistered nuns wear four knots representing each of the vows they take; extern nuns, who can leave the grounds, wear three knots, omitting the symbol of the vow of enclosure.

The Poor Clares dine humbly, taking a full meal only at midday, when eggs, cheese or fish provide protein. Meat is never permitted.
With the exception of a few extern nuns who run errands, answer telephones and meet with the public, the sisters never leave the convent save for medical treatment. Friends and family may visit three times a year. Other contact with the outside world comes by way of the daily newspaper, which is read by the extern sisters, and alerts phoned in by friends of the order.
After death, the sisters' remains are interred on the grounds.

An exuberant embrace of the season

Mother Dolores, 62, grew up in Chardon. She speaks in a soft voice and a deliberate tone. Her smile is gentle, if shy, but her words resonate with strong conviction and deep spirituality.

"When I became abbess two years ago, one of the first things I said to myself was, 'I'm not going to have any newspaper interviews. Zero," she laughs.
She adopted that position after, among other misunderstandings, a long-ago visit by a local television crew taping a program on different lifestyles in the city.
"We were on with, I think it was some gypsy dancers, and then they went over to our community, and then on to some people who cross-dress," Mother Dolores recalled.

"It wasn't exactly what we would have chosen," she adds dryly.

The room bursts into laughter, a glimpse of the humor and playfulness that punctuate daily life in the order. The sisters tease one another, tenderly, with the knowing familiarity of a closely knit family.

"We're pretty free about laughing, even though we try to keep silence through the day," Mother Dolores says. "But something funny happens and . . . well, people just laugh -- and no one has any qualms about it."

"And somebody up on the second floor will say, 'What was so funny that I heard everybody roaring?" says Sister Maria.

Whatever material poverty the Poor Clares endure is richly offset by a deep, quiet contentment. That, and an exuberant embrace -- carols, cookies and all -- of this most wonderful time of the year.

Christmas Day will continue with festivities, music, song and more food. Some of the largesse will be frozen for future meals and occasional treats, but much of it is quickly distributed to families in need, as well as food pantries and other social services.

Christmas liturgies and other observances will extend until the Feast of the Epiphany, observed by the church on Sunday, Jan. 2.

"You know, Christmas is a turnabout from our day-to-day lives," says Sister Maria. "It 's almost a relief when it ends, because it's just so overwhelming."
The holiday season eventually comes to a close. Life gradually returns to its normal harmonies. But for the Poor Clare Colettines, the endless petitions they carry in song and prayer are ceaseless.