St. Clare & St. Francis Week
In celebration of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis College is reaffirming its belief in the ideals and values of the College’s patron saint; respect for others, service to the community, social justice and care for the environment.
St. Clare & St. Francis Week recognizes the life and legacy of the two people who inspired a worldwide movement for good that continues to thrive more than 800 years later.
The theme of St. Clare & St. Francis Week and of the 2019-2020 academic year is human dignity: the recognition that all people have an intrinsic value and should always be treated with respect simply because they are people. This is one of the most important values and driving forces of the Franciscan tradition. St. Clare and St. Francis began their communities with a vision of total equality and inclusivity and a mission of breaking down any barriers which prevented them from sharing the love they had found in God.
In these communities, everyone was called a “brother” or “sister” to show their equal standing, and Francis and Clare did not take titles of authority. Their commitment to human dignity is especially shown through their care for the lepers in their region, as well as the poor and marginalized. The Franciscan understanding of human dignity is certainly about respect for all people, but it is perhaps even better communicated as a recognition of the sacredness of every individual and a pursuit of promoting that sacredness through love, friendship, peacemaking, and service.
St. Francis was born Francesco di Bernardone in the central Italian hill town of Assisi in 1181 or 1182. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, he spent his early years living a luxurious and, by many accounts, decadent lifestyle. In 1202, he was taken prisoner during one of the many wars between Assisi and neighboring Perugia. He contracted a serious illness during his captivity which endured well after his release and return to Assisi.
When he recovered, he believed God was calling him to a radically different way of life, a life of poverty dedicated to the care of the poor and the sick. In the face of his father’s public and pronounced disapproval, Francis renounced all possessions and turned to prayer, humble service and the preaching of the gospel. His dramatic turn-around drew many followers who mirrored his ideals.
Responding to his growing number of disciples, Francis founded the Order of Friars Minor in 1209, and three years later, with his friend, Clare of Assisi, established the contemplative women’s order now known as the “Poor Clares.” Francis died at the age of 44. Two years later, Pope Gregory IX pronounced him a saint.
Francis of Assisi’s worldview delighted in the wonder of God’s creation in everyone and everything. The modern environmental movement’s adoption of him as its patron saint is no surprise. Numerous stories celebrate Francis’ ability to communicate with animals and his love for the natural world.
Francis’ work with the poor and sick was also exemplary. Francis embraced and assisted those with leprosy in sharp contrast to a society that treated lepers as outcasts. In the midst of the Fifth Crusade, Francis travelled to Egypt and met with the ruling sultan in an attempt to end to the fighting.
To this day, the Franciscan Friars follow in the footsteps of their namesake in their commitment to a life of humility, compassion and obedience. The Franciscan model of education is rooted in a Christ-centered theology and a philosophy that reflects the values and teachings of Francis of Assisi.
By Meghan Lewitt
Chiara ‘Clare’ Offreduccio was born in 1193 to Assisi nobility. Her deep love of God was cultivated within her family and at a young age she developed aspirations far greater than marriage or money. The desire to live a life of prayer and service deepened after she likely heard a young Francis Bernadone preaching throughout the city. His words encouraged her to follow her heart and her calling to the mendicant lifestyle he and his brothers had embraced. Clare fled from her family and comfortable home to join Francis and the friars and eventually established a religious order of women who became known as “The Poor Ladies.”
Francis received her into religious life, trading her fine clothing for a coarse woolen garment with a rope as a belt. As a symbol of her religious commitment Francis cut Clare’s hair. Then for safety, he took her to a nearby Benedictine monastery where she hid from her family. Her father and uncles discovered her but were unable to force or persuade her to return to her former life. Clare then moved to a house of religious women on Monte Subasio. Her sister Agnes and later, their mother, Ortulana joined her. The three, with the other women who joined the movement later moved to their final home at San Damiano, the church that Francis himself had rebuilt.The women lived a very simple, humble and austere life, their days revolving around prayer and penitence, manual labor and charity, while serving as comfort and inspiration to the people of Assisi. The power of their presence and prayer was credited for saving Assisi from invaders on more than one occasion.
It was unheard of at that time for women to move about the Italian countryside preaching and begging as Francis and his friars did, so Clare and her sisters lived in an enclosed cloistered space within the confines of San Damiano. The Poor Ladies became known as the Order of San Damiano and 10 years after Clare’s death in 1263 they would be known as the “Order of St. Clare.”
While Clare deliberately chose to live a quiet, contemplative life, it should not be mistaken for a passive one. She became Abbess at San Damiano in 1216 and struggled with a hierarchy that tried to impose rules similar to other monastic orders but were at odds with Francis’ austere and strict reliance on alms and a life of poverty. She strove to imitate and incorporate the values and lifestyle of Francis on a personal and community level. Clare worked tirelessly to change the rule with a formidable and impressive letter writing campaign. She recruited other abbesses throughout Europe and sent letters to church authorities, most especially the Pope. All of this was done while she labored alongside her sisters at San Damiano and while suffering from poor health. Just two days prior to Clare’s death, on August 9, 1253, Pope Innocent IV approved her rule as the rule for the “Order of Poor Ladies.”
Clare died on August 11, 1253 at the age of 59. On August 15, 1255 she was canonized a Saint by Pope Alexander IV. In 1263, Pope Urban IV officially changed the name of the order to the “Order of St. Clare.”
Clare and Francis remained staunch and loving friends until his death in 1226. Their relationship was deep and profound. They did not have a physical or sexual relationship, rather, the love they had for one another was a manifestation of the deep and abiding shared love they had for God. No doubt if Facebook existed in the 12th century their relationship status would have likely been “It’s Complicated.”
Clare was Francis’ confidant and Francis was Clare’s spiritual role model. They trusted one another implicitly and complemented one another with their personalities. When Francis doubted, Clare was able to reassure. When Clare felt discouraged, Francis was her comfort. They were true companions on a very radical, albeit simple journey. Clare and Francis lived the Gospel message of Jesus. They focused on the poor, they focused on the moment, and they exhibited a care for creation and the earth all the while loving others with humility and joy. Together they ignited a movement that celebrated and embraced women and men in a manner that until then was sorely missing in the church.
By Alexandria Egler