St. Clare of Assisi (1193–1253)
Clare was a noblewoman by birth. Even as a young girl, she helped those most in need and demonstrated a life of prayer. She lived as a penitent within the Offreduccio family household and was known throughout all of Assisi for her holy manner of living.
On Palm Sunday, 1212, Clare took a bold step on her spiritual journey. She renounced her privileged position in the nobility and received the garb of the followers of Francis. Eventually she made her home at San Damiano in a small church repaired by Francis, just below the city of Assisi. Clare’s sister, Agnes, joined her as well as many women from the area. Under God’s guidance, Clare created a new path for women, embracing poverty, humility, and charity as companions on their journey.
The Gospels provided the central focus of the Poor Ladies’ lives as well as the inspiration and example of Francis and the brothers. They ate whatever food the brothers begged for them, wore simple clothing, gardened, and wove cloth. At age 21, Clare agreed to accept the role of abbess, and until she died, at about age 60, lived among her sisters as one who served. She called her companions “sisters” rather than “nuns,” as was the custom of the times and urged them to be examples and mirrors of God.
Clare healed many people who came to her in need, making the simple sign of the cross on their bodies. After 1224, she suffered poor health which forced her to remain bedridden for much of her life. She continued to minister and welcomed people looking for her advice.
Clare requested and received the Privilege of Poverty (living without communal property or individual possessions) in 1216 from Pope Innocent III but did not receive full approval for her form of life until she lay on her deathbed. She was the first woman in the history of the church to have written a rule for women.
Her example prompted many women throughout Europe to join Poor Clare monasteries, with membership numbering 150 at the time of her death in 1253. Considered a co-founder of the Franciscan movement, she was declared a saint in 1255.