The first woman to whom a mission was dedicated in California
“Clare (‘bright’) by name, shining light in life and even more so in death.” This phrase summarizes the legacy of Saint Clare of Assisi. Born in Italy in the year 1194, the saint came from a noble and wealthy Italian family.
Her feast day is celebrated on August 11. From her youth, her decisions were clear and forceful; today, she shines as an example of a women who was a leader and a pioneer in many ways:
- She rebelled to join the Franciscans. Her parents promised her hand in marriage when she was 15 years old, but she resisted, wanting to consecrate herself to God. At the age of 18 she ran away to join the Franciscans. Eventually, her sisters Agnes and Beatrice followed her into religious life; later, her mother chose the same path as well. Initially, as the first woman to follow St. Francis, she lived with the Benedictines of Saint Paul; then, she moved to the nunnery of Sant’Angelo di Panzo, where she lived until going to reside definitively in a house next to the Church of Saint Damian, which would be her home for 41 years.
- She was the first and only woman to write a rule of religious life exclusively for women. It’s different from monastic tradition in both its structure and content, and the nuns’ lifestyle caught people’s attention. The condition for living under the rule was to distribute one’s goods to the poor.
- She founded the order of the Poor Clares, also called the Second Order of Saint Francis, side by side with the Franciscans of Saint Francis of Assisi. She was officially named the Abbess of San Damiano, the superior who governed the women’s order after Saint Francis, originally the director of both orders, gave her this responsibility.
- She was the first woman saint to have a California mission named after her. The Mission Santa Clara de Asís was founded in the year 1777, in a densely populated area near the Guadalupe River. After several earthquakes and floods, the mission relocated to its current site in 1825. Later, in the year 1851, Santa Clara University was founded, occupying the mission’s facilities, where the school remains today. Jesuit brothers were the force behind the university, inspired by the leadership and values of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Nevertheless, according to Father Paul Soukup, S.J., Director of the Communications Department of the university, “We admire the charisma and heart of Saint Clare, and we celebrate a solemn Mass every August 11.”
- Courageous and strong: In the year 1230, Emperor Frederick II was at war with the pope, and he sent Muslim warriors to attack the valley in Italy where Saint Clare’s convent was located. The frightened nuns gathered around Clare, who, although weak and sick, had herself brought to the entrance of the convent, where she knelt before a silver monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament. There, she prayed for protection. They weren’t attacked.
- Patroness of television: Saint Clare has been the patroness of television for 50 years. As the story goes, one day she was sick, and couldn’t go to the church for Mass on Christmas Eve. All of the other nuns went, but she had to stay in her bed, sad because she could not attend the Mass. It is said that Jesus transported her miraculously to the church so she could participate in the Liturgy of the Hours and the midnight Mass. Besides television, Saint Clare is the patroness of the telephone, seamstresses, vision problems, and good weather.
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