Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, the current President of St. Bonaventure University and a well-respected Franciscan scholar, writes in her foreword to the English edition of The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare: Their Form of Life and Identity (Tau Publishing, 2010): “These pioneering contemplatives wish to promote a life for the third millennium that will adhere to ancient principles, attract modern women and inculturate the Order in new social situations.” In a sentence, Sr. Margaret summarizes the aim of this relatively new study by a community of Italian Poor Clare Nuns under the direction of their then Abbess, Sr. Diana Papa, OSC, to pray, reflect and raise important — if at times challenging — questions about their life and religious life in the 21st Century.
This is by far one of the more exciting books that I’ve read on either the Clarian life (those women who follow the Rule of St. Clare of Assisi, commonly known in the Franciscan family as the “Second Order”) or the Franciscan form(s) of religious life more broadly conceived.
The text is a compilation of the Rule of St. Clare, the Second Order Rule of Pope Urban IV, and the General Constitutions of the Poor Clares, presented in such a way as to offer a thematic selection of different aspects of their life. After the presentation of the primary texts that govern the way of life for the Poor Clare Nuns, these Sisters provide commentary, supplementary scholarship, and, most interestingly, raise questions about how to authentically live this way of life in our contemporary setting.
It might not sound like a text that would appeal to a wide audience, but for those who are connected in any way with the Franciscan family or interested in the historical development and contemporary appropriation of St. Clare’s way of life after the model of Francis of Assisi, this will be of great interest to you. It certainly is something that speaks to friars, sisters and Secular Franciscans who wish to delve more deeply into the Franciscan tradition from the vantage point of modern Poor Clares engaging their tradition head-on.
I’m inspired by the insights, questions and commentary presented by these women and hope that such work might be pursued by the men of the First Orders. As I’ve read The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, I find myself reflecting on what a comparable project might look like for the Order of Friars Minor. Similarly, I wonder what a project of this sort might look like for women and men of the Third Order Secular of St. Francis, recognizing that something akin to this was published by the Third Order Regular communities not long ago (see History of the Third Order Regular Rule: A Source Book).
I definitely recommend this book to those who are connected at all to the Franciscan tradition, especially to those women and men who have professed to follow one of the Rules inspired by Francis’s way of life. I can’t imagine that there is a Poor Clare Sister out there who hasn’t yet picked this up, if such a Sister exists, she should get ahold of a copy of this right away. It is through the honest and courageous work, prayer and reflection of women like these Italian Poor Clares that we will continue to authentically live the Franciscan life long into the future.