Poor Clare religious sisters celebrate 25 years in Diocese Print this post

Cloistered nuns moved to Fort Myers Beach monastery in 1988

By Bob Reddy (Florida Catholic)

FORT MYERS BEACH – Committed to a contemplative life of prayer is not for everyone. For the Poor Clare religious sisters who reside at the Monastery of San Damiano of St. Clare on Fort Myers Beach it is a life they have chosen with joy in their hearts.

For the past 25 years the Poor Clare Sisters have been an integral part of the Diocese of Venice. They were invited to establish a new home where they can live their life in peace and in prayer.

It was 1988 when three Poor Clares arrived to formally take over a simple monastery adjacent to Ascension Parish in the center of Fort Myers Beach.

Seated in the front row of the parish church, the normally reserved and contemplative religious sisters beamed as their hearts filled with joy when a Mass was celebrated on April 26 in honor of St. Clare of Assisi in thanksgiving for their 25 years at San Damiano Monastery.

Abbess Sister Mary Frances of Jesus Fortin noted that in the 25 years she has resided in Fort Myers Beach the support and prayers from everyone at Ascension Parish, the surrounding community and from across the Diocese of Venice have aided the sisters in their efforts to grow stronger and more fervent in their vocation to be faithful to the will of God.

The sisters came to Fort Myers beach at the invitation of Bishop John J. Nevins. At the time, three sisters, including Sister Mary Frances, came to establish the monastery as a daughter house for Christ the King Monastery in Delray Beach. While the monastery was established in 1988 it formally became independent March 2009. There are currently seven sisters living at San Damiano.

The Mass was celebrated by Father Arthur Espelage, OFM, Judicial Vicar for the Diocese. Also participating were Msgr. Stephen E. McNamara, Vicar General for the Diocese, Father John O’Connor, Minister Provincial of the Oder of Franciscans Minor, as well as numerous priests who have served at Ascension Parish or helped the sisters through the years.

Father Espelage read a letter from Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who was unable to attend. In the letter, Bishop Dewane reflected on the mission of the Poor Clare sisters: to pray for the priests, religious and the faithful.

“San Damiano Monastery has remained true to the mission of its founding. This Monastery participates each and every day in the same charism which filled and motivated St. Francis and St. Clare… like your two venerable founders, you have left all and given yourselves entirely to living the Gospel life — for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of souls. Your life of prayer and community is the ‘heartbeat’ of our Church.”

Bishop Dewane added that it is a paradox how, “in humbly ‘hiding’ yourself form the world, you build up the Church and sustain Her with your prayers. In seeking Christ as contemplative religious, you witness – day in and day out – to the transforming and all-encompassing love of Christ — Whom you have betrothed.”
Father Espelage reflected that the monastery chapel recalls the first San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare of Assisi, Italy and is a special place of holiness, peace and tranquility. The chapel is the heart of the monastic home and is where Christ dwells in the Blessed Sacrament. It is where the sisters gather as a community throughout the day for Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and times of silent prayer and mediation.
“Just like the San Damiano in Italy, you have created a place to come pray and find the voice of God in life,” Father Espelage said.
The Poor Clare nuns are a religious community of women begun 800 years ago when Clare Offreduccio, a young noblewoman of Assisi, Italy, cast off her rich garments and donned the simple garb of St. Francis to live the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Poor Clares live a secluded life as a way to foster intense prayer. The nuns do not minister outside their residence, but dedicate their lives to contemplation and prayer for others. They also make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. The monastery is surrounded by a high wall, and the nuns leave the property only when absolutely necessary. The Poor Clares have become beloved members of the Catholic community of Southwest Florida. The sisters also make hosts used at Holy Communion at many parishes. Although the Poor Clares have never solicited donations, many parishioners bring them groceries and send them money each month.

During the Mass, time was taken to remember Sister Mary Emmanuel of Our Lady of Lourdes Kilkenny, one of the founding sisters who died in 2011. The sisters also repeated together their vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure.

Joining the sisters at the Mass were Poor Clares from Christ the King Monastery in Delray Beach, the Knights of Columbus and hundreds of supporters. A reception was held in the parish hall where people were able to partake in the more than 3,000 cookies of assorted varieties the sisters made for people to enjoy.

San Damiano Chapel is open throughout the day for private prayer from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday Mass is at 9:30 a.m. and weekday Mass is at 11 a.m. From May through October, Friday Mass is at 4 p.m.

To learn more about the Poor Clares of Fort Myers Beach or to give a donation, write to: San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare, 6029 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931-4325; call 239-463-5599; email saintclare@comcast.net; or visit their website at www.poorclare.org/fmb.

“Let the sisters to whom the Lord has given the grace of working work faithfully and devotedly … in such a way that, while they banish idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the Spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all other things of our earthly existence must contribute.”

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