My journey to this community of Poor Clares was as winding – and wondrous – as the journeys of other sisters. I grew up in the Northeast as an Episcopalian; I ended up in the Southeast as a Catholic nun. At different times and from different places and conditions of life, God called each of us to live as contemplatives, here, with these women. Together, we follow the Poor Christ, striving to “preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3), in communion with all of God’s creation, as we pray for the needs of the world. It is a challenging life, certainly, but it is also beautiful and joy-filled!
Hi, I am the second of nine children, born in Chattanooga, TN. My mother was a Catholic, my dad a Methodist.
I wanted to be a Sister from the time I was three. Ever since high school I thought I wanted to be a nursing Sister. Thus I took Chemistry. I couldn’t figure out, though what Chemistry had to do with nursing. I felt enough insecurity that I didn’t even think about nor look into a possible scholarship for college. So after graduation and paying off my debt of tuition, I went to work at Memorial Hospital to try and earn enough money to go into nursing school. I loved the job (newborn nursery), but after almost a year and not being able to save anything (I was doing what I could to support my family) I decided that maybe God had other plans for me.
But one Saturday during Mass I felt the Spirit say “go talk with Father.” I objected saying, “All my life long I’ve been talking about a vocation to anyone who would listen — but no one did.” (A little exaggeration, but…) The Holy Spirit said “GO.” So I went — it was Fr. Pack. Before a word was out of my mouth, he said to me, “How about the Poor Clares in Memphis”. I said, “The who?” I had never heard of them, didn’t know anything about them — but it’s where He wanted me. I entered Oct. 2, 1968 (the Feast of the Guardian Angels).
When I received the habit I also received the name: Sister Mary Claudia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, O.S.C.
In my earlier days I learned to play the guitar — at least enough to play for Mass. During those post-Vatican II years, we were in the midst of many changes. We had workshops to experience different forms of prayer. There were meetings of both Poor Clare Sisters and other Contemplative Sisters. At our doctors’ bidding we began eating meat for the first time in 1972. This same year dad died. Gratefully, I was allowed to go to his funeral.
In 1980 we were asked by a Guatemalan Bishop for some of our Sisters to make a foundation in Huehuetenango. He said, “Prayer is the only thing that could save this country.” We prayed over this and decided that, yes God was asking this of us. So began the preparation; learning Spanish, something about the culture and packing things needed to begin a new Monastery. Praying over who would go, five of us offered and were accepted. I was one of them. I was there a year and a half when through many circumstances it became clear that I was to return. Today there is a community of 8 native Guatemalan Poor Clares with one of the original North American sisters.
In 1986 we were given the opportunity to do a Franciscan Study Pilgrimage (28 days) in Italy of the places where St. Francis went, including Assisi. That first year six of us went. Coming into Assisi I felt a very strong sense of “home”. What a blessed experience this was!
In 1987 I was given the opportunity to study nursing. I was in a Practical Nurse program. With challenges along the way I made it to second week of the fourth quarter and then was in a car accident. This ended my studies, but not my spirit.
I have performed many services during the time God has given me. I have worked in the Altar Bread department, in the laundry, the kitchen, the sacristy, in the yard, caring for the sick, taking care of book orders for Fr. David Knight’s books, computer work: billing for the Altar Breads, for the books, helping with the community mail. I have served on our council and been Vicaress for the community. I served one term as President of the Mother Bentivoglio Federation, one of two Poor Clare Federations in the U.S.
For a few years we became aware that we could no longer fully live our Poor Clare life with so few sisters in our large monastery in Memphis. So we worked toward closing the Monastery and just before Thanksgiving in 2019 two of us moved to our community in Travelers Rest. I feel very welcomed and at home here.
Even as a child I wanted to be a sister but the only ones I knew were the ones who taught me in school. It became clear to me that I didn’t have the gift of teaching so I wrote many communities for information. Reading the brochures didn’t help as all the communities seemed wonderful to me. So I told God, “If you want me to be a sister you’ll have to show me where.” I never thought God would answer – how could he possibly show me?
A few years later a surprising convergence of events resulted in me getting invited by the Bishop to help form a House of Prayer in his diocese. While exploring the possibility he had me live with the Poor Clare Sisters. Much to my surprise, while living with the sisters I found myself feeling very much at home. As a result I became a Poor Clare sister instead of starting a House of Prayer and here I am 47 years later – thanks be to God! He has asked much of me over the years, but given me so much more than I ever could have imagined.
The moral of the story? Don’t ask God for something unless you really want it, impossible as your request may seem.
I first heard about St. Clare when I was a young kitten; the stories of her close bond with cats stirred something in my heart. As I grew older, I grew more curious about the life of Poor Clares. When God gave me the opportunity to visit the monastery in Travelers Rest, I leapt at it… and kept on leaping. I knew immediately that this was going to be my forever home and was determined to be accepted into the community. After all, what is a Poor Clare monastery without a cat? The sisters needed me as much as I needed them! I am very much a Franciscan, and a contemplative, at heart. St. Clare interceded for me, and now I am an official member of the community. I delight in the close bonds that I have formed with my sisters, and I feel blessed to support their life of prayer for the world.