Poor Clare Sister Mary Frances Fortin, abbess of San Domiano Monastery of St. Clare on Fort Myers Beach, greets well-wishers following a Mass on Aug. 11. (PHOTO BY BOB REDDY)

Poor Clare Sisters celebrate feast day

Fort Myers Beach  |  Each is called to a be a witness for the Lord in one’s lives. St. Clare of Assisi did so in dramatic and profound ways. 

“She lived her life to shine the Light of Christ faithfully for others to follow,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane explained during a Mass Aug. 11, the feast of St. Clare. That Mass was celebrated at the San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare on Fort Myers Beach, home to the Poor Clare Sisters.

The Poor Clare Sisters at the monastery live their life as St. Clare called, in cloister, living a life of prayer and serving as examples for others to follow.

“Just as St. Clare brought the light of Christ into the midst of the world, we, as a Diocese, are blessed to have a religious community which magnifies that light and are still going strong,” Bishop Dewane said. “For your prayers on behalf of the faithful of Diocese, I am grateful.”

Abbess Sister Mary Frances Fortin and the other religious sisters at San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare expressed their appreciation for the Bishop’s presence, particularly on the feast day of their founder, which is an annual occasion.

“It is amazing the support we receive from the Bishop, the Diocese and the people who know about our little Monastery,” Sister Mary Frances said. “Our prayers are always focused on the Bishop and the people of the Diocese. 

The community lives a secluded life and they 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 Poor Clare Sisters are beloved members of the Catholic community of southwest Florida and have called Fort Myers Beach their home since 1988. The Monastery became independent in 2009. Although the sisters never solicit donations, many parishioners bring them groceries and send them money each month and two dozen were present for the feast day Mass.

Poor Clare Sisters’ daily life is set into a traditional monastic framework of prayer and work. Holy Mass and Liturgy of the Hours are the anchor of their day. Outside these times, the sisters engage in all the ordinary tasks of life in a spirit of sisterly sharing, joy and peace. A sister might be found packing up an order of hosts for one of the local parishes, taking care of the altar, sweeping the cloister walk or doing some laundry. Or you may find a sister at a desk, doing bookkeeping, answering mail, preparing spiritual cards or planning the liturgy.

The Poor Clare religious community of women was begun 800 years ago when Chiara Offreduccio, a young noble woman of Assisi, Italy, cast off her rich garments and donned the simple garb of St. Francis of Assisi to live, as he did, the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Despite the efforts of her parents to have her return home, St. Clare did not. In fact, her sister soon joined her, as well as other young women who wanted to be brides of Jesus and live without money and worldly attachments.

St. Clare of Assisi committed to setting aside the excesses of life to find happiness in the simple act of prayer and a devotion to Jesus. The Poor Clare Sisters of Fort Myers Beach work each day to follow that example.

The monastery chapel was designed to recall the first San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare in Assisi. The stone arch, the San Damiano Cross and the handmade wooden altar in the form of the Tau cross so familiar to St. Francis, serve as reminders of the Poor Clares’ roots in Assisi. The Holy Spirit rose window is based on a window in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and serves as a reminder of the loyalty and great devotion St. Francis and St. Clare had to the Church of Rome and the successors of St. Peter.