BY TONI CASHNELLI
Over the years the Poor Clares have ministered to:
• Couples yearning for a child.
• Wives abused by their husbands.
• Men who fear they will never find a job.
Their commonality is the need for prayers. And it is the gift and mission of the Clares to pray for them.
It’s been 25 years since Srs. Anna Marie Covely, Mary Doris Gerke and Dianne Short moved to Cincinnati, determined to build a community around the simplest and most personal act of faith – our need to connect with a higher power. Doris credits “the work of the Spirit and the support of the friars and the Bishop” for their continued presence. “In some ways it seems miraculous” that the Clares have survived and thrived, says Dianne. “God blessed us with new people,” says Anna Marie.
Left, in the courtyard of “an oasis of prayer”: Poor Clare Srs. Anna Marie Covely, Vickie Griner, Dianne Short, Luisa Bayate, Mary Doris Gerke, and Mary Pia Malaborbor; above left, Abbess Sr. Ann Bartko.“If we didn’t have faith that prayer works, we wouldn’t be here,” says Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC, one of seven sisters at the Monastery of St. Clare near the old seminary in Mt. Healthy. In some ministries, “You can only reach a certain number of people,” says Anna Marie. Through prayer, “You can reach the whole world.”
Those uplifted by the Clares can attest to the power of prayer. They call, write or e-mail from around the world: The U.S., Canada and more than 15 other countries including Hungary, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine. Their requests are accepted and acknowledged by Sr. Luisa Bayate, OSC. “She answers every one individually and forwards them to us,” says Dianne. Each response is personalized. “I do not want a ‘robo-tized’ relationship with people,” says Luisa.
When she prays for souls in need, “I am often affected,” says Vickie. “The one that gets to me is a couple who lost their only son. This particular couple can’t get through their grief.” Dianne first heard from them a dozen years ago. “It’s almost the same letter every time. I almost feel like they want us to remember them to the Lord. I feel the Lord is instructing me to care for them.”
Comfort for many, prayer is a lifeline for others. “One woman would pray for her husband not to drink,” says Vickie. “Reading between the lines, I believe he was abusive.” A Hospice nurse sends Luisa intentions for the dying. “Thank you for a peaceful death,” she will write in gratitude.
There are stories that end happily. “A young couple from Nigeria from the beginning [of their marriage] had been praying for a child,” says Vickie. When they were blessed with a baby, “We asked them to please send a photo, and they did.” There have been more babies, and more photos.
Notes that begin, “I’m having trouble in my marriage” are difficult to deal with, says Dianne. “That’s a painful situation.” When someone loses a job, “It’s hard to encourage them,” says Luisa. “I always feel God is leading them, entrusting them to me. It always amazes me how God leads them to my e-mail.”
God also leads people to their door. “They join us for prayer, retreats, spiritual direction,” says Doris. “Our guest quarters are more holy because of all the people who pray here. They leave something of themselves.”
Morning Mass is open to the public and, “We’ve got this little community expressing their intentions,” says Dianne. A St. Clare Circle started last summer encourages benefactors to join the sisters in praying for the intentions of others. “I like to say, ‘We’re praying with you, not just for you,’” says Anna Marie.
Some stop by for five minutes on the way to work for a dose of serenity that comes from nature and solitude. “They know we’re here and that they can walk the woods,” says Vickie, who calls the monastery “an oasis of prayer.”
Morning and evening prayer are linchpins in the life of the Clares, a life that has changed dramatically in the past half-century. In the novitiate, “We were strictly cloistered,” says Dianne. “We wore the complete habit. We got up at midnight to pray. We never expected to go out again. It was the spirituality of the early ‘60s. We went in as teen-agers with idealism; that was the life it was then. Then Vatican II happened and things started to change.”
Folks assume Clares pray all day, says Dianne. Modern life, with its intrusions and distractions, makes that impossible. But even when they’re not in chapel, “It [prayer] does permeate our whole day.”
Technology has changed the channels that lead to the monastery. A website seemed essential, so friar Mark Hudak made it happen. “It took us a long time to discern [having] a Facebook page,” says Vickie. Sr. Mary Pia Malaborbor managed the page during a six-month trial. “We decided that Facebook was a valuable way to communicate with others,” Vickie says. (Anna Marie now does the posting.)
These outlets help them explain why their life is still vibrant and viable. When she entered, Anna Marie chose the Clares because “prayer is the most powerful ministry.” For Dianne, “It was the idea of being called.” Pia says, “I don’t see myself working in a hospital.”
Praying for others “helps broaden my world when I can get too turned into myself,” Dianne says of her ministry. “It’s a sharing of our mutual suffering. Other people have so much more to deal with than I do.”
Those battered by illness, drug addiction and joblessness will always need prayers. We are surrounded by hurt and hopelessness. “How do you stay upbeat when you watch the news every night?” Vickie asks. “Being here to pray for these people is really the only thing I can do.”
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The Poor Clares invite you to help them observe their 25th anniversary in Cincinnati with a celebratory Mass at 10:30 a.m. this Saturday, June 27, at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard.
By the time you receive this News Notes, we will have celebrated the birth of our patron, John the Baptist. ﾠI hope you were able to ask God’s blessing on our Province through his intercession. ﾠThe friars gathered in retreat at Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis certainly did. ﾠ(By the way, those attending the July retreat at Bergamo in Dayton have something to look forward to; Michael Blastic’s input is excellent.)
I am grateful we have John as our patron; Presenter Michael Blastic at the retreat in Indianapolis.PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMhe has so much to teach us, and it fits well with our Franciscan charism -- about evangelization and pointing out the Lamb of God, inviting others to follow Him; about ethical living and justice and being willing to share what we have, about courage, and being willing to speak up; about humility, and knowing who we really are; about minority, knowing that He must increase even as we decrease. ﾠSometimes at interprovincial meetings I attend, I might be referred to by our province name, or speak about our province using our patron’s name, e.g., what does John the Baptist think about that? ﾠOr, John the Baptist is willing to participate, etc.
Brothers, I am and we are John the Baptist today, and we are privileged and challenged to be a Voice acknowledging God’s presence among us. ﾠI look forward to seeing the friars who can come to the feast day prayer and dinner at St. Francis Seraph this Sunday.
— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
PHOTO FROM http://franciscan-alumni.org/
Mercy Community, the former seminary, site of this year’s reunion.
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