Poor Clare Sisters celebrate 25th anniversary of local community
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph
It’s been 25 grace filled years since Sisters Doris Gerke, Anna Marie Covely and Dianne Short arrived in Cincinnati with a dream – to establish a Poor Clare community locally, a community centered on the simple, yet deeply meaningful, act of prayer.
On June 27, the sisters from Monastery of St. Clare gathered at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard to mark their 25th jubilee, joined by Franciscan friars of the St. John the Baptist Province, Poor Clares from other communities throughout the country, representatives from other area religious communities, benefactors, family members and friends.
It was the culmination of a journey that began when Sister Doris, then part of a Poor Clare monastery in HeuHeu, Guatamala, received an inspiration that she quickly realized was coming from the Lord himself: “Bring the Poor Clares to Cincinnati.”
Unbeknownst to Sister Doris, the Lord was also at work in other ways. Father Jeremy Harrington, then the provincial of the Franciscan friars in Cincinnati, believing the Poor Clares would be welcome in Cincinnati, wrote to federation presidents, asking their thoughts on establishing a local monastery. Even prior to this, during a meeting of Poor Clares from throughout the United States, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk noted that the Dominican contemplative community would be leaving the area and expressed his desire to have a contemplative community again the archdiocese, considering it essential for the church of Cincinnati.
With encouragement from other Poor Clare foundations, Sister Doris, joined by Sister Dianne from a community in the Bronx, and Sister Anna Marie from the Langhorne, Penn., community, began the new foundation on June 24, 1990. Assisted by the friars, the Poor Clares set up residence at the vacant convent at St. Vivian Parish in Finneytown. After eight years in residence there, and with the community growing, the need for their own monastery became evident. The Monastery of St. Clare is located on the property of the former St. Francis Seminary and was dedicated on March 19, 1998.
During his homily at the Poor Clares’ 25th jubilee Mass, Franciscan Father Jim Van Vurst compared the story of their coming to Cincinnati to the pieces of a mosaic. Those pieces, he said, “…represent all the events whether great or small that could never exist on their own. What keeps any mosaic from falling into a pile of individual pieces is the mortar that holds it all together. And that mortar or building force we know is always the grace of God and inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Reflecting on their celebration, Sister Anna Marie, said, “I feel gratitude and joy at the experience of God’s faith in us through the years. We didn’t know what was going to happen, if our community was going to mature. I marvel at what God has done for us, the beauty of our lives, the beauty that people see in our vocation and our presence in the archdiocese. I’m inspired and overwhelmed by the support we’ve received.”
“It’s so obvious that we didn’t do this by ourselves,” added Sister Doris. “It’s by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. The overwhelming support that we’ve received is a sign that this really has been God’s project, that we are God’s community.”
According to Sister Anna Marie, some 30 women have inquired about joining the community over the years and spent some time in discernment. The community currently numbers eight, including Sisters Doris, Anna Marie, and Dianne, along with Sisters Ann Bartko, Rita Cheong, Pia Malaborbor, Vickie Griner and Luisa Bayate.
While some people assume the Poor Clares live closed away in their monastery, their ministry keeps them in tune with modern life and they treasure the relationships they have established with visitors and those who have contacted them with prayer requests. A Facebook page keeps them connected with friends and supporters and helps share news of goings on at the monastery. Morning Mass is open to the public, the Poor Clares’ guest quarters provide a restful place for retreatants to spiritually recharge, and the beautiful grounds are a place to experience nature and solitude. Sister Vickie calls the monastery “an oasis of prayer.”
And, prayer is indeed at the center of their lives. Prayer requests come via phone call, letters, or email from around the world. Sister Luisa acknowledges each request with a personalized response and shares them with the other sisters. Their ministry is source of comfort and encouragement for those who reach out to them, whether it is a grieving window, a couple longing for a child, or a man searching for employment.
“It’s about relationships, our family relationship with the friars, and our relationship with the community. We’re here to serve the community, to pray for the people of the archdiocese, the country and world. We want that connection. Prayer is why we are here,” Sister Vickie said.
This article originally appeared in the September, 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph