Poor Clare's Monastery
The Poor Clares are living in Graiguecullen, Carlow for over 100 years.
In the late 1800’s the Bishop Dr. Foley made his first visit to the Vatican in Rome. Hardly had he come into the presence of his Holiness when Pope Leo XIII enquired if there was a contemplative order in his diocese. The Bishop replied there was a community of enclosed Poor Clares but they were not properly established yet.
“Establish them and be good to them” said the Holy Father.
History of the Order
Our story begins with the story of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. It is impossible to tell the story of one without the other, for in the Providence of God these two are inseparably intertwined. The tiny seed sown in thirteenth century Assisi rooted itself firmly in the Church and thrust our vigorous shoots to become the great tree of the Franciscan family, spread far and wide through time and space, flourishing still at the end of twentieth century.
It was a seed of divine origin – Francis is quite clear: “And after the Lord gave me brothers, no one showed me what I should do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel”. (Testament of St. Francis). And Clare, who loved to refer to herself as “the little plant of the blessed Father Francis”, writes in her Testament. “The Lord gave us our most Blessed Father Francis as founder, planter and helper in the service of Christ and in those things we have promised to God and himself”.
Who were these two saints who have influenced so greatly the life of the Church and the history of Christian spirituality through the ages? They grew up in the same Italian town of Assisi towards the end of the twelfth century – Francis, the son of Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant, and Clare, eldest daughter of the noble and wealthy Offreduccio family. Clare was ten or eleven years younger than Francis, and because the merchant class was fighting against the nobles, neither of them would have known each other in their early years. When Francis grew to young manhood he went off to war against neighbouring Perugia, hoping to win knightly glory but the Lord made him realize that he was calling him to His service instead. So Francis returned to Assisi to spend some years in searching, struggle and indecision before he finally became aware of God’s to preach the Gospel of peace and forgiveness to all. He gave up everything, dressed in a poor garment and barefooted walked the streets and countryside, speaking in simple and glowing words the message of the Gospel that burned within him. Soon he was joined by other men from all walks of life. They worked with the local labourers for the food they ate and when that was not enough they begged their bread from door to door. At first, people thought them mad, then they began to admire them when they saw how they reacted to derision and mockery, really living the message of the Gospel and giving away all their worldly goods to the poor, and finally, Francis was regarded as a saint, the founder of a new religious family in the Church, and his followers were respected and loved by all.
Clare, meanwhile, had grown into a beautiful young girl, not only in outward appearance but also in true spiritual goodness, deeply prayerful and concerned about the plight of the poor in her native town, with whom she frequently shared her own rich food.
At. Eighteen, she was being urged by her parents to enter into a suitable marriage: but having heard Francis preach in the Cathedral she realised that she, too, was being called by God to a life of poverty and prayer. Accompanied by a trusted relative, Clare spoke to Francis in secret about her vocation several times. She realised that her family would never agree to her joining this new Order so totally removed from the society in which she had been brought up. So on the night following Palm Sunday 1212 she left her father’s house with her companion and was received by Francis and his friars in the little chapel of Our Lady of the Angels in the woods.
The Monastery at Graiguecullen
Money for the building was slowly but surely coming in, but here seemed no hope of any suitable site in the area. The old Parish Priest had mentioned that there was a field not far from the old church but on the other side of the road that would be ideal for a new parish church and a convent as well, but at the time it seemed an utterly impossible dream. By degrees several other people mentioned it to Mother Seraphine also, so she thought of trying to acquire even a small portion of it, asking a friend of the community to negotiate as if it were for himself. But the owner, a Quaker, refused to consider any offer, saying that his two sisters who lived with him wanted it for a pleasure garden. However, both these sisters now died with a year and Mother Seraphine tried again through the same friend. Once more he failed, so taking one last chance she approached the owner in the name of the community. But he absolutely refused and this time stated categorically that it was against his religious principles to give ground for any religious institute except of his own creed. Very soon after this he had to go into hospital for a slight operation, and most unexpectedly the poor man died! There three deaths occurred in less than two years – so not much imagination is needed to surmise the subject of conversation between the community and their priest friend at the College the next time he visited on the Bridge!
Sold by Auction
But there was still another “obstacle” left. All the deceased Quaker’s property, including this field of seven acres, was to be sold by auction. Everyone thought that another Protestant gentleman would buy the field because he had been renting it form the original owner for his horses – but when the day came, everything was disposed of very quickly except this very field, without a single bid being made for it. When the papers published the fact that it was to be sold by private treaty, Fr. Arthur Murphy, the curate of Graiguecullen and very good friend of the community went immediately to Mr. Governey and alerted him to the situation. Once the latter understood that the Poor Clares thought that this was a very suitable location for a monastery, he immediately offered to buy the whole field and give them as much as they wanted. And not only that: he also offered the ground for a new parish Church attached, if ever the money could be collected to build one. Straight away he went to the auctioneer and since there was no other bid, the field was his. The curate’s joy was unbounded, but it was too late that evening to let the nuns know the wonderful news. Before he began the community Mass the following morning he asked the Sisters to unite with him in offering the Holy Sacrifice for their great benefactors, Mr and Mrs. Governey, who had just purchased the site for their new monastery and thereby secured the foundation in Griague. One can only imagine the feelings that welled up in all hearts and overflowed in grateful praise and thanks to the Father of Mercies and their most generous benefactors, who had given the two acres for monastery, garden and church rent free. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you”. (Matt. 7:7). Yet, indeed, Mother Seraphine knew in Whom she believed.