Poor Clares are the contemplative branch of the Franciscan family tree, praying for the needs of the Church and the world. The monastery in Cincinnati was founded on June 24, 1990, at the invitation of the Franciscan Friars of the St. John the Baptist Province, and the Sisters were welcomed into the open arms of the Archdiocese by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk.
The history of the Poor Clares begins in Assisi, Italy, in 1212, with St. Clare leaving her noble household on Palm Sunday to meet St. Francis and the early brothers at the Portiuncula to become the first woman of the growing “Franciscan Movement.” It wasn’t long before St. Clare was joined by more “Poor Ladies,” and San Damiano became the first Monastery of the Poor Ladies, with St. Clare as Abbess.
St. Clare spent 40 years with her Sisters at San Damiano living the Gospel, and many women wanted to follow St. Clare’s example. During that 40-year period, 147 monasteries were founded throughout Europe. On Aug. 9, 1253, St. Clare became the first woman to have the Rule she wrote receive papal approval. She died two days later.
In 1875, Pope Pius IX sent Mother Magdelene Bentivolgio and her blood sister, Constance, to bring the Poor Clare way of life to America. Mother Bentivoglio did spend time in Cincinnati, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the Poor Clares would establish roots in the Queen City.
Prior to the 1990 foundation in Cincinnati, Poor Clare foundations had traditionally been made by sending Sisters from a single monastery to create a “daughter” house. In 1990, the Cincinnati foundation became the first monastery formed through inter-federation cooperation. The three foundresses are Sister Doris Gerke, Huehuetenango, Guatemala (a daughter house of our Memphis, Tenn. monastery); Sister Anna Marie Covely, Langhorne, PA; and Sister Dianne Short, Bronx, NY. They spent their first eight years residing at St. Vivian’s Parish Convent in Finneytown. The Duncan, B.C. monastery became the sponsoring monastery for the Cincinnati Poor Clare Foundation, which received approval from Rome on Jan. 2, 1991, including permission for their own novitiate.
On Sept. 1, 1996, after many prayers, and generous donations from benefactors, the Sisters celebrated the ground-breaking ceremony and blessing of land by Archbishop Pilarczyk for the permanent monastery. On March 19, 1998, Archbishop Pilarczyk presided at the first Mass in the chapel at the Monastery of St. Clare on Miles Road. It is built for 12 Sisters, and as of this writing, they have been blessed with 10 Solemnly Professed Sisters, and several women currently in discernment.
On April 13, 2002, the Sisters celebrated their first Solemn Profession of Sister Ann Bartko, who transferred from the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio. Since 2002, four more Sisters have transferred to the Cincinnati monastery: Sister Pia Malaborbor, 2006 (Cabuyao, Philippines monastery); Sister Luisa Bayate, 2010 (Yenshui, Tainan Hsein, Taiwan monastery); Sister Alma Lagberg and Sister Mary Anthony Nelson, 2019 (both from the Memphis monastery). Sister Luisa made Solemn Vows here in 2013. Two Sisters entered religious life in Cincinnati and made their Solemn Professions here: Sister Rita Cheong, 2006; and Sister Vickie Griner, 2014.
As contemplative Sisters, their primary ministry is prayer. In addition to personal time for prayer, they pray together the Liturgy of the Hours, celebrate daily Eucharist and have daily Adoration. The Sisters receive telephone and written prayer requests, and the Internet allows them to receive prayer requests from around the world.
Recognizing the need for more spiritual directors for Cincinnati residents and the surrounding areas, the Sisters offer spiritual direction and directed retreats. They also provide classes on St. Clare and Franciscan spirituality, and some of the Sisters are regular contributors to Weekday Homily Helps. published by Franciscan Media.
The monastery grounds are available as a peaceful place to pray and walk, with outside Stations of the Cross, the Canticle of Creation and a Memorial Garden. The Sisters look forward to Aug.15, when they will welcome visitors and guests back to their back into their main chapel for Mass and prayers.