Eight hundred years ago, Clare of Assisi traded a life of privilege for one of religious devotion. This year the University celebrates this woman and saint, whose name it bears.
It was on Palm Sunday in the year 1212, when 18-year-old Clare of Assisi slipped away in the night to join St. Francis and the Franciscan friars. What she was running away from was wealth and an arranged marriage. What she was running toward was a radical life of worship, poverty, and service. Her rebellious piety and devotion led her to start the first monastic order for women within the Franciscan tradition: the Order of Poor Ladies, also known as the Poor Clares. Today, the order hosts more than 20,000 women who follow the Form of Life that Clare established.
Clare means “light” in Italian; when Clare’s mother was pregnant with her, she heard a voice say the child would “illumine with greater clarity the entire world.” She was canonized in 1255. And this year Santa Clara University has been celebrating the 800th anniversary of the year that St. Clare, its namesake, found her calling.
Her mother was told that Clare would “illumine with greater clarity the entire world.”
The Year of Clare has been some time in the making, beginning in 2009 with faculty gatherings and late-night meals dedicated to the scholarly study of early Franciscan documents. Contemplative preparations were ramped up in early 2010 with the first of three annual retreats to the Franciscan retreat center in San Juan Bautista. Students and faculty were accompanied by Jean Molesky-Poz, a lecturer in religious studies, and Keith Warner, a member of the Franciscans and director of education for the Center for Science, Technology, and Society. Groups reflected on how to bring the life, memory, and message of Clare to campus.
As for naming—and the founding of the Mission of Santa Clara de Asís—that was in 1777 on the banks of the Guadalupe River. The Franciscans had established a mission in San Francisco the year before. Because of her close relationship with St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare was chosen to grace the eighth Californian Mission, serving as symbolic companion to the mission to the north.
Arts and letters
This year at the Mission Campus, celebrations of St. Clare included exhibits at the de Saisset Museum and Harrington Learning Commons featuring artifacts from St. Clare’s life—most notable, a replica of the 13th-century St. Clare tavola, a painting on wood panels depicting Clare’s life. Retreats, lectures, and scholarly symposia have broadened and deepened awareness of St. Clare, as well. Two members of the Poor Clares, Beth Lynn from the Minneapolis Monastery and Dianne Short from the Cincinnati Monastery, took part in various events. The year’s observances culminated in an afternoon and evening of celebration on May 10, titled "Reclaiming and Celebrating St. Clare of Assisi." A keynote address by scholar Bill Short, OFM, and panel discussions offered an overview of centuries of scholarship. Writer Mary Jo McConahay '68 shared her experience as one of the first journalists on the scene of the 1989 Jesuit massacre in El Salvador. In that tragic moment looking over the lifeless bodies of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, McConahay saw that these people were killed because they were unwavering in their faith—a quality she says St. Clare modeled so well.
|Conductor and composer: Elisse and Leslie La Barre. Photo by Joanne Lee|
On the evening of May 10, the Mission Church hosted a special musical tribute to Clare, featuring both 200-year-old music written for the Mission and the world premiere of the St. Clare Vespers Concert, composed by Leslie La Barre ’10. The new work was inspired by Clare’s letters to Agnes of Prague, the daughter of the King of Bohemia, who had decided to join the Poor Clares. Leslie’s sister Elisse La Barre ’09 conducted, with vocal performances from Santa Clara faculty and alumni including soprano Nancy Wait Kromm, associate professor of music; mezzo soprano Lilian Cromer, who teaches voice; soprano Ariel Estébez ’10; and baritone Matthew Peterson ’09. The chamber ensemble featured performances by nine current students as well.
Concert Recording and Photo Gallery
Below is a recording of "The Blessing" from Leslie La Barre's St. Clare Vespers Concert. An audio recording of the full performance can be obtained by contacting L3MusicPublishing@gmail.com.
The photo gallery contains images from Santa Clara's art exhibit as well as photographs of the St. Clare Vespers Concert in the Mission Church.