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Rockford, Illinois
March 31, 1961     The Observer
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March 31, 1961

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t'AG THE OBSERVER FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 1961 O When the l~ockford diocese was established in September, 1908. the Most key. Peter James Muldoon, appointed the first bishop, realized the difficult work that lay before him. Animated by a strong faith in the power of prayer, he, there- fore, desired to have a commu- nity of Poor Clares who would devote themselves to a life of prayer and penance for the wel- fare of the diocese. As a result he made repeated requests to lV~ther Mary Ther- esa of Cleveland for some sis- ters to begin a foundation, but it was not until March 1916, that the first two Poor Clares arriv- ed in Rockford. Little Community Grows Their first convent was on :~ North Avon street and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was of- PRAYER AND MEDITATION--Nuns at the Poor Clare Monastery in Rockford are shown fered for the first time in the during one of their many hours of prayer to make reparation to our Lord for the forgetfulness new little monastery June 291 with the solemn blessing and: and ingratitude of the world and for the interest of Holy Mother Church and the salvation of dedication under the title of souls. All told, the nuns spend eight hours a day in this service of the Lord, even rising at "Corpus Christi" taking place midnight for the choral recitation of Matins and Lauds. The rest of the Divine Office is also on ihe feast of St. Clare, Aug. recited daily in the choir and the fruits of their life reveal the amazing potentialities of faith 12, 1916. and prayer. Soon the arrival of more sis- ters from Cleveland increased the pioneer community to three professed nuns, one novice, one S Colette ot e postulant and one extern sister. but its cause was little known or appreciated until the in- fluenza epidemic at C a m p Grant. In March, 1920 Bishop Mul. doon purchased a larger pro- perty on South Main street to provide for the g"owing com- munity. The former sanitarium provided a poor and humble be- ginning but provided ample room for all the sisters and the spacious grounds gave the soli- tude the nuns desired. Plans Shattered In the beginning a small cha- pel was arranged in the base- ment of the building but six years later, through alms col- lected by the sisters themselves, a new chapel was built and de- dicated in June, 1926. The dark days of the depres- sion, however, shattered all plans of eventually building a new monastery on the site but in 1931-32 a brick enclosure wall was built and a wing was added to the building in 1934. Today the cloistered nuns en- joy the special privilege of pri- vate exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the understand. ing and appreciation of the peo- ple of Rockford. WORK OF AND FOR THE LORD--The complete schedule of the Poor Clares reveals a skill- tul alternation of spiritual and physical duties and includes not only all of their own domestic work but also encompasses the making and repairing of church vestments and Third Order shrouds, baking of altar breads, art and literary pursuits and secretarial and business work of the monastery. Above, the Poor Clares of Corpus Christi monastery at Rockford are hard at work cultivating their vegetable garden which is one of their main sources of sustenance next to the contributions of the faithful, S 8818t At the end of the 14th cen- tury, two hundred years after~ the death of St. Clare, the orig- inal austerity of the life and re- ligious discipline so much a part of San Damiano had given way to I e s s severe religious practices. The Gospel virtues of poverty, simplicity and detach- ment were no longer consider- ed important. The spirit of the world had seeped through the convent walls and invaded the cloister. Nowhere could a convent be found that adhered to the prim- itive ardor of the first com- munity of St. Clare. Devout Child In 1380, a child wa~ born to a poor French carpenter and his devout wife, a child destin- ed to restore the Poor Clares to their humble but glorious beginnings. She was called Ni- colette in honor of St. Nicho- las. When she was seven, s he built a tiny chapel behind the house and there she would go to pray and be alone with God. Call from Heaven After the death of her par- ents she entered the Third Or- der of St. Francis and retired to a cell built especially for her beside the church of St. Etienne in Corbie. There she 8 lived apart from the world de- voting her life to prayer, mor- tification and meditation. Many were the visits from Heaven to this holy hermitage. One day she heard the voice of God telling her to restore the Rule of St. Clare. In humility she believed this to be a device of the devil, but when she was struck deaf and ::.: :.:.:~,~:~'* dumb for three days, she re- sisted no longer. She obtain- ed a dispensation from her vow of enclosure and went at once to Benedict XIII who gave her permission to profess the Rule of St. Clare and appoint- ed her superioress of the whole Order. Draws llp Constitution To insure perfnanenee a n d complete adherence to the Rule, Colette drew up articles ex- plaining and defining the spir- it of the original regulations. These articles are called the Constitutions, of St. Colette, and are in full force to this day. It calls for the midnight re- cital of the Divine Office, de- clares perpetual abstinence from meat, insists on the nuns going completely barefoot un- less necessity demands allevi- ation and it determines that there may be only one parlor for the use of the choir nuns. IN A MONASTERY GARDEN--Neat, well-kept rows of vege- tables show the industrious care which the Poor Clares give to their garden in this airview of the cloister garden a't Corpus :Christi monastery in Rockford. It also shows the tree-shaded beauty of the entire monastery grounds which few people have an opportunity to see because of the high brick wall which insures the privacy of enclosure required by the rule of the order. The present grounds are located on South Main street and were purchased by Bishop Muidoon in 1920 to provide for the growing community which started in a small building on North Avon street in 1916. orm o [e When Francis of Assist went]panions, stripped of all save through the streets of his native[ their burning devotion, came to town calling his fellow townspeo-[know Him intimately. Human ple to a life of poverty and pen- nature suffered, the soul suf- ance, none caught up his words fered, but their knowledge was with greater enthusiasm a n d] purified, their love was inten- spiritual vision than Clare, young daughter of Favorone, an Italian nobleman. Fired by the saint's message, she gave herself completely to Lady Poverty and the love of Christ. Soon others from Assist join- ed her in the small convent of San Damiano, and under the Poverello's direction she found- ed the Second Order of S t. Francis. Nowhere was there a keener understanding of t h e saint's spirit than in Clare. Death Bed Approval Approval of her way of life did not come without great dif- ficulty. Clare was on her death bed before final sanction was given to her Rule, that Rule which was the marrow of the Gospel. Undoubtedly t h e life was hard, austere in e v e r y way, but it led directly to Hea- ven. Our love of God increases with our knowledge of Him; away from the attractions and distractions of the world with its emphasis on pleasure, pride and power, Clare and her corn- sifted, and their joy was from Heaven itself. Clare's life found its mean- ing in the Gospel. Behind each verse she beheld the vision of the Word of Truth, and her spirit soared in the presence of His beauty. From then on there Was but one course open for her:~ to surrender herself whole- heartedly to His guidance and follow the path of His love. Purpose of Order This she did by taking the four vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure and in these vows amazed an ease- loving world. Her life also re- quired that she depend entire- ly on Divine Providence. The Poor Clares today strive to imitate the hidden, humble life of the Hol:~ Family at Na~ areth and to make repara'tim~ to our Lord for the forgetful- n es s and ingratitude of the world a n d while sanctifying themselves to p r a y earnestly for the interests of holy Mother Church a n d the salvation of souls. BEFORE OUR LADY--The community of Poor Clares at Corpus Christi monastery in Rock- ford take advantage of good weather and beautiful surroundings to conduct devotions at the Lourdes grotto on the grounds of their cloister. Devotions of this kind are just part of an eight- hour schedule of prayer each day designed to assist the contemplatives in their struggle to mas- ter human nature. Day in Poor Clare's Life One of Severe Discipline In their struggle to master human nature, the Poor Clares lead a life of alternate prayer and work and with a realiza- tion of how important disci- pline is, specified certain hours for certain tasks. The day with its twenty-four hours is divid- ed into four parts: eight hours are devoted to prayer, eight to work, seven to rest and one for necessary recreation. Though the nuns retire at an early hour, their sleep is broken when t he community rises at midnight for the choral recitation of matins and Lauds. Prayers and a period of med- itation on the Passion of Our Lord follow. At 2 a.m the nuns retire once again to their cells. Day in the monastery be- gins with the rising bell at 5 ll.m. In each house of the Order customs differ slightly accord- ing .to local conditions but the general plan is the same for all. Morning p r a ye r, Prime Terce, the Litany of all Saints, meditation, Mass and frustulum make up t h e early morning hours. Then follows a period The particular examination of conscience is made before dinner. One hour is given each day to recreation; at this time silence is effectively ignored though at all other times it is broken only when reason de- mands it. From seven in the evening to seven the follow- ing morning the great silence holds sway and words are em- ployed only in case of urgent need. Day Draws to Close The afternoon hours include Vespers together with the pub- lic recitation of the Rosary and novena prayers; then comes the completing of-the day's tasks. As the day wears on there will be a period of spirit- ual reading and of mental pray- er followed by a small repast served to the community. Compline, night prayers, gen- eral examination of conscience and the winding up of the day's small tasks complete the evening's duties. In most of the houses Ben- ediction of the Blessed Sacra- ment will have been given at an appointed hour. As the sun declines, the night bell rings. of work which continues until[Another day spent with and the bell summons the commurt-lfor Our 'Lord has come to a ity again to choir for the recital[close and the nuns retire in the of Sext and None. I joy of a peaceful conscience. ra or a ons %/ :,:: MARTYR, SAVIOR, SERVANT--That is a good description of the contemplative life which the Poor Clares at the cloistered monastery in Rockford willingly and happily embrace. The severity of their lives is best seen in the simple but austere cells occupied by each which contain only a hard bed, a wash- stand and reminders of the lufferings ol our Lord. Their rule ':r7 ::::';": :: ': LIGHT LIFE LOVE--This is the picture of God which the Poor Clares hold constantly in their hearts and it is in prayer that this picture becomes ever clearer whether it is in the prayer of work, or before the Blessed Sacrament or in the Divine Office choi~ pictured above. As St.-Gregory the Great has said in his "Moralia": "Man was created for the contemplation of his Creator, in order that he might ever seek the vision of Him and dwell in the stability of His Love." -. :- : : also requires that they never eat meat and that all who are well fast every day except Sundays and Christmas. They also wear a coarse woolen habit of brownish-gray and walk about barefoot except while wo~'king in the garden. A religious vocation to this penitential life is indeed d precious gift from God. What Is a Contemplative? Note Important Distinction Gilbert K. Chesterton. writing in defense of asceticism, speaks of the idea that many things are to be loved less that one thing may be loved more. This is not a new thought. Spe- cialists in every field of activity find that many interests must be set aside for the sake of the all-absorbing pursuit: the con- templatives, admitting the tran- scendency of God, turn their backs on less goods to contem- plate with unimpeded vision the beauty of Eternal Truth. Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God, but the heart must be emptied of earth- ly images and the inner sanc- tuary of the soul must be in peace if the soul is to enter into communion with her Lord. Important Distinction It would be a mistake to infer that long hours of solitary pray- er are essential for contempla- tion. The life is the habitual di- recting of the mind to God and the evidence of His presence to- gether with His love is every- where. Each created object re- veals while it conceals H~m, each duty serves as a point of contact with His Will. The sorrows like the daily joys tell of His immanence. Contem- plative life must be distinguish- ed the o/ ontem la-, tion: the former is the external profession of a life of religious discipline under a strict ob- servance sanctioned by the Church: every phase of such community life is designed to foster the spirit of prayer and recollection. The state of con- templation is the privilege of those who are raised to the grace of eontemplationive or. Accomplishment Rare Not all are elevated to this de- gree nor is it essential for sanc- tity; it ever remains God's privilege to give it when and where He pleases. Those who attain contempla- tion are rare and may be found in any walk of life. No one can merit this gift, but the monas. tic state more easily draws upon its members the blinding Light from above. As to the value of the contem- plative life, Pope Pins XII wrote that those who give themselves to the office of prayer and pen- ance contribute more to *he pro. gress of the Church and the salvation of souls that those who cultivate the field of the Lord, for if the contemplative does not water the land by drawing from Heaven the. affluence of divine grace, the fruits of the laborers be leas. 1