The Poor Clare Nuns held the last public mass on Sunday, Aug, 11 2019, at the Monastery of St Clare in Memphis. The nuns will be leaving the building that has housed their order since 1932 in the Frayser neighborhood. The monastery will be closed at the end of the year.
Memphis, Tenn. - Concealed behind tall brick walls and strong iron gates in a struggling Memphis neighborhood, nuns have been quietly praying for the city and its people since 1932.
Few people have been behind the walls of this monastery. The silent and prayerful lives of the women, who have chosen to live here in community, remain a mystery and a curiosity to most outsiders.
But they do have friends. The many friends of the Monastery of St. Clare, are a loyal group of followers who have supported them in every way you can imagine, only asking for prayer in return.
In a neighborhood that is plagued by crime and residents fighting to climb out of poverty, these women have chosen a life that St. Clare called the “privilege of highest poverty.” The nuns rely on their friends for generosity, food, donations and even occasional help around the monastery.
They have been called to a life of prayer and silence. To live in community and in radical poverty.
The day they celebrated the Feast of St. Clare, on August, 11th, 2019, the sisters were applauded for all the fruits of their prayer during their last public mass for the Catholics of Memphis. The chapel was full; it was standing room only.
“In these past 87 years, the community began to dwindle” explains Father Albert Haase during that mass. He shared their process of discernment with the worshipers in attendance. Gradually their community has gotten smaller and smaller; they prayed and asked “what does God want from us now?” Each of them came to realize, their mission here has been completed. “Their mission here is complete” he says “but their vocation goes on.”
Choked up, finding it difficult to get out the words that she had planned to share, Sister Marguerite said, “We are leaving, but we will continue to pray for you and you will always be in our hearts.”
She looked into the faces of the husbands, wives, children and elderly that she had spent a lifetime praying for, but she was unable to say more.
After the service, a small child, Emma Bills, 7, held onto her. She had been baptized at the monastery. Her grandparents lived near the monastery, her mother grew up near the monastery and they all had built a relationship with the sisters.
In May of 2018 the Vatican issued guidelines that all contemplative communities should have at least seven members. This, the last contemplative monastery in Tennessee, has dwindled to four.
So, they sought out ways to continue their vocations. They reached out to other Poor Clare communities around the country. Sister Anthony will be going to the Poor Clare’s in Cincinnati with Sister Alma. Sister Marguerite and Sister Claudia will be going to live with the Poor Clare’s at the Travelers Rest, South Carolina.
Written by Karen Pulfer Focht ©
Freelance Photojournalist in Memphis