It was the words of Saint Francis, as he preached a Lenten sermon in Assisi, that would change the life of young Clare irrevocably. Inspirational and impactful, the words of Saint Francis would prompt Clare to leave her life behind and follow him—words that would ultimately lead Clare on a journey in faith, becoming the first Franciscan woman and forming the first community of Franciscan women.
Saint Clare, the eldest daughter of wealthy nobility in Assisi, Italy, was regarded from her earliest years as prayerful, devout, generous to the poor, and increasingly desirous of a deeper spiritual life. As she yearned for a deeper relationship with Christ, she found herself listening to the words of Francis.
Clare was 18 years old when she happened upon Francis, preaching in the Church of San Giorgio in Assisi. His words resonated with her, inspiring her to live a life true to the Gospel and one lived in poverty, simplicity, penance, and prayer—as Francis had done. Knowing that her decision would not be well-received by her family, she left home one night to pursue the new life in Christ that she had so longed for. And, just like Francis, she, too, was leaving behind a life of wealth and social status.
On that night, before Francis and his followers, Francis accepted her as one of his companions, becoming the first Franciscan woman. Here, she consecrated herself to God, committing herself to a life of prayer, penance and poverty, forming the Second Order of the Franciscan family known in her day as the Order of San Damiano and that would become known as the Order of Poor Clares.
Other women soon joined Clare on her journey including, in time, her mother, Ortolana; her two sisters, Agnes and Beatrice; and her first cousin, Balvina. With the help of Francis, Clare and her Franciscan followers took up residence in the monastery of San Damiano. It was at this very place where Francis, as he prayed before the crucifix, first heard the voice of God calling him “to repair my house.” And it was here, as Francis labored to rebuild this very church that had fallen into disrepair, that he prophesized it would one day hold “a monastery of ladies through whom … our heavenly Father will be glorified throughout the Church.”
Clare lived a contemplative life of prayer and absolute poverty in seclusion at San Damiano for the rest of her life, remaining a faithful follower of Francis. She continued to encourage, aid and care for him in illness until his death.
She was canonized Saint Clare of Assisi by Pope Alexander IV in 1255, two years after her death.