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could express her or his talents and skills in mutual
service. Instead of competition, she preferred collabo-
ration. Unemployment did not seem to have been a
problem. Time management was generating calm-
ness and not stress.
And, finally, the respect Clare paid to each human
creature, she extended to all creation. Considering
that we are part of creation, like Francis, we should
be careful in the way we treat the earth because she
is the source of our subsistence.
This litany is far from being exhaustive. I am con-
vinced that Clare has a lot to tell us regarding our life
today, as do Francis and the first brothers and sisters.
Like all of us, Clare led a real life, with real problems
and real people. She showed leadership. She can still
inspire us.
(Jean-François Godet-Calogeras, Ph.D., is a profes-
sor of Franciscan studies at St. Bonaventure and gen-
eral and managing editor of the journal Franciscan
Franciscan Minute
Clare of Assisi, the first Franciscan
woman, a wonderful woman
By Jean-François Godet-Calogeras, Ph.D.
rancis of Assisi did not know that turning his life
upside down to follow in the footsteps of Jesus
Christ would soon start a movement, that men
and women would joyfully join him to form a frater-
. That movement, however, would not be what
it is without an amazing, wonderful woman also
from Assisi, Lady Clare, who became Francis' friend,
sister and accomplice in that great endeavor.
For too long and for some obscure reasons, history
put Clare, Chiara, whose name means the bright
one, in the shade, just a chapter in Francis' life, liter-
But in recent years, thanks to new developments in Franciscan re-
search, Clare has emerged from the shadow. The increasingly visible
Clare drew the attention and admiration of Sr. Margaret Carney, who in
the late 1980s, after receiving a master's degree in Franciscan studies at
St. Bonaventure University, went to Rome "to study the manner in which
... Clare of Assisi manifests the feminine experience of the Franciscan vo-
cation," to study the first Franciscan woman.
It was not easy, in those medieval times, for a lay person and a woman
to choose her own way of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. But Clare
patiently fought a lifetime struggle to be able to live according to what
God had inspired her, no matter who would tell her differently. She was
a strong, consistent and persistent woman. Assertive and fearless, she
lived the realities of her daily life according to the Gospel. In doing so,
she brought God's spirit to everything she touched, to everybody she
met. Can Clare still touch us today? I believe so, and what follows is a
partial litany of possibilities.
Clare's world was based on property and oriented to profit, something
that still sounds familiar. Such a world draws an immediate separation
between the haves and the have-nots. It generates exclusion. Clare broke
away from that and focused on the common good and community.
Clare's world, as ours, was tremendously lacking in compassion. Clare
decided to be a sister to everyone. She put love at the base of all inter-
personal relationships and expressed it "like a mother cares for her
child." We can still learn from Clare how to become more compassion-
ate human beings.
Also, if God created the human being masculine and feminine as we
read in the book of Genesis, how can we devalue half of the species and
dominate, disrespect and even oppress women? Clare opened the Fran-
ciscan movement, when it still was a movement of men, to the feminine
and to the full participation of women.
And what about access to health care, another painful issue of our
times? Clare was gifted with healing skills, and she graciously used them
with everyone. Her focus was on the human being and healing was
more important than curing.
Clare's approach to work can also teach us something in our age of
fierce competition. She developed a positive practice in which everyone
Margaret Carney's research earned her a doctorate in theology, and was pub-
lished in 1993: The First Franciscan Woman: Clare of Assisi and Her Form of Life.
This woodcut from a Flemish book from the 1500s de-
picts saints Francis and Clare.