Saint Clare of the Cross of Montefalco

there is only one explanation for the way Saint Claire lived her life: she was in love with Jesus Christ. Her’s was the all-consuming passion that spans centuries and reaches out to heaven itself.

Born in 1268 of a well-to-do family in Montefalco, Italy, Clare was the lively, sincere, and intelligent daughter of Damiano and Iacopa saintclareofmontefalcoVegente. In Italian, her name was “Chiara,” which means “clear, bright, pure.” While yet a teenager, Clare chose Christ as her one true love. Following her elder sister Joan’s example, Clare began the practice of religious self-denial. In keeping with the customs of the century, the two young women spent days in prolonged sessions of prayer and exceptional mortification of the flesh. Clare’s God-fearing parents gave moral and physical support to her lifestyle of renunciation by permitting her to live with Joan in the hermitage which Damiano had built not too far from home. There, after long hours in prayer during the day Clare would at night fall to her knees in order to recite the Lord’s Prayer and then meditate upon what she was now convinced was the ideal of her life: giving honor to the passion of Christ.

Like Joan, Clare was no stranger to harsh acts of penance, but unlike Joan she went too far and had to be tempered in her zeal. No matter, Clare was happy at what she thought was he role in life: to suffer with her Saviour, who had shed blood for her upon the cross. Her imitation of his sacrifice knew no bounds except those prudently imposed by the vigilant Joan.

Already a veteran ascetic at the tender age of twenty, Clare was suddenly thrust into the first of her three great trials. She was now experiencing every day spiritual upheaval in her heart. Temptations assaulted her, conflicts raged inside her previously well-ordered emotional life, spiritual aridity burned away whatever pleasure she had once enjoyed when communicating with God, and worst of all she was now subject to doubt: she could not resolve whether or not God had abandoned her. This upheaval she endured for eleven years. Christ was exacting of her the same total blind trust that he still exacts of all who profess to love him.

On 10 June 1290, Clare’s hermitage was declared a “monastery” to be governed by the Rule of St. Augustine. The following year, Joan died. Beloved not only by Clare but by all the townspeople and the herders and hunters on the mountainside, Joan was given by them the title of “Blessed.”

The bishop of nearby Spoleto to the south sent his representative to Montefalco in order to supervise the election of the monastery’s new abbess. The choice was unanimous: Clare. So began Clare’s second great trial. Preferring to serve God and his people in a more humble way, she declined to accept the role and responsibility of abbess. “An abbess must be holy and wise,” said Clare. “I am neither: I’m only twenty-four. Please choose someone else.” But the nuns would have none of it and insisted on their young and reluctant companion. “Clare! Clare! Clare!” they cried. Again she refused: “I want to be a nun, not an abbess. I want to serve you all at the most menial of tasks. Please!” But again the nuns would have none of it. She bowed to their will and she became their abbess.

Life in the convent ran smoothly under her direction. Work, prayer, and meetings followed one another with calm and dignity. On Fridays, it was customary for the abbess to give spiritual advice and instruction during that day’s regularly scheduled one-hour meeting (called “chapter”). It was also the moment for public avowals and penance. Clare often took advantage of this time of repentance to kneel before them as she spoke.

For the next sixteen years, Clare served as mother, teacher, and spiritual director of her nuns. She governed wisely. Disrupting neither communal harmony nor the necessary day-to-day management of their monastery’s domestic affairs. Clare saw to it that each nun received what she merited. To a select few she granted the opportunity to pray longer hours.

One of Clare’s responsibilities was that of interpreting and reinforcing the Rule of St. Augustine. In truth, the Rule was simply a man-made charter outlining the chief phases in the pursuit of a dedicated God-oriented life. Even in this matter of the Rule, however, she knew she was only God’s instrument, for she would tell her nuns: “Who teaches the soul if not God?”

Soon, Clare’s reputation for holiness and wisdom attracted visitors to her Monastery of the Holy Cross, where they sought to share in her godly understanding of life. They came in endless procession: priests, friars, theologians, jurists, bishops, lay people, learned and illiterate, in a word, saints and sinners. They came to see her, to hear her words, to be inspired, encouraged, filled with the ardor that radiated from her heart. They came one and all because she had the answers to their problems. Though the answers were always scriptural, logical, and theological, they never failed to be thoroughly sensitive to each person’s needs.

Clare also loved the poor, the ill as much as the poor, and those who were persecuted. To all these desperate folk and to anyone in misery who knocked at the monastery portal, she gave whatever she could. Her heart was so forgiving that she even helped those who had spoken evil of her and who had wished evil upon her. What Clare possessed was spiritual strength: the ability to focus intensely upon a spirit and its timeless needs.

Clare was a mystic. But she was realistic enough to obtain the funds to build a church for her monastery which would serve not only her nuns but the also the citizens of Montefalco and all the pilgrims who came to this mountain village seeking her insights. Like the monastery, the church was also dedicated to the Holy Cross.

Frescoes on the chapel walls portray some of Clare’s conversations with Christ concerning his cross. In her talk with him in 1294 when she only twenty-six she asks him: “Where are you going, Lord?” He answers,”I’ve been searching the whole world over for a strong place to plant my cross in. But I have found none.” Later he tells her. “Clare, I have finally found a place for my cross: I shall place it in your heart.” From that day on, Clare’s body ached with acute pain caused by the token of his cross, marked there by Christ himself. Thus began the last of her three trials, that of physical illness.

By July of 1308, her illness became so severe she was bedridden. When nuns visiting her would trace the sign of the cross upon her as a blessing, Clare would respond, “Why do you make this sign over me sisters? I already have Christ crucified in my heart.”

On Thursday,15 August, she summoned all her nuns to her room, gave them her last spiritual will and testament, and asked to receive the holy oils of the sick. On Friday, very tired, she asked that her brother Francis be sent for. It was night by the time he arrived. He waited until the next morning to speak with her physician, who told him, “She slept well. She is completely healed.” As Francis was leaving to return to his own monastery, for he was a Franciscan friar; two nuns asked him to remain a while longer. “Mother Clare wants to speak with you,” they said. Entering the chamber, he saw that she was truly well, her face was full of color and beaming. They spoke at length about spiritual topics.

Then she called the monastery chaplain Friar Thomas and confessed her sins. Later, to her nuns, she revealed: “There is little else for me to say: Today, you shall all be with me in Christ, because I go to him.” She lay there unmoving. Those were her last words. Her eyes were turned heavenward. Finally, at nine in the morning Francis thought it wise to take her pulse. It had stopped.

Clare’s nuns thought it unsuitable to bury her, for they remembered her words: “The life of a soul is the love of God.” They embalmed her body. As for her heart, they placed it within a wooden bowl carved with flowers.

After the funeral the very next day, Clare’s heart was examined carefully by learned persons and lay folk. Just as she had said, the marks of the passion were upon it: the cross and the instruments of Christ’s passion.

To this day, her body lies in state, incorrupt, in the church of the Augustinian nuns at Montefalco, Italy.

The Augustinian Family celebrates her feast on 17 August.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Saint Clare of the Cross, Augustinian Monastery, Montefalco, Italy.

OSA Saints

Canonized and Beatified Augustinians

Augustinian Mural at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church – Los Angeles, CA.

Blessed Stephen of Bellesini. O.S.A. St. Thomas of Villanova, O.S.A. St. Rita of Cascia, O.S.A. St. Monica Our Mother of Good Counsel St. Augustine St. Clare of Montefalco, O.S.A. St. Nicholas of Tolentine, O.S.A. St. John Stone, O.S.A.

Click on a saint’s image to go to a biography of that saint. In order, left to right, they are:
Bl. Stephen Bellesini, St. Thomas of Villanova, St. Rita of Cascia,
St. Monica, Our Mother of Good Counsel, St. Augustine,
St. Clare of Montefalco, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, and St. John Stone.

Art work created by Isabel Piczek (2008).

Click here for larger images of the mural

Parts of this text with graphics are from the Book of Augustinian Saints,
John Rotelle ᴏsᴀ, editor, Augustinian Press 2000.

Holy Augustinians of recent note:

John McKniff ᴏsᴀ

Bill Atkinson ᴏsᴀ

Augustinian Saints and Blesseds

NameStatusDetailsFeast Day
Fulgentius of RuspeSaintBishop (462-527)01/03
Christine of S. Croce sull'ArnoBlessed01/04
Ugolino of Gualdo CattaneoBlessed(early 13th Century-1260)01/08
Veronica of BinascoBlessed(1445-1497)01/13
Christine of L'AquilaBlessed(1480-1543)01/18
Josephine Mary of Saint AgnesBlessed(1625-1694)01/23
Anthony of AmandolaBlessed(1355-1460)01/29
Stephen BellesiniBlessedPriest (1774-1840)02/03
Angelo FurciBlessed(1246-1327)02/06
Anselm PolancoBlessed(1881-1939)02/07
Christine of SpoletoBlessedAugustinian Laywoman02/13
Julia of CertaldoBlessedSecular (1319-1370)02/15
Simon of CasciaBlessedPriest (1295-1348)02/16
Jerome of RecanatiBlessed(d. 12 March 1350)03/12
Ugolino ZefferiniBlessed(1320-1367)03/22
Mariano de la Mata AparicioBlessed(1905-1983)04/05
Andrew of MonterealeBlessed(1397-1480)04/18
Simon of TodiBlessed(d. 1322)04/20
Helen of UdineBlessedAugustinian Laywoman (1396-1458)04/23
Our Mother of Good Counsel04/26
Marie Catherine of Saint AugustineBlessed(1632-1668)05/08
Our Lady of Grace05/08
Gregory CelliBlessed(1225-1343)05/11
William TirreyBlessedMartyr (1608-1654)05/12
Our Lady of Help05/13
Alypius of ThagasteSaintBishop (late 5th Century)05/16
Possidius of CalamaSaintBishop (late 5th Century)05/16
William of ToulouseBlessed(1297-1369)05/18
Augustine of TaranoBlessed(d.1390)05/19
Clement of OsimoBlessed(d. 1291)05/19
Rita of CasciaSaintReligious (1380-1456)05/22
James of ViterboBlessedBishop (1255-1307)06/04
John of SahagunSaintPriest (1430-1479)06/12
Philip of PiacenzaBlessed(d.1306)06/20
Peter of FriedhofenBlessed(1819-1860)06/23
Peter James of PesaroBlessed(d. 1496)06/25
John and Peter Bechetti of FabrianoBlessed(d. 13th Century)07/02
Magdalene AlbriciBlessedVirgin (1415-1465)07/17
Anthony della TorreBlessed(1427-1494)07/24
Lucy Bufalari of AmeliaBlessed(d. 1350)07/27
John of RietiBlessedReligious (1299-1316)08/02
Clare of the Cross of MontefalcoSaintVirgin (1268-1308)08/17
Ezekiel MorenoSaintBishop (1848-1906)08/19
The Martyrs of GafsaMartyrs08/26
Monica, Mother of AugustineSaint(331-385)08/27
AugustineSaintBishop and Doctor (354-430)08/28
Our Mother of Consolation09/04
Angelo Conti of FolinoBlessed(1256-1312)09/06
Nicholas of TolentineSaintPriest (1250-1305)09/10
Alonso de OrozcoSaintPriest (1500-1591)09/19
The Augustinian Martyrs of JapanMartyr(early 17th Century)09/28
Angelo Scarpetti of San SepolcroBlessed(mid-13th Century)10/03
Sante of CoriBlessedmid-14th Century-139210/05
Anthony PatriziBlessed(early 13th Century)10/09
Thomas of VillanovaSaintBishop and Patron of Studies in the Order (1486-1555)10/10
Elias del Socorro NievesBlessedPriest, Martyr (1882-1928)10/11
Maria Terese FasceBlessedreligious10/12
Gonzalo of LagosBlessedPriest (1360-1422)10/14
Magdalene of NagasakiSaintvirgin, martyr (1611-1634)10/20
William the HermitSaintReligious (12th Century)10/23
John the GoodBlessedReligious10/23
John StoneSaintMartyr ( - 1539)10/25
Peter of GubbioBlessed(d. 1306-1322)10/29
James of CerquetoBlessed(approx. 1284-1367)10/31
Gratia of KotorBlessedReligious (1438-1508)11/07
Frederick of RegensburgBlessedReligious ( - 1329)11/29
Martin of Saint Nicholas and Melchior of Saint AugustineBlessed12/11
Cherubin Testa of AviglianaBlessed12/16

Augustinians

We Augustinians take our name and our spirit from St. Augustine of Hippo. (Hippo is in present-day Algeria). Early church monk, bishop, and theologian, he lived from 354 to 430 A.D., a time of challenge and change for Christianity. Brilliant, articulate, successful; he was well on his way to achieving fame and fortune when he realized there was something terribly absent from his life — God, and real happiness.

St. Augustine“How lovely I suddenly found it to be free from the loveliness of those vanities, so that now it was a joy to renounce what I had been so afraid to lose.”  The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book Nine, Chapter One. In his early thirties he found himself able to discern that God had always been with him but he had been unable to admit God into his life.

He chose to dedicate himself totally to God and gathered around him like-minded friends to live a life of Gospel dedication and community witness. The local church of Hippo called him to public service in the Church as a bishop. He responded to the challenges presented to the Church at that time by preaching and writing letters in response: much as St. Paul did to the infant church as it began its still-growing expansion. Religious communities in the area of Tuscany, in Italy, adopted the Rule of Augustine. Still existent monasteries, as well as ruins, are in that area of Italy.

The Augustinians were called into existence by Pope Innocent IV in the 13th Century and from that moment on have sought to follow in the footsteps of Augustine. From the very beginning the church asked the Augustinians to be an “apostolic fraternity.” Like St. Augustine they were to be known for their gospel-inspired service to others and for their living witness of fraternity and community centered in God. Throughout the course of the centuries preaching, teaching, and missionary endeavors have been the heart of the Augustinians’ labors. This striving to follow the Gospel call after the example of St. Augustine has produced outstanding models of holiness: St. Nicholas of Tolentine – preacher and healer; St. Clare of Montefalco – mystic; St. Rita of Cascia – wife, mother, and contemplative; St. Thomas of Villanova – bishop and reformer. This list could go on. Today the Augustinians are in every part of globe. Communities of men and women striving to be “one heart and one mind intent upon God.”

In 1795 the Augustinians came to the then, young United States of America, to engage in pastoral work among a scattered and minority Catholic faith. From these modest beginnings on the East coast, the Augustinians in America firmly established themselves extending from Lawrence, Massachusetts to San Diego, California and British Columbia to Florida, with missionary activity in Peru and Japan. The Augustinians have three Provinces in the United States and Canada: The Villanova Province on the east coast, Our Mother of Good Counsel Province centered in Chicago, IL which includes the Canadian Province, and ourselves, the Province of St. Augustine, on the west coast.namap4

Blessed Angelo Conti of Foligno

Blessed Angelo established numerous monasteries, and was remarkable for his patience and his spirit of prayer.

Born at Foligno, Italy, in 1226, Angelo belonged to the noble family of Conti. He became an Augustinian, and documents of 1293 and blessedangeloconti1297 show him in Gubbio. He was a member of the Congregation of Blessed John the Good, (Giamboniti), where he was the founder’s disciple at the hermitage of Cesena. He transferred from the Giambonito hermits and was one of those active in the history of the Augustinian Order’s beginnings, establishing the monastery of Foligno, where he resided between 1248 and 1258. From 1275 to 1293 he resided in the monastery he established at Montefalco and thereafter founded other monasteries. From 1297 he was a member of the community at Gubbio. The remaining years of his life he spent at Foligno where he died on 27 August 1312, and where his remains are venerated in the church of Saint Augustine.

Pope Leo XIII approved his cult in 1891. A number of hagiographers mention that the principle bell in the Augustinian church at Foligno was dedicated as early as 1358 “to Blessed Angelo dei Conti.”

His memory is celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 6 September.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Blessed Angelo Conti of Foligno, Naples, Italy.

Blessed Christine of S. Croce sull’Arno

smallblessed Christine is a totally original character ­ both historically and spiritually ­ in the Augustinian Order’s calendar of saints and, after Clare of Montefalco, is the Order’s earliest female figure.

Christine was born Origna Menabuoi about 1237 in Santa Croce sull’Arno (Lucca), Italy. Born of a farming family, from childhood she loved to give herself to prayer, especially while she was alone, shepherding the herd of cows and oxen. Despite strong pressure from her brothers, she would not yield to their wish that she should marry. She wanted to consecrate herself to God and for this reason left her father’s house and went to Lucca, where she worked as a domestic.

After leaving Lucca in 1265 and making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Monte Gargano (Foggia), she lived blessedchristineofcrocein Rome. It was at this time that she began to be called Christine. While on a pilgrimage to Assisi, the Lord in a vision showed her the religious house she was to build in Santa Croce.

As a result, she returned to her native place and in 1279 established a community; initially a hermitage of the Third Order of Saint Franci., Later, in 1294, it became a monastery that followed the Rule of Saint Augustine. The original Constitutions are preserved, written in the ancient Italian dialect dictated by Christine who was illiterate. She received heavenly graces of contemplation and was outstanding for her humility, purity of life, and charity. She died on 4 January 1310. Blessed Christine is regarded as one of the founders of the female monastic branch of the Augustinian Family.

The Augustinian Family celebrates her feast on 4 January.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Blessed Christine of S. Croce sull’Arno.