Answering Gods Call
Three holy women,
Sts. Clare of Assisi,
Julie Billiart and
Angela Merici: Each one
was ahead of her time.
Dedicated to serving the
Lord, they recognized
societal needs and sought
remedies for these concerns.
Each founded a
religious order of women
with the intent of bringing
education to women
and care to society’s poor
Their timeless message
of compassion for the needy
reaches out and grabs us
by the heart. It is as pertinent
and timely today as
it was in their days.
St. Clare of Assisi
Chiara Favarone was born around
1194, in Assisi, Italy, the eldest
daughter of a noble family. Her
devout mother, Ortolana, named her
Chiara (meaning “light”) following a
revelatory dream in which Ortolana was
told she would give birth to the “light
which would illuminate the world.”
The teenaged Chiara, or Clare,
heard Francis of Assisi passionately
preach about new ways of living the
gospel. His words reached right to Clare’s
soul: She vowed to answer the Lord’s
call. Francis became her confidant and
As was tradition, Clare’s parents
tried to arrange an advantageous
marriage for her. Refusing all suitors,
Clare ran away and sought refuge with
Francis and his community. He immediately
accepted her into the gospel life.
She received a tonsure, promised
obedience to Francis and lived very
briefly with neighboring Benedictine
sisters who gave her sanctuary.
Her sister Agnes soon
joined Clare, who was then
living in another religious
house nearby. They soon
moved to San Damiano,
the small chapel outside of
Assisi in which Francis had
heard the Lord’s call. Clare
worked with Agnes (now
St. Agnes of Assisi) and
others who joined them
to found the Order of
Poor Ladies (Poor Clares).
They provided a place for
women who felt called to
live a humble life of prayer
and hard work and to
share what they had with
those in need.
An intentional life
Adopting austere practices,
eating little meat, speaking
only when necessary and
living in strict poverty, the members of
the new foundation eventually become
enclosed. Clare’s Order depended on
alms for both subsistence and the ability
to travel to establish new foundations.
Their lack of “land-based revenues”
was a new concept.
Clare was appointed abbess in 1216.
Following Agnes’s example, Clare’s mother,
Blessed Ortolana, her younger sister,
Beatrice, and other relatives joined the
group at San Damiano. Clare considered
Francis her spiritual father; she was his
confidante and cared for him during his
last illness before his death in 1226.
In 1234, the convent at San
Damiano faced attack by marauding
soldiers. Rising from her sickbed, Clare
carried the Blessed Sacrament to where
the soldiers would see it. Asking the Lord
to hear her prayers and save her sisters,
she heard the following reply: “I will
protect them as I always have and always
will.” History recounts that the soldiers
retreated from the area, never attacking
Clare died on August 11, 1253, just
two days after Pope Innocent IV
confirmed Clare’s Rule. She was 59.
She was canonized two years later in
1255. The Poor Ladies’ name was
officially changed to the Order of
Saint Clare in 1263. Today they are
commonly known as Poor Clares.
In 1958, Pope Pius XII designated
Clare as the patron saint of television
as a result of an event near the end of her
life. Clare was bedridden and too ill to
attend Mass, but she was able to see—miraculously—the Mass on the wall of
her room! The scope of Clare’s patronage
also includes communication services
(telephone, telegraph and TV writers),
eyes, eye diseases, needleworkers, goldsmiths,
launderers and good weather.
Her feast day is August 11.
Today, the Poor Clares number
approximately 17,000 sisters living in
about 1,000 monasteries/convents in
67 countries. Their timeless dedication
to contemplative prayer for others and
refusal to rely upon worldly goods
provide a shining example of piety,
love of the Lord and faith in the 21st
century and beyond.
Sister Roberta McKelvie, O.S.F., also
contributed to this profile.
St. Julie Billiart (1751-1816)
It was the poor and abandoned who
touched the heart of Julie Billiart.
It was they who prompted her to
found the Congregation of the Sisters
of Notre Dame de Namur, devoted to
the Christian education of girls, the training of teachers and to making
God’s goodness known.
Marie-Rose-Julie, the seventh of
eight children, was born July 12, 1751,
in Cuvilly, France, to a farmer and his
wife. Julie loved attending her one-room
school. She excelled in the religious
instruction offered by the parish priest.
He recognized her remarkable devotion
and allowed her to make her First
Communion at the early age of nine.
A constant help to her parents, in
her spare time Julie gathered the local
children to teach them the catechism
and read Gospel stories to them. At the
age of 14, she took a private vow of
chastity, dedicating her life to serve
the Lord by teaching the poor.
In 1774, when Julie was 23 years old,
she was seated next to her father when
a gunshot rang out. The shot had been
fired into their home! Was it an accident
or an attempted murder of her father?
The shock of the event left Julie paralyzed,
a painful condition she would
have for most of her adult life.
Julie, ever devout, spent long hours in
prayer. People from all walks of life came
to seek her counsel in her humble home.
She soon came to be known as “la devoté”
for encouraging the people to refuse to
accept the schismatic priest in the parish.
The terrors of the French Revolution
forced Julie to relocate to Amiens, where
she met Françoise Blin de Bourdon, the
Viscountess of Gazaincourt, who had
suffered during the Reign of Terror
(September 1793 to July 1794). The
two devoted women became inseparable
friends and co-workers in their desire
to restore religion and the faith of the
people through education.
In 1803, at the request of the bishop
of Amiens, Julie and Françoise welcomed
eight orphans to their first classes in their
small convent. On February 2, 1804,
Julie, Françoise and another woman
consecrated themselves as a community
to serve the poor and the abandoned.
Father Varin, their spiritual adviser,
gave them a provisional rule which, it is said, was so ahead of its time that
its essential aspects have never needed
to be changed. In June 1804, Julie was
cured of her paralysis while she made a
novena in obedience to her confessor.
Sixteen months later, Julie and Françoise,
along with a handful of other interested
young women, took their first vows as
How good God is!
The founding of the Sisters of Notre
Dame did not proceed without its
disagreements with various Church
leaders, one of which resulted in the
relocation of their motherhouse to
Namur, Belgium, in 1809.
Mother Julie spent her declining
years caring for soldiers injured at the
Battle of Waterloo (1815). In January of
1816, Mother Julie fell gravely ill. After
three months of pain, she died with the
Magnificat on her lips. She was 65.
Mother Julie Billiart was beatified in
1906 and canonized in 1969. Her feast
day is April 8. This woman of vision—often heard uttering, “Ah, qu’il est bon,
le bon Dieu!” [Oh, how good the good
God is!]—is the patroness of catechists.
St. Julie’s vision is alive in the approximately
2,000 Sisters of Notre Dame who
serve on five continents.
Sister Louanna Orth, S.N.D. de N.,
also contributed to this profile.
St. Angela Merici (1474-1540)
by Mary-Cabrini Durkin
Finding God in daily life, serving
God in people around her, Angela
Merici created a surprising new
way of life. Her spiritual family now
includes the Company of St. Ursula
for single women and the Order of
St. Ursula for women religious.
Angela grew up on her family’s
farm in northern Italy, where she was
born around 1474. She and her siblings
worked together and got in trouble
together. Listening as their father read
the lives of the saints, Angela longed to
imitate these friends of God.
Death ruptured this happy circle,
first taking her older sister. Angela was
devastated—and worried. Was her mischievous
sister in heaven? One day, she
had a consoling experience: Angela saw
her sister, happy in heaven.
Still a teenager, Angela lost both
parents. While her older brothers tried
to keep up the farm, she and a younger
brother went to live with an uncle
and aunt who were eager to arrange
a marriage for her. Their plans and
Angela’s vocation were on a collision
course. Angela sensed God’s call to a
deep intimacy with him. The more
her guardians tried to find a husband,
the more she resisted.
She sought guidance from
Franciscan friars and joined the
Third Order (now called the Secular
Franciscan Order) for lay persons. Its
spiritual practices deepened her prayer
life. Finally, her family accepted
Angela’s desire to devote herself to
Woman of compassion and wisdom
Soon she was back on the farm. One
day during the olive harvest, Angela
had another visionary experience:
women and angels on a ladder between
heaven and earth. She understood that
someday she would establish a group
of women consecrated to God.
Meanwhile, Angela’s days began
with Mass and were punctuated by prayer. She worked with neighbors
and helped out where needed. People
turned to her for wisdom and comfort.
The sadness of her own losses had
taught her deep compassion for others.
When the friars asked her to console a
widow whose three children had died,
Angela visited her in the war-torn city
of Brescia. This became the place for
her life’s work.
Soon Brescians discovered Angela’s
goodness and wisdom. Husband and
wife quarrelling? Talk with Angela!
Should I propose marriage? Consult
Angela! Doubts about faith? Turn to
Angela! One time she persuaded two
sworn enemies to call off a duel.
A new path for women
Angela encouraged women and men
who were caring for orphans and
the dying, trying to heal their ravaged
city. She encountered other single
women who knew that God was
calling them, but not to marriage or
religious life—the only paths open
to women at that time. They wanted
to learn from her experience of
intimacy with God. On November 25,
1535, Angela and 28 other women
consecrated themselves to Christ
under the patronage of St. Ursula,
an early martyr and leader of women.
By her death in 1540, the Company
had 150 members.
Ursulines still live as Angela did,
dedicated to Christ and serving others
in ordinary circumstances, as single
laywomen. The Company of St. Ursula
now exists in 20 countries.
The Company spread throughout
Italy and into France. There, in the early
1600s, French Ursulines took another
step, becoming a religious order. These
women pioneered education for young
women; their life and mission has spread
around the globe.
St. Angela Merici was canonized in
1807. Her feast day is celebrated on
Next: Spiritual Companions
Dedicate your life to serving the Lord. Follow in the footsteps of…
• St. Clare of Assisi, who depended on the generosity of others for the support of her community. Learn more about the Poor Clare community in your area, join them for liturgy and support them with your own generosity.
• St. Julie Billiart, who worked to make God’s goodness known during a time of war and social upheaval. Make her prayer “Oh, how good the good God is!”
your own and see how it helps you to be an agent of peace in our world.
• St. Angela Merici, whose early experiences of loss helped her to have compassion for others. Reach out in support of another who is experiencing a difficulty you have encountered in your life.
Share how these and other saints inspire you
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
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