Catholic Dictionary




A monastic community founded by St. Clare (1194-1253) under the inspiration of St. Francis of Assisi. He first placed her in a Benedictine house, but later, when other women joined Clare, they founded a community along Franciscan lines. Clare became the first abbess (1215) and she occupied the position until her death. Several daughter houses were founded during her life, in Italy, France, and Germany. In keeping with the spirit of St. Francis, the austerity of the Poor Clares was the most severe among women religious up to that time. Some branch houses obtained dispensations from the original rule of absolute poverty not only for individuals but for the community as well. But the community of San Damiano at Assisi, with those of Perugia and Florence, obtained from Pope Gregory IX the "privilege of poverty," which enabled them to keep their primitive rule. In succeeding years modifications and reforms divided the Poor Clares into various religious institutes, mainly the Urbanists and Colettines. Their principal emphasis has been on mortification and Eucharistic adoration, with the chanting of the Divine Office.