Polyester, the Poor Clares and Clare of AssisiCreating a tapestry of Sta. Chiarra d’ Assisi made from the habits of Poor Clare nuns has been incredible. The pieces of fabric I received from my Poor Clare sisters in Chesterfield, N.J., Cincinnati, OH, and Langhorne, PA were worn out and patched from the inside. The Poor Clares draw the integrity of their vow of poverty not from public admiration of their life but from a deep-seated conviction from within to make concrete choices on their poverty that honor the dignity of the poor and care for all creation.
Cutting their habits therefore was a delicate process because they fray a lot. Not only are they old but they also use cheap material – polyester. Sorry sisters, your secret is now out. Thankfully, they use light cotton fabric for their summer habit because voluntary poverty also means being practical and sensible. I consider their habits relics. Yet, their life of hidden prayer and generous service is what truly edifies me to treat their habits with care, respect and admiration.
Searching for a face on which to model St. Clare, I thought of Audrey Hepburn in “A Nun’s Story”. Chiara, who was also part Belgian, disrupted the status quo among female nobility when she chose to follow Francis in a life of chastity, poverty and life of service. As the first woman founder to assert her own rule anchored on poverty, Chiarra had the grace, strength and diplomatic tools to obtain Pope Innocent IV’s approval. I thought Audrey Hepburn’s iconic nun photo, in a negative-positive relief would capture all these aspects albeit in an abstract composition.
St. Clare’s commitment to poverty was driven by her desire to be transformed into God’s image (3LAg). Minister General Br. Michael Perry, OFM pointed out that this image is of a God who reaches down to humanity in Jesus Christ, who became truly alive and present among His people. Sts. Francis and Clare tied themselves down to this movement so that nothing could interrupt them save for the love of God, which drew them ever nearer to God Himself towards all people.
Brother postulant Christian Seno helped me yet again to finish this intricate project. He remarked how chic St. Clare looks in this tapestry. I never knew that polyester could add class to voluntary poverty. Perhaps, it’s just safe to say that Franciscan and Clarian poverty will always be in style.
Happy feast to all our Poor Clare sisters, all the friars, religious Franciscan sisters, secular franciscans and all our Franciscan lay partners!