Monastery Of St. Clare Home To Many Relics
As a final installment in The Message’s special series on relics in the Diocese of Evansville, this article explores the immense collection of relics housed at the Monastery of St. Clare on Evansville’s west side.
Founded in 1884, the Monastery of St. Clare is the third monastery established by the Order of St. Clare in the United States. The monastery began collecting relics they received as gifts from bishops, who obtained them while on ad limina visits to Rome, and from benefactors. “What can you buy nuns who have taken a vow of poverty?” Order of Saint Clare Sister Jane Marie DeLand, the monastery’s abbess, said with a smile.
Today, the monastery keeps relics in its archives, in the chapel sacristy and in a cabinet on the wall of the chapel. In the sacristy, first-class relics of the True Cross, St. Francis of Assisi (St. Clare’s mentor) and St. Clare stand in golden-colored reliquaries.
On special feast days, the sisters display the relics, accompanied by a vigil candle, on a table near the altar. The sisters pray a special benediction and are given the opportunity to venerate the relics with a touch or a kiss. Sister Jane Marie is glad that these three relics are not always on display in the chapel, allowing the sisters to remember their power and sanctity. “It’s like anything else – if they’re out there all the time, you forget they’re there,” she said. “We choose to bring them out on special feast days.”
The chapel is not lacking in relics, however: a cabinet on the chapel wall permanently houses a collection of 100 relics. Relics from a vast array of saints, including St. Anne, St. Cecilia, St. Catherine of Siena, many of the 12 Apostles and others, remain in the cabinet for veneration. Some of the relics are so old that their handwritten, Latin labels are no longer legible.
For Sister Jane Marie, the monastery’s collection of relics is a reminder that we are all called to sainthood, and that God can sanctify even the most unsaintly lives. She points to St. Francis, who lived a lewd, extravagant life before experiencing a powerful conversion. “Many people believe St. Francis was the most Christ-like person who lived,” she said. To venerate relics of St. Francis and other holy people, then, reminds us of our own call to conversion and sainthood. “They present someone who lived their life very close to God,” Sister Jane Marie said.
The sisters of the Monastery of St. Clare invite the public to visit the chapel, but they advise guests to call beforehand so as not to arrive during a private prayer period or retreat weekend. The Monastery is located on Nurrenbern Road in Evansville. Contact the sisters at 812-425-4396.