By Elisabeth Román
Every weekend María and Mercedita get into their car in Río Grande, Puerto Rico, where they live next to El Yunque rainforest, and drive southwest for almost two hours to the town of Ponce to the Monastery of the Poor Clares. Located in the heart of the southern island town, on a street that bears their name, Las Clarisas, the monastery is in a crowded environment surrounded by homes, noise, and traffic, a location poorly suited for their contemplative and monastic life.
Although the Clares have taken a vow of poverty and live mostly from donations, they have succeeded in acquiring a parcel of land from the local government, next to the Schoenstatt Shrine in the town of Juana Díaz. It is here that they plan to build a monastery, chapel and retreat center. So every Saturday afternoon María and Mercedita pick up Mother Superior María del Pilar, Sister Regina, Sister Refugio, who just celebrated 50 years since she made her vows, and other Clares, and they spend the entire weekend visiting parishes throughout the Archdiocese of San Juan, raising funds to build a new monastery. The sisters also generate funds and support the monastery by creating liturgical ornaments by hand, including priestly vestments, altar cloths, linens, etc.
On part of their 10-acre site, the Clares plan to unleash their love of nature by planting gardens and fruit trees, particularly those considered to be endangered species. They are also planting a large rose garden and will use the roses to adorn the chapel’s altar. The lush gardens are expected to become a place of contemplation where the Clares can reflect and pray in the presence of God’s creation.
The community was founded in the city of Granada, Nicaragua in a very poor part of the country. Seven sisters left their monastery in Mexico after the Bishop of Granada came to visit and spoke of the country’s difficult situation and their lack of priests. In September 1995 the bishop of Ponce expressed the need for religious sisters in his diocese. Bishop Fremiot Torres Oliver told them to, “Seriously think about it and pray to the Lord asking him to give you light to discern.” But by October he was urgently requesting the names of the Sisters that the Lord had touched to come to Puerto Rico. Again, seven sisters—four from Mexico and three from Nicaragua—followed their calling to Ponce, and a new community was born.
Although they have endured many difficulties, the Clares insist that God’s providence is always with them.
For more information about the Poor Clares and to help build their new monastery visit: hermanasclarisasponce.org.
Where is God calling you to serve? Do you have the light needed to go find your own frontiers and start a new life?