Mother Mary Clare ’01 didn’t come to the University of St. Thomas to major in Catholic Studies. She came to major in accounting. An older brother had attended St. Thomas and brought her to look at the campus. She knew that the school had a great business program and felt that it “fit the bill.” She was taking a step toward a far different future than the one she had planned.
During her first semester on campus, she experienced what she refers to as a “radical conversion” and began to consider a theology major. Dr. Don Briel was then head of the Theology Department, so she talked to him about that subject of study. He suggested a double major in theology and Catholic Studies. “I loved Catholic Studies,” she said. In the end, she majored in Catholic Studies and minored in both theology and philosophy.
This change in majors was just a small step in the new person she was becoming. She had several classes with seminarians, who would often ask her if she was discerning. When she studied abroad in Rome, she was in a minority as a lay person in her classes, and she began to pray about discernment. A conversation with Bishop Arthur Kennedy was particularly helpful. He asked her if she had been to a convent, and when she replied that she had not, he asked, “Then how do you know you are not called?” As she became more open to the Lord’s invitation to discern, she found it was not, in fact, a scary process.
She graduated, and after spending a year in service with St. Paul’s Outreach at St. Thomas, she entered a convent in New York as a novice. She returned home after two years. Her heart was restless, and she felt that God wanted something else from her. Realizing that God would take away her restlessness or fulfill it in some way, she waited. On Dec. 7, 2006, the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception, she attended Mass at The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity. During Archbishop Harry Flynn’s homily, Mother Mary Clare felt called to imitate Mary by becoming a spiritual mother to others and to participate in the new evangelization. She spoke with her spiritual director about the promptings she felt, and her sense of calling was confirmed. She also wrote to Archbishop Flynn, seeking permission to take the first steps toward founding a new order, the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus.
A new order is not formed quickly. Those who feel they have received a charism, a gift of the Holy Spirit, to be a founder or foundress of an order, must speak to the diocesan bishop, who will watch and pray with that individual. If the bishop feels that the individual is called to found an order, they will form a private association. The Church will guide this private association, and in two or three years, it may apply to be a more formal association. The Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus did apply and was accepted into the diocese of New Ulm, giving the potential order canonical status. In time – perhaps 15 years, or perhaps 50 years – with continued guidance from the Church and a sufficient number of women who have joined the convent, the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus will become an official order. Currently nine women belong to the association, ranging in age from 23 to 32, including another Catholic Studies alumna.
“We live in imitation of Mary,” says Mother Mary Clare. They are both contemplative and active as a community. The sisters work in youth ministry, with children ranging in age from preschool to high school, teach and lead choirs, among other things. They have two daily Eucharistic holy hours and eat meals communally.
Looking back on her discernment process, Mother Mary Clare says, “Union with Jesus is the most important thing. He wants to be in union with you in your vocation. Trust him.” She adds, “I am grateful for my time in Catholic Studies. It provided me with a solid foundation and equipped me for my vocation today.”
Catholic Studies Alumnae in Religious Order
Sister Kathleen Marie Battersby
Sister Anne Carpentier
Sister Katherine Casanova
Sister Regina Marie Foley
Sister Maria Frassati Kieckhefer
Sister Mary Albert Gasparski
Sister Elizabeth Marie Kalscheur
Sister M. Faustina Kenney
Sister Anne Frances Klein
Sister Deanna LaValle
Sister Catherine Marie Morse
Mother Mary Clare Roufs
Sister Emily VanAcker
Sister Diana Marie of Divine Mercy Verly
Sister Maria Stella Whittier
Sister Ane Wynn
Sister Karole Marie Zachman
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