Clare of Assisi did not follow a traditional path to religious life. She was deeply influenced by the preaching and example of St. Francis and the Lesser Brothers and by the poverty and humility of their lives as they imitated Christ in the Gospels. Clare’s understanding of her vocation was rooted in a life of great intimacy with Christ and a commitment to complete and unmitigated poverty. When she left her home to become a follower of the Gospel life as lived by Francis and his companions, she used his model with the women who joined her after they were settled in the convent at San Damiano.
St. Clare has the distinction of being the first woman in history to write a Rule of Life for religious women at a time when convents for women followed strictly prescribed forms of enclosure and demanded individual dowry provisions for continued sustenance of each monastery. In writing her own Rule, Clare was breaking new ground in the Church by holding to her belief that she was called by God to this very demanding expression of Gospel life. Regis Armstrong writes in Clare of Assisi: Early Documents that she had “a startling sense of individual freedom that was based on [her] experience of the maturity of her sisters.” Clare’s insistence on papal approval to protect her Form of Life—including the “Privilege of Poverty”—not just as a privilege but as a right forged a new understanding of religious vocation in the life of the Church.
—from the book Franciscan Field Guide: People, Places, Practices, and Prayers
by Sister Rosemary Stets, OSF