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Meeting the Gospel’s Radical Call With Joy

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The four young women who took a step forward to the novitiate of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal at an investiture ceremony Aug. 2 are seeking “an ever-deepening relationship with God” as well as “a radical way to express it.”

“They want to live like the Apostles lived, what happened in the Acts of the Apostles, in the profound openness to the Holy Spirit,” said Mother Clare Matthias, C.F.R., who is the community servant (superior general) of the Renewal Sisters.

The new sisters—Sister Fidelis Marie of the Blessed Sacrament, Sister Clara Marie of the Holy Eucharist, Sister Mary Joseph of Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy, and Sister Solanus Mary of Holy Mother Church—each received their religious habits during the investiture.

Mother Clare was serving as vocation director when these women first called to express an interest in pursuing the religious life.

It’s a long process that these four women have undertaken. Having completed their one-year postulancy, they now embark on a two year period of formal religious training known as the novitiate, before they will take their first vows.

They will not profess final vows for seven more years, a long period of time that is necessary so they can honestly explore answers to essential questions, in concert with their spiritual and formation directors.

“Is this what God wants for me?” Mother Clare said. “Is this what He made me for?” This past year, the new sisters began to answer those questions as they lived in community with each other and the professed sisters at Blessed Solanus Casey Convent in East Harlem in the former rectory of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church where the Renewal Sisters also have another convent.

During their postulancy, the four women got “a taste of everything” that the Renewal Sisters do on a daily basis from direct service to and with the materially poor to their prayer and community life.

The coronavirus pandemic’s effect was felt as the sisters had to close their soup kitchen in the spring and set up a sandwich ministry outside the confines of their convent.

The postulants “had to go deeper in their sense of call faster than most people because of the pandemic,” Mother Clare said. “They got into the real essentials of God’s will.”

Earlier in the interview, Mother Clare spoke about the “interior yes” that postulants seeking to become religious sisters must give freely to the Lord. “I wish to be all yours,” Mother Clare said. “I wish to hold back nothing of myself for myself.”

As they move forward in their religious training, the four new sisters will physically relocate to the sisters’ San Damiano Convent in the Bronx for their novitiate, which emphasizes study and prayer.

The Renewal Sisters are small in number but mighty in service, with 35 professed sisters at missions in New York, New Jersey, England, Ireland and Rome.

The recent investiture at Our Lady Queen of Angels was mostly a community affair for the sisters, with at least one notable exception, as Cardinal Dolan presided. “We felt so honored,” Mother Clare said.

It was, in fact, the first time that Mother Clare could remember anyone other than a member of the Franciscan Renewal community presiding.

Mother Clare happily recalled her own investiture, kneeling at the altar rail as Mother Lucille cut her hair, which is part of the ceremony.

“We all do, it’s a special day for all of us,” she said. “We can’t help but remember our own investiture.”

Father Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., a founder and beloved member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who is now deceased, presided.

“I was filled with joy,” Mother Clare said. “I felt like I was riding a tidal wave, of not only joy, but the overriding sentiment was relief.

“The discernment was so difficult for me. It was so hard to figure out if this was what I should be doing, and could I do it.”

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