17 April 2010

Blessed Clara Gambacorta

17 APRIL 2010. Today we celebrate the feast day of two Dominican women (this is the first post; the second will follow later today).

Blessed Clara Gambacorta is a widow and Dominican nun who was known for her and her community's religious observance and her great charity and forgiveness.

Born in Pisa in A.D. 1362, Blessed Clara's father became the governor of Pisa when she was seven years old and betrothed her to a young man named Simon di Massa. Although chosen for marriage by her parents, Blessed Cara was devoted, tradition tells, to living a life entirely for God. At the age of 12 Blessed Clara was forced to submit to marriage, but her husband left immediately after the marriage to fight in foreign wars and died in 1377 without ever returning to Pisa. Now a widow at the age of 15, Blessed Clara was determined to join a religious order, but her parents were intent on seeing her remarried.

In the face of her parents' opposition, Blessed Clara cut off all her hair, gave all she owned to the poor, and, wearing rough penitential clothes, entered the local Convent of the Poor Clares. In her choice of a religious life, Blessed Clara was encouraged in letters by Saint Catherine of Sienna, whom she had met on the Saint's visit to Pisa two years earlier. In the convent, she exchanged her baptismal name, Thora, for the religious name of Clara. However, she was not in the convent long because her brother, with an armed force, removed her from the convent and took her home where she was kept for many months against her will. However, on the feast of Saint Dominic, Clara's sister-in-law took her to mass a the local Dominican church where she received a call to the religious life as a Dominican.

Finally, through patience, Blessed Clara overcame the objections of her family and was allowed to join the Dominican Convent of the Holy Cross outside Pisa.

While the Convent of the Holy Cross had a devout and pious spirit, it was not a place of strict religious observance. So, after four years Blessed Clara, and four others, moved into a new convent dedicated to Saint Dominic and built for them by Peter Gambacorta, where strict religious observance was kept by Blessed Clara and her fellow sisters.

Blessed Clara was soon chosen as the prioress of the new convent and from it several sisters went on to reform communities throughout the region. The community was renowned for its religious observance and even was responsible for initiating a reform of friars because of their example and prayers.

Tradition tells of Count Galeazzo who one day was praying in front of a crucifix in a half-ruined church in the city. From the crucifix came a voice asking that the Count carry it to the Covent of Saint Dominic. While the Count was enroute to the convent, Blessed Clara heard a voice that urged her to the convent's door to meet her spouse. At the door she found Count Galeazzo and the crucifix, which she accepted with great deoviton and hung it above the convent's high altar.

Although Blessed Clara's convent lived in strict religious observance, it was a community known for its charity. No poor person who approached the convent was left unaided. And, Blessed Clara organized out-sisters who would work in institutions around Pisa ministering to those in need under the direction of Blessed Clara. As well, Blessed Clara was a spiritual guide for many through her wise counsel and letters. Known for her prudence and charity, Blessed Clara even pardoned the assassins of her father and brothers, even giving the assassin's widow and daughters safe refuge in the convent. Blessed Clara also prized study and encouraged her sisters to do so too.

Blessed Clara died on 17 April 1419, at the age of 57. Tradition tells that many miracles and signal graces have been obtained by the intercession of Blessed Clara. She was beatified by Pope Pius VIII.


Grant us, 
O merciful God, the spirit of prayer and penance,
that, following in the footsteps of 
Blessed Clara,
we may be worthy to gain the crown
which she hath received in heaven.
Through Christ our Lord.


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