Dec. 17 Mass will celebrate, thank Poor Clares

Special to The Message

Evansville Bishop Joseph M. Siegel will publicly recognize and thank the Evansville Poor Clare nuns at the 10:30 a.m. (CST) Mass at St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville on Dec. 17. As reported previously in The Message, the Poor Clare Monastery in Evansville closed earlier in the year and the remaining nuns have relocated.  Most of the nuns hope to be present for the Mass at the Cathedral.  

In response to the closing announcement Bishop Siegel said, “For the past 126 years, the Poor Clares have been a spiritual powerhouse for the Church in southwest Indiana.  Catholics and other people of faith owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the nuns for the many graces and blessing granted by God through their intercession.  We will certainly feel the loss of their presence, witness and prayers.  On behalf of the Diocese of Evansville, I have assured the nuns of our continued prayers, support and assistance.”

Recently, Bishop Siegel announced that, in honor of the Poor Clares and their foundress, Mother Mary Magdalen Bentivoglio, a meeting space in the Catholic Center has been designated the Bentivoglio Room.”

More on the Poor Clares in Evansville and America

The Poor Clares served in the Diocese of Evansville for more than 125 years, dating to 1897. Mother Mary Magdalen Bentivoglio came to the USA in 1975 with her natural sister, Poor Clare Sister Mary Constance Bentivoglio, at the direction of Pope Pius IX and the Minister General of the Franciscan Order sent them to bring the Order of Poor Clares to America. 

Many hardships followed their arrival in 1875, as the original plans for Mother Mary Magdalen and Sister Mary Constance did not work out. They did not know the language and were not accepted in many places they visited. Finally, they were accepted in Omaha, Nebraska. John Creighton, founder of  Creighton University, befriended them, funding the building of the first Poor Clare Monastery in America.

In 1897, one of the nuns in Omaha learned that a relative in Evansville had bequeathed some land to the sisters nuns, which became the site of the third Poor Clares monastery in America (a monastery in New Orleans having been established by Mother Mary Magdelen in 1885). The original Monastery of St. Clare in Evansville was built at 509 South Kentucky Ave. The cornerstone was laid in January 1897; the first Mass was celebrated in the new monastery in May 1897; and the first Mass in the monastery chapel was celebrated in July 1897. The monastery was dedicated Aug. 12, 1897, by Bishop Silas Chatard.  Mother Mary Magdalen and seven nuns from the Omaha monastery came to Evansville shortly before the Monastery’s dedication.

Records show that the original building on South Kentucky cost $38,000. Even though the nuns had part of the money from bequests, they were left with a large debt. They had their share of hardships including initially having no electricity or plumbing and being without furniture. They managed with boxes for tables and chairs.

At that time, the monastery was in the country and surrounded by corn fields. From the beginning, the nuns raised cows and chickens for their own milk and eggs. Each day, they led the cows out to pasture. 

The monastery’s public chapel hosted the first Masses celebrated by St. Benedict Parish - now St. Benedict Cathedral Parish - following its establishment in 1912. The tabernacle from this chapel was refinished and installed in St. Benedict Cathedral as part of the Cathedral-renovation project in 2018-19.

Mother Mary Magdalen died Aug. 12, 1905, and is now buried in St. Joseph Cemetery on Evansville’s west side with other Poor Clare nuns. Her cause for canonization was opened in 1928, and she was declared Venerable in 1969. When her body was exhumed in 1932, as part of the canonical process, it was found to be incorrupt. Shortly after Mother’s death, the second part of the monastery on South Kentucky was built to accommodate the growing community. 

Moving to the west side

The Poor Clares moved to the current Monastery of St. Clare on Nurrenbern Road, on Evansville’s west side on land provided by the Diocese of Evansville, in early July 1984. Father Raban Hathorn, OSB, celebrated the first Mass there later that month in the Altar Bread Room. 

Bishop Francis Shea celebrated Mass at the monastery for all the nuns on All Saints Day (Nov. 1), 1984. The cornerstone for the new monastery was laid, and its chapel was dedicated, Oct. 20, 1985. The Poor Clares have served in that location ever since, and they celebrated the Evansville monastery’s 100th anniversary in August 1997.

The original Monastery of St. Clare on South Kentucky Avenue was donated to Bethel Church in Evansville, and it ultimately became home to the Evansville Christian Life Center, which formed in 1986 and still serves the community out of the former Monastery of St. Clare.