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Le Concile Vatican II et le monde des religieux

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Christian Sorrel

Les voies du changement. Tensions et réformes

« Shades of difference »: Poor Clares in Britain

Carmen Mangion

Texte intégral

  • 1 Francis Pullen Archives [FPA], letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 25 May 1968.
  • 2 This personal collection consists primarily of typescript copies of Pullen’s original letters and o (...)

1 « It is interesting (though somewhat baffling) to find how many shades of difference there can be in two or three similar replies1. » Sister M. Francis Pullen was one of 12 Poor Clares who found herself in Rome in 1968 as part of the International Commission of Poor Clares responsible for the development of a common constitution for the Poor Clares worldwide. Her 82 lively letters home to her monastery in Liberton, near Edinburgh, provide the core sources for this chapter2. Such communication, which was circulated amongst the Poor Clares in Britain and Ireland, is useful for understanding how an enclosed, decentralised, contemplative Order engaged with and interpreted the edicts coming out of the Second Vatican Council. They demonstrate the camaraderie and collegiality of several interlinking corporal and virtual communities. The first group comprised the members of the International Commission which included Poor Clares from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Italy, Germany, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain and the United States of America. The second was the Roman community who hosted the International Commission in their monastery on via Vitellia. The third community included the recipients of Sister Francis’ correspondence in Britain and Ireland. In her correspondence, Pullen observed and commented upon the diverse practices and attitudes of Poor Clares, what she called the « shades of differences », with regards to the religious habit, grille and enclosure, liturgy and countless Poor Clare customs. Her correspondence also subtly reveals the tensions which resulted from the varied reception of the Council documents. These letters alongside other archive documents and oral histories hint at the struggles to unite Clare’s daughters under one constitution.

  • 3 This section has been informed by Regis J. Armstrong (ed.), Clare of Assisi. Early Documents, New Y (...)
  • 4 Some scholars (and Poor Clares) refer to this as Clare’s Rule but Clare herself calls this her form (...)
  • 5 Beata Clara Virtute Clarens issued 18 October 1263 by Pope Urban IV’s (1195-1264).
  • 6 Constitutions specified details as to spirituality, ministry and corporate organisation.

2The second order Poor Clares named after their first abbess and founder Clare Offreducio (1194-1253) is part of the Franciscan family of religious established by Francis di Bernardone (1181/2-1226) which also includes the first Order of Friars Minor and various third orders3. What made Clare’s religious order most distinctive was her desire for a life of absolute poverty; this was unconventional for women’s orders at the time as it allowed for no ownership of property. This « Privilege of poverty » became part of Clare’s papally approved Form of life4. However, papal concern for the sustainability of living absolute poverty and the insistence on monasticising the Poor Clares led to the formation of the Order of St. Clare and the Urbanist Rule of life5. Under this Rule, autonomous Poor Clare monasteries worldwide documented their own regulations and customs. The most well-known of these was the constitutions of St. Colette of Corbie (1381-1447) who perceived a laxness in Urbanist Poor Clare life and reformed the French Poor Clares in a constitution she believed more closely conformed to Clare’s Form of life; these Poor Clares became known as Poor Clare Colletines6. Urbanist Poor Clares and Poor Clare Colletines and other variants of Poor Clare life have been present from the outset of their long history and remain to this day.

  • 7 For an explanation of this early modern British context, see Caroline Bowden, « General Introductio (...)
  • 8 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 22 August 1968.

3The British context adds on an additional layer of distinctiveness. Despite the prohibition of religious life in the British Isles after the Reformation, four English Poor Clare communities were founded on the continent. In the 1790s, they fled revolutionary forces and relocated in England7. By 1969, after numerous relocations, amalgamations, expansions, contractions and new foundations from the continent, Britain’s Poor Clare family comprised of 20 communities with 304 religious including two third order regular communities in Goodings and Woodchester8. They were all Poor Clare Colletines except for two monasteries, Sclerder in Devon and Darlington in Durham which were Urbanist. True to the Poor Clare form of life, they were autonomous units, operating separately with distinct constitutions and customs.

4The revising of the Poor Clares constitutions was part of the remit of the decree Perfectae Caritatis (1965) which mandated the renewal of religious life. This was one of a series of sixteen Council documents. For men and women in religious institutes, this meant a rethinking and oftentimes a reworking of the day to day practices of religious life. Like all religious communities following the mandate of Council documents, the Poor Clares re-examined their corporate and spiritual structures in context to a « reading of the times ». The primary question addressed in this chapter is: How did the worldwide, autonomous, enclosed communities of Poor Clares come together to interpret the Council documents in order to create a common constitution? They had no internal structures, as did centralised apostolic religious institutes, so the creation of the International Commission required outside parties as well as the Poor Clares themselves collaborating in ways that were not part of their tradition.

  • 9 S. Vertovec, « Conceiving and researching transnationalism », Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22/2, 1999 (...)
  • 10 The number of monasteries and nuns within these 43 federations are not extant.
  • 11 Lynn Abrams, Oral History Theory, London, Routledge, 2010.

5Scholars have frequently recognized the transnational qualities of Catholic religious institutes as religio-cultural networks that crossed national boundaries. This chapter incorporates this transnationality, considering the « system of ties, interactions, exchanges and mobility’ that became relevant to this collaboration on the Poor Clares constitutions9 ». It employs a combined methodological approach grounded in the material from archives and the oral histories of 15 Poor Clares from 5 monasteries. One Poor Clare serendipitously arrived to her interview with a three-inch thick box file containing typescripts of letters she had written as a member of the International Poor Clares Commission10. The correspondence has a candidness that discloses both the mundane nature of the day-to-day work on the commission whilst evoking the stimulation and excitement of post-conciliar debates. Of course, this communication has its drawbacks. It reflects the perspective of only one Poor Clare, and the responses to this correspondence are not extant. The oral histories are important sources too. They reflect the subjective experience which has value but also, like textual sources, cannot be treated simply as empirical evidence. As expressions of culture, oral testimony reflect, self-consciously or not, a particular form of self-representation and a representation of the past that is influenced by the reliability of memory, the nature of the interview relationship and the passage of time11.

  • 12 Some aspects of post-war British Catholicism are covered in Hugh Mcleod, The Religious Crisis of th (...)

6The secondary literature on the Franciscan family is immense; most of it is focused on the writings and lives of St. Francis and St. Clare. But the lived experience of those residing in Poor Clare monasteries has rarely been a focus of historical research. Similarly, there is a paucity of published historical work on post-war British Catholicism in general in Britain12. This chapter is intended as a contribution to this historiography and is part of a larger project on the responses of women religious in Britain to the Second Vatican Council. It begins by introducing the International Commission of Poor Clares and their work in 1968-1969 noting the implications of the transnational exchanges in identifying and communicating the differences amongst the Poor Clares. The process of analysing and summarizing the questionnaire results was noteworthy in terms of creating, deregulating and restructuring a common constitution. One brief example involving debates on the grille will give a flavour of the means by which sensitive subjects were discussed. And lastly, the epilogue reveals a surprising turn of events that reflects the enduring tensions underpinning the creation of these common constitutions as well as the continued autonomy of the Poor Clare communities.

The International Poor Clares Commission

  • 13 All interviews have been anonymised. Interview OSC 007.
  • 14 Arundel and Brighton Diocesan Archives, letter from Paul Philippe to Constantine Koser dated 29 Nov (...)
  • 15 FPA, Questionnaire Summary of Results.
  • 16 FPA, Officium pro Congregationibus et Institutis Franciscalibus (OCIF), undated typescript.
  • 17 Translated from the Latin into the Office for Nuns.

7Though the Poor Clares were an international order, the autonomy of each community meant there was no centralised structure through which reactions to the Council documents could be discussed13. Initially, the renewal process was expected to occur under the guidance of each community’s local bishop. But this process was complicated in 1965, when the Congregation of Religious appointed the Order of the Friars Minor to oversee the process of renewal of the Poor Clares14. In this role, the Vicar General of the Order of Friars Minor sent a letter in February 1967 to 615 Poor Clare monasteries and 43 Poor Clare federations worldwide concerning renewal and adaptation. The Poor Clares were asked to discuss and respond to 55 questions which ranged from querying the traditions of the Poor Clares to critiquing features of governance and the formation of novices15. Later that year, the Commission for Franciscan Congregations and Institutes was established to support Franciscan first and second orders (the male Franciscan Friars Minor and the Poor Clares) in their renewal process16. The structure that later evolved in the immediate aftermath of the Council was that of the Officium pro Monialibus headed by a friar minor who was the specifically designated liaison between the Poor Clares and the Roman Curia17.

  • 18 Poor Clares, Much Birch archives [PCMB], Darlington Chronicle, p. 5.
  • 19 Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives: CC/B/1/B/1, Annals of the Convent of St. Francis of Poor Clare Co (...)
  • 20 Interview OSC 006.
  • 21 The Association became a Federation in 2009.

8James McEwan, ofm (1907-1980), was designated to guide the communities of Poor Clares on renewal in Britain. He advised the Darlington Poor Clares on « changes in certain customs not suited to the modern age » including « inclinations to be made instead of prostrations, fewer vocal prayers, special devotions and novenas » and changes to the daily Horarium18. In 1965, Poor Clare Abbesses met together for the first time at Spode House to discuss renewal and adaptation. The Baddesley Clinton annals noted that this collaboration between communities was the « shape of things to come19 ». The formation of an Association of Poor Clares in 1968 was, according to one Poor Clare, « an absolutely big event in the Poor Clare life20 ». Visits to and from communities on Association business helped build inter-community relationships21.

9Rome’s decision to deputise the Order of Friars Minor to aid their renewal was not welcomed by all Poor Clares. Sister Gabriel Taggert of Liberton wrote to Abbot Christopher Butler in 1967:

  • 22 Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster: BU E.39, letter from Gabriel Taggert to Christopher But (...)

You see we are in no way connected with or under the Minister General of the Friars – they of course are handling the Constitutions simply because men have always done these things – why shouldn’t we do our own? But they have no authority over us at all, and even if Federation was forced on us by the Holy See, there would still be no reason why a friar would need to be involved22.

  • 23 Interview OSC 009.

10Retrospectively, one Poor Clare observed that without a centralised general chapter, there was little choice: « So the Friars tried to fill that canonical gap23. »

  • 24 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated [13 June 1968].
  • 25 FPA, Questionnaire summary of results, p. 87.
  • 26 FPA, Discourse of Very Rev. Father General, Fr. Constantine Koser, 8 June 1968.

11The Friars involved the Poor Clares in this process. They obtained permission (with much difficulty) from the Congregation of Religious for the formation of the International Commission of Poor Clares24. So in 1968, 12 representatives from the Poor Clares gathered in Rome and formed a temporary community commissioned to tabulate the questionnaire results received from 470 (76.4 per cent) monasteries and 34 (79 per cent) federations25. They were also charged specifically with informing the development of a common constitution in light of their understandings of aggiornamento and adaptation; their set aims were to « return to the sources of your monasteries » and « clarify them [the sources], understand them better » and « put them into the context of reality as a whole, to find the middle path ». Their ambition was to make the Poor Clares constitutions « wide enough to allow these various ways26 ». These « various ways » could appear in additional legislation developed by each monastery.

12The General Constitutions were to be developed and approved through a rather circuitous process which began with the International Commission deconstructing and then reconstructing the responses of the questionnaire in conversation with their national community. This analysis was forwarded to the Friars Minor who wrote the General Constitutions that were returned to the Poor Clare communities to be lived for a period of time, and then reported on. Any revisions, based on the reports from the Poor Clares would be made by the Friars Minor. And finally, the Officium pro Monialibus was to be the final authority before the text was sent to the Congregation for Religious for final approbation.

  • 27 Interview OSC 002.
  • 28 These letters were also sent to an unknown American Poor Clare community who requested copies of Fr (...)
  • 29 Sister Francis left the letters received in Rome; they have not been located.

13The delegate from Britain was London-born Sister Mary Francis (née Jean) Pullen who had entered the Poor Clares in 1950 and was finally professed in Liberton, near Edinburgh, in 195527. On 29 April 1968, aged 39, she left Scotland for Rome returning to Liberton 15 months later. Pullen’s correspondence in those first few weeks in Rome was bursting with colourful descriptions and anecdotes of life in the Poor Clare monastery on Via Vitellia. These letters written weekly and sometimes twice weekly were addressed to the community at Liberton and kept them apprised of the activities of the commission. Her correspondence was also circulated to the other Poor Clare monasteries she was representing in England, Wales, Scotland, and later Ireland28. These circulated letters provided Pullen with a means of making general requests to all communities or responding to questions being asked by her Poor Clare correspondents29.

14Pullen was aware of her wider audience and this likely influenced the tone of the letters which were chatty and revealed Pullen’s inquisitiveness and exuberance without being explicitly critical. She noted whether sisters were Colletines or Urbanists; she described their physical presence: their facial features, how they wore their veils as well as the details of their religious habits. She also recounted the diverse customs in some communities.

  • 30 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 1 May 1968.
  • 31 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 2 May 1968.

[The] Brazilian is a Colettine, and, as we had heard Sr. Catherine is osc, but funnily enough they are both dressed alike, in grey, with a little hair showing, a kind of clerical collar, and a bit of white folded over in front of their veils30. M. Cecilia now wears a kerchief like ours (she showed her hair for the journey!). They seem to be very strict Colettine, but none I have spoken to have a portress sitting in the parlour during visits31.

  • 32 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 2 June 1968.

15Pullen also communicated information about federations. Sister Rheinild’s Belgian monastery was in a federation that included twenty monasteries with diverse practices and opinions. She noted that « six of them show their hair’ and some would like the grille removed32 ». These may appear as benign, innocuous comments, but Pullen was acknowledging the differences between the Poor Clares. Her readers did not see uniformity; instead they visualised the heterogeneity of religious habits: their colours, their styles as well how they were worn, etc. Pullen was aware that her readers were also dissimilar in clothing, customs and practices. The message, implicitly made, seems to be about acknow-ledging, without adverse judgment, the diverse nature of the lived lives of Poor Clares.

Sharing knowledge

  • 33 FPA, questionnaire summary of results, p. 9.
  • 34 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 30 May 1968.

16On the surface, the tasks of the commissioners appear quite functional and mundane. Sister Francis collected ancillary documents including statistics, histories of each monastery and spiritual texts. The final report indicated that over 1264 documents and over 13 996 pages were collected from Poor Clare communities worldwide33. She also collated, summarised and analysed the responses from the questionnaire by making a card index of all the responses. These cards were pooled together to create a British-Irish summary, and then a worldwide summary34.

  • 35 John O’Malley, What Happened at Vatican II, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2 (...)

17It would be easy to dismiss the International Commission’s work as simply a set of administrative tasks, but there was much more to it. First, it was a collaborative effort amongst people who had different perspectives on Poor Clare life. Such collaboration and collegiality between sisters of different Poor Clare traditions was unprecedented. The Council’s call for collegiality was interpreted as decision-making based on consensus and collaboration rather than authoritative structures often linked to hierarchical or clerical relationships. Historian John O’Malley calls this collegiality the « lightening rod’ at the Council35 ». At the level of the Poor Clares Commission, too, their processes enabled a culture of collaboration, shared responsibility and collegiality between women of different understandings of Poor Clare life. This was in stark contrast to the hierarchical structure that remained integral to most Poor Clare monasteries through to the 1970s.

  • 36 FPA, Discourse of Very Rev. Father General, Fr. Constantine Koser, dated 8 June 1968.

18Second, the International Commission was meant to set the direction for the final form that the constitutions would take. The Franciscan Friars Minor were tasked to write the first draft of the new constitutions but they did not take the sole authority and power in creating this document. The International Commission was doing the thinking, the collating and the summarising of this material that was to influence the final form the constitutions would take. Their knowledge of the day-to-day Poor Clare life and local customs was essential to the development of the constitutions. Father General Koser stated in his initial letter to the monasteries: « The commission which is unfolding this most important work of the study of the documents to see what the nuns think and make a summary of it36. »

19Pullen re-emphasised this Poor Clare contribution as she disclosed Koser’s advice:

  • 37 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated [13 June 1968].

What he said about the work was not to give us any particular direction but to encourage us to think for ourselves, and to keep a middle course between slavish adherence to tradition and the tendency to discard the past entirely… He also mentioned a healthy spirit of criticism – not to be “yes women” even as regards the Franciscans. Not many people need to be told this nowadays, but he did say that here again there is such a thing as a happy medium37.

  • 38 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 16 July 1968.

20She alludes here to the independence that was embedded in her own critical thinking process, and, she suggests, those of her fellow Poor Clares. She also acknowledges, though lightly, women’s agency in the re-interpretation of the Poor Clare vocation. These Poor Clares were creating the framework for their Constitutions for the Friars Minor, who would perform the legal and administrative work of assembling them. Sister Francis constantly reminded the sisters that they had control over the development of the constitutions. Their responses to her queries were pivotal to the shaping of the document that would govern their lives and she advised them to think more expansively: « The tendency nowadays is to leave more to the discretion and less to the letter of the law; but, of course now that it is not my job to tell anyone what to say. It might just save special permissions later on, though38. » She constantly emphasised the intended breadth and non-prescriptive nature of the constitutions: « I got the impression that he [Koser] wants the constitutions to give very broad outlines which will allow for development according to the spirit of each nation. »

  • 39 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated [13 June 1968].

21Pullen’s epistolary communication provides an important means of not only conveying the process of the development of the constitutions – but also sharing interpretations of aggiornamento and renewal. She commented that Father General Koser was « keen that we (i.e. I take it all P. C.s) should be well informed about the concerns of the Church, and the things of God and the traditions of the Order, but he did not make any suggestions about how we were to obtain the information. Reading, of course he did mention, but I know that the English and Irish houses are aware of the need of a good library39 ». The members of the International Commission of Poor Clares were expected to be immersed in the documents coming out of the Council. This knowledge informed their analysis of the questionnaires and was shared with the communities that read Sister Francis Pullen’s correspondence. This shared knowledge was, in turn, critical to Pullen taking an active part in the debates about the constitutions.

22The agency of the Poor Clares was, of course, circumscribed. The friars controlled the process and Koser’s aims for broad constitutions were influential. However, the International Poor Clares Commission did not simply gather and collate the data, Pullen and the other members of the commission shaped the questionnaire results with their analysis of the responses which were informed by their understandings of aggiornamento and renewal. But these General Constitutions, as we’ll see in the epilogue to this chapter, were not well received by all the Poor Clares.

  • 40 The grille, an opening with horizontal and or vertical bars side by side, was meant to ensure and p (...)
  • 41 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 30 May 1968.
  • 42 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 23 June 1968
  • 43 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 1 May 1968.
  • 44 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 25 June 1968.
  • 45 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 25 May 1968.

23Of all the topics that were debated by the Poor Clares, the diverse attitudes towards the monastic grille provoked the most discussion40. Sister Francis communicated a dinner-time debate of the grille where Sister Renild remarked that « Belgians find it unacceptable » and many wanted to see the grille removed but they had taken away horizontal bars so only vertical bars remained. The Germans were in favour of one grille, with an opening for shaking hands – but some wanted no grille41. In Spain, the majority want to keep the grille42. In the Roman Poor Clare monastery, the double grille extended across the church43. Sister Francis noted the Roman Mother Abbess was « really enthusiastic about removing the grille in the church. As it is we have an iron grille and venetian blinds (I suppose to make up for the fact that there is just one grille). The snag is that the people are very visible. As it is we can see them better than we can see the Mass. But she is not bothered about seeing them anyway, because we are all one “People” at Mass44 ». The questionnaire responses provided additional insight into the contested issue of the grille. Sister Francis commented: « It is interesting (though somewhat baffling) to find how many shades of difference there can be in two or three similar replies45. »

  • 46 FPA, questionnaire Summary of Results, p. 56.

24Question 46 which addressed enclosure asked what precepts should be « revised, adapted, or abrogated as obsolete ». The majority of the Poor Clares felt some revision was necessary – only 40 monasteries and one federation argued that « papal enclosure be maintained in all its rigour and that the same be strengthened ». But that majority had diverse opinions, a great many indicating the need to suppress « minute prescriptions and details ». Some suggested accentuating « the positive side » of enclosure: « The motive of love, of openness to the Holy Spirit who inspires separation from the world for the sake of a more perfect union with Himself. » And more strident opinions can be heard in the comment that « everything should be changed: All the present prescriptions concerning enclosure are out of date; they should be completely abolished and replaced by others which express an adult commitment46. »

25The oral narratives reflect these same contradictions. One Poor Clare who had collated local responses to the questionnaire reflected:

  • 47 Interview OSC 009.

We ploughed our way through piles of totally contradictory answers. Some people were saying if you don’t do away with the grille I shall leave, and other people saying it’s essential to my spiritual life to have a grille. So, you know. And I remember Father Urban saying there’s no way that um there’s no authority structure in the Poor Clares, as you’re constructed, to deal with this kind of contradiction. And he said this is why you need the Friars, but he also went on to say it would be very good for us all to have had to grapple with it or sort it all out instead of having it done for us47.

26These varied responses reflect each community’s perception of their terms of enclosure, and the place of the grille as a corporeal symbol of their separation from the world. Though space in this brief chapter does not allow a thorough analysis of this, these particular debates reflect not simply the physical architecture of religious life, but theological differences and in some cases a resistance to the spirit of the Council. This small example gives us a sense of the diversity of opinion amongst Poor Clares worldwide about the grille. Pullen’s correspondence highlights to her readers the acceptability of different views and practices even amongst federated communities. She also suggests to her readers the need for flexibility in the constitutions which would be necessary to allow this diversity to exist. That said, as the epilogue makes clear, not everyone was willing to countenance such flexibility.

  • 48 Interview OSC 007.
  • 49 Interview OSC 009.

27The reception of Francis’s letters is difficult to gage, though oral testimonies point to the impact of her communication. One interviewee from the Sclerder monastery, then in her twenties, related looking forward to hearing these letters read in refectory or at recreation: « Certainly we young ones you know were hanging on [long pause] every exciting word. » But she also acknowledged the tensions that arose from talk of change: « I don’t think everybody was quite so caught up in it or found it of such riveting interest as we did48. » An Arundel Poor Clare noted: « It’s difficult to remember really, but I think a sense of interest, people would always perk up when there was a letter from her and they were read. » But she also acknowledged: « I think there was a certain amount of cynicism, you know, how much difference it was all going to make in the end, um and I think maybe a certain amount of what difference does it make anyway49. »

  • 50 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 22 June 1969.

28There were various outputs of this International Commission of Poor Clares. The first was the corpus of documents that represented the histories and spiritual resources of the worldwide Poor Clare family. The second were the questionnaire results which were digested and analysed by the commission. These two outputs were critical for the development of a set of draft constitutions to be written by the Friars Minor canonists. Once distributed worldwide to the monasteries, the Poor Clares spent a year living the constitutions and experimenting; their feedback would be sent to the friars for the final revision of the constitutions approved in 1989. Father General Koser was sanguine about the end results: « They are sure not to please a lot of people, but, human nature, being what it is, we might have been able to foresee that in any case50. »

  • 51 These five were Poor Clare communities at Bulwel, Ellesmere, York, Baddesley Clinton and Arkley. Bi (...)
  • 52 BAA, CC/B/1/B/1, Annals of the Convent of St. Francis of Poor Clare Colettines, Bad-desley Clinton, (...)

29His insights were correct. Fourteen monasteries and one federation responded to the questionnaire by indicating they wished to retain Colettine observance within the constitutions. That would not have been possible with a constitution that was meant to be a broad umbrella for all Poor Clares worldwide. In a rather surprise turn of events, Mother Abbess Mary Francis Aschmann, who had become Abbess of the Poor Clares in Rockford, Illinois in 1964 and then head of the recently formed federation of 11 Poor Clare Colletine communities in 1965, wrote the text of what became known at the time as the « American » Constitutions. These American Constitutions were reviewed and debated by Poor Clares in Britain alongside the General Constitutions that were developed by the Friars and the International Poor Clares Commission. Five Poor Clare communities in Britain voted in 1974 for the American Constitutions51. Communities recorded various reasons for their choice. Some perceived the American Constitutions were closer to the Poor Clare Colettine Constitutions. They were « less general » than the General Constitutions and specifically defined poverty « less ambiguously… and… were more in keeping with the primitive rule52 » This debate on the two constitutions needs much more teasing out than this brief chapter can provide but reflects the difficulties and contested nature of the aim of a common constitution for the Poor Clares.

30The enclosed, contemplative life of the Poor Clares relied on boundaries that separated communities from the outside world and each other. The necessity of these boundaries and their permeability was changing in the 1960s and 1970s. The International Poor Clares Commission offered, for those nuns who participated, and certainly for those who were reading and listening to Sister Francis Pullen’s letters, a means of crossing national boundaries either physically (for 12) or virtually. We see being formed, in this epistolary correspondence, interactions, relationships and exchanges of ideas. Though the social and spiritual spaces where the 12 Poor Clares met and collaborated lasted for only 15 months, the exchanges and relationships were sustained over a much longer period for the women involved as well as for their communities. The collaboration that was a part of this makeshift community in Rome gives a sense of how the Poor Clares understood each other, and how their developing perceptions of similarity or difference influenced their capacity to work together. There was a desire for connectedness and coherence in creating what were to be shared constitutions that both accommodated and transcended difference. But some wanted to retain the strict observance that reflected their understanding of an unchanging Poor Clare life. Throughout these debates, we see women’s agency as they worked through the development of the new constitutions and the meaning of a Poor Clare vocation. The Poor Clares, whatever constitutions they chose, retained the autonomy to shape their juridical structures. The International Poor Clares Commission opened a window into the wider Poor Clare world and encouraged Poor Clares to acknowledge their differences. This unique case study examines how tightly boundaried, local, contemplative, enclosed communities operated and adds to our understanding of local, national and transnational realities.

Notes

1 Francis Pullen Archives [FPA], letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 25 May 1968.

2 This personal collection consists primarily of typescript copies of Pullen’s original letters and other documents. The original copies are not extant.

3 This section has been informed by Regis J. Armstrong (ed.), Clare of Assisi. Early Documents, New York, Paulist Press, 1988; Frances Teresa Downing, Saint Clare of Assisi, vol. 1, USA, Tau Publishing, 2012; Bert Roest, Order and Disorder: The Poor Clares between Foundation and Reform. The Medieval Franciscans, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2013.

4 Some scholars (and Poor Clares) refer to this as Clare’s Rule but Clare herself calls this her forma vivendi.

5 Beata Clara Virtute Clarens issued 18 October 1263 by Pope Urban IV’s (1195-1264).

6 Constitutions specified details as to spirituality, ministry and corporate organisation.

7 For an explanation of this early modern British context, see Caroline Bowden, « General Introduction », in English Convents in Exile 1600-1800, London, Pickering and Chatto, 2012.

8 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 22 August 1968.

9 S. Vertovec, « Conceiving and researching transnationalism », Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22/2, 1999, p. 447.

10 The number of monasteries and nuns within these 43 federations are not extant.

11 Lynn Abrams, Oral History Theory, London, Routledge, 2010.

12 Some aspects of post-war British Catholicism are covered in Hugh Mcleod, The Religious Crisis of the 1960s, Oxford University Press, 2007; Alana Harris, Faith in the family. A lived religious history of English Catholicism 1945-1982, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2013; Michael Hornsby-Smith, Catholics in England 1950-2000. Historical and Sociological Perspectives, London, AC Black, 1999; Jay P. Corrin, Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II, Notre Dame Indiana, University of Notre Dame Presse, 2013.

13 All interviews have been anonymised. Interview OSC 007.

14 Arundel and Brighton Diocesan Archives, letter from Paul Philippe to Constantine Koser dated 29 November 1965.

15 FPA, Questionnaire Summary of Results.

16 FPA, Officium pro Congregationibus et Institutis Franciscalibus (OCIF), undated typescript.

17 Translated from the Latin into the Office for Nuns.

18 Poor Clares, Much Birch archives [PCMB], Darlington Chronicle, p. 5.

19 Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives: CC/B/1/B/1, Annals of the Convent of St. Francis of Poor Clare Colettines, Baddesley Clinton, p. 379-380.

20 Interview OSC 006.

21 The Association became a Federation in 2009.

22 Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster: BU E.39, letter from Gabriel Taggert to Christopher Butler dated 11 October 1967.

23 Interview OSC 009.

24 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated [13 June 1968].

25 FPA, Questionnaire summary of results, p. 87.

26 FPA, Discourse of Very Rev. Father General, Fr. Constantine Koser, 8 June 1968.

27 Interview OSC 002.

28 These letters were also sent to an unknown American Poor Clare community who requested copies of Francis Pullen’s letters. It seems likely it was Mother Abbess Mary Francis (née Alberta) Aschmann’s (1921-2006) community as she was in touch with some of the British abbesses.

29 Sister Francis left the letters received in Rome; they have not been located.

30 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 1 May 1968.

31 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 2 May 1968.

32 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 2 June 1968.

33 FPA, questionnaire summary of results, p. 9.

34 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 30 May 1968.

35 John O’Malley, What Happened at Vatican II, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008, p. 163. O’Malley is discussing episcopal collegiality here but the term and this meaning can be used in our discussion on the developing relationships between Poor Clares and other women religious.

36 FPA, Discourse of Very Rev. Father General, Fr. Constantine Koser, dated 8 June 1968.

37 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated [13 June 1968].

38 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 16 July 1968.

39 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated [13 June 1968].

40 The grille, an opening with horizontal and or vertical bars side by side, was meant to ensure and protect enclosure.

41 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 30 May 1968.

42 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 23 June 1968

43 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 1 May 1968.

44 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 25 June 1968.

45 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 25 May 1968.

46 FPA, questionnaire Summary of Results, p. 56.

47 Interview OSC 009.

48 Interview OSC 007.

49 Interview OSC 009.

50 FPA, letter from Francis Pullen to Liberton community dated 22 June 1969.

51 These five were Poor Clare communities at Bulwel, Ellesmere, York, Baddesley Clinton and Arkley. Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives [BAA], CC/B/1/L/3, letter from M. Paula to Archbishop George Patrick Dwyer dated 9 March 1974; BAA, CC/B/1/L/3, Typescript dated 7 Jan 1974; Arundel and Brighton Diocesan Archives, letter from M. Paula to J. V. Healey dated 21 February 1974

52 BAA, CC/B/1/B/1, Annals of the Convent of St. Francis of Poor Clare Colettines, Bad-desley Clinton, p. 420.

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Birkbeck College, London

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