Anyone meeting Sr. Clare Agnes Conforti for the first time would probably describe her as a quiet, soft-spoken woman—maybe even a bit shy. But one would need to be around her only a short time to become aware of her great—and quick—sense of humor and the fact that she is a veritable powerhouse of energy. For many years Sr. Clare was a Franciscan Sister of Ringwood, a congregation she first met when she made her First Communion at St. Francis of Paola Church in Brooklyn. That early childhood connection continued through her ongoing involvement in parish activities—right up to her entrance in 1955. When conversations about a merger between the Ringwood and Philadelphia Franciscans began in the late 1990s, Sr. Clare was a member of her congregation’s general council and so was actively involved in the various merger committees.
During much of her years in religious life, Sr. Clare ministered in elementary education both as teacher and principal, in congregational leadership, in formation, in spiritual ministry as retreat coordinator and spiritual director, and in social work. In 2011, knowing that the school where she was working was closing and that the Ringwood property was being sold, she planned to move to the motherhouse in Aston and began discerning where she would minister. Receiving a “chance” invitation from Sr. Christa Thompson to work at the Spiritual Center, Sr. Clare sent a resume without even knowing the job description. “I left that in the hands of God and accepted,” she explained. But she had an additional ministry search in mind as well. “My personal passion is to work with those who are poor,” Sr. Clare explained. “I inquired about going to someplace close to Aston and found Anna’s Place. Happily I am involved in assisting in some way with both the spiritual and bodily needs of God’s people.”
Sr. Clare’s work in the spiritual center involves coordinating the use of our five hermitages. Tasks involve not only taking reservations and recording payments, but also being on hand to greet visitors, providing a short orientation for first-time visitors, keeping track of needed repairs and supplies, and cooperating with the housekeeping staff. However, she finds great personal blessings in the ministry. “I’m involved in providing a place for each person to find God,” she explained, “a place to have precious quiet time to be in peace.” She recalled one man who, at arrival, couldn’t understand why his wife insisted that he attend a hermitage weekend. The next day he called and told her simply, “I found God!”
Sr. Clare continues to be a weekly volunteer at Anna’s Place, helping to prepare and serve lunch for the guests. The staff is never sure just how many folks will come and often there is concern over making sure the available food supply will stretch. But Sr. Clare enjoys the opportunity to chat with those who visit. “Their smiles, hugs, and gratitude are more than rewarding,” she explained.
Now just in case that’s not enough to keep her busy, Sr. Clare also helps out the pastoral services staff as part of the rotation team sending voice mails throughout the congregation announcing the deaths and funeral arrangements for our sisters and their relatives. Relaxation? Yes, she does, indeed, enjoy a number of activities in her spare time. “I enjoy walking, reading, listing to music, doing crafts, and exploring different recipes,” she said. That last—recipes—is particularly significant because Clare is an excellent cook and enjoys sharing that gift with others. She was actively involved with the sisters in her unit in preparing and serving the Irish Tea for the winners of the foundation’s golf outing auction item.
A busy woman? Very definitely—but perhaps Sr. Clare can best be described in her own words. “I make efforts to bring joy to others,” she once wrote. “I try to be down-to-earth, knowing my limitations while working hard to be as faithful as possible to my Franciscan calling.”
– Ann Marie Slavin, OSF