Part of the world yet apart from the world: The Poor Clares live in cloistered community, praying daily, beginning at 12:30 a.m. with Office of Matins and again at 4:55 a.m. for Lauds. These two times for prayer are among the times selected to gather for prayer throughout the day and are part of the Divine Office.
During the day the sisters pray other parts of the Divine Office with time set aside for tasks, among them: cooking, sewing, gardening and carpentry.
This year, the sisters also paused to celebrate the anniversaries of two of their own: Mother Marie Thérèse Tremblay marked her 65th anniversary as a Poor Clare and Sister Rose Marie Tremblay marked her 25th; they are also blood sisters.
Born in the province of Québec in Canada, the two, who were part of a family of 12 children, spoke French as their first language.
Sister Marie Thérèse, the fourth child of Arthur and Rose Tremblay, left home at 18 to begin life as a Poor Clare in a monastery in France where she professed her first vows Aug. 27, 1951.
She later transferred to the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, New Mexico where she took her final vows Aug. 27, 1955.
During her time in Roswell, Sister Marie Thérèse was assistant novice mistress and in 1977 became novice mistress.
And Sister Marie Thérèse continued to hone her carpentry skills that she discovered with her first project — to build a porch on the family home with her brothers when she was 12. She wanted to give her mother a place to hang the family’s wash.
She also learned to sew from her mother and used those skills at the monastery as well as cooking and gardening.
When then-Bishop James Keleher invited the Poor Clares to establish a monastery in the Belleville diocese, Sister Marie Thérèse, and five other sisters, moved to Belleville in 1986, at first living in the Sense Residence for retired priests as their monastery was being built.
In 1989, she was the on-site superior and elected abbess in 1990 after they moved into their new home.
With her carpentry skills, Mother Thérèse was able to reduce costs on their new building by constructing cupboards and doing painting and “outfitting the new monastery with tables and storage shelves,” the sisters said.
These days, Mother Thérèse continues to cook and sew but has set aside her hammer and nails for conversation with the two novices that now swell their ranks to 11. Describing her time with them as “Wednesday Wisdom,” the two novices ask Mother Thérèse questions about religious life and about struggle or anything else on their minds. At 86, she holds a good deal of wisdom and is willing to share it with the young, the sisters said.
“The novices ask what to do if they have struggles,” Mother Thérèse said. “If you are not struggling you are not living. With God’s help, we get through it.”
She describes her life at the monastery as “beautiful” because “we live our lives with prayer” in a community of “people that are very supportive,” she said. Of her anniversary, Mother Thérèse said: “We will do it quietly with three days of retreat and thanking God for all of the years here.”
Rachel Tremblay, later Sister Rose Marie, was not quite 7 years old when her sister left to become a Poor Clare. She wanted to serve God as well but as a missionary in the world, not in the cloister.
She studied nursing and then joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as a lay missionary. She believed she would be sent to minister with the native peoples in northern Canada.
However, God had other plans for Rachel. She was asked to go to Chad, a landlocked country in north central Africa where it was extremely hot, she said.
Rachel spent 20 years at a clinic there, first in the parish church and later in a cinder-block building where she practiced her healing skills, nursing the sick back to health and delivering almost 3,000 babies.
While in Chad, her sister in the cloister not only prayed for her and her patients but Mother Thérèse also collected medical supplies for Rachel to use in Chad.
After returning to Canada after 20 years in the missions, Rachel needed to discern what God had in store for the next chapter in her life.
On a retreat, she had a conversation with a priest who said to her: “You have served the Lord as Martha, and now you will become Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet.”
Rachel contacted her sister, Mother Thérèse, who invited her to “come and see.” She joined the Poor Clares while they were still living at the Sense Residence in 1989 and moved with them into the new monastery.
She became the community’s first novice and received the name Sister Rose Marie of Our Lady of Mercy in 1990, making her first vows Oct. 12, 1991. She made her final vows Sept. 24, 1994.
Sister Rose Marie said it was difficult to learn English at first, but as she read the Gospels in English it became easier. At the monastery she is the infirmarian, the choir sacristan and main gardener.
Now 74 and celebrating her 25th anniversary, she expressed surprise at the women who want to abort their babies. “In Chad,” she said, “we tried to save lives.”
Now, as a Poor Clare, when she is praying, she prays for the sick and the poor throughout the world, in addition to those in Chad. The people in Chad “were poor, but they respected life.”
A family celebration earlier this summer was open to the public. Four of her siblings came to the celebration.
For more information on the Poor Clares, please go to poorclares-belleville.info