Today Franciscans remember St. Agnes of Assisi, the sister of St. Clare of Assisi.
Assisi, Italy, claims two of the most famous names in the catalogue of Saints. However, the story goes far beyond Saints Francis and Clare. Their lives before they changed their way of life remains the one difference between the two. St. Francis was something of a playboy before his conversion experience. St. Clare, on the other hand, was already a holy woman before she became a contemplative nun. Within her household, she gathered the women for prayer as they plied their craft at needlework. She generously gave to the poor, even using her dowry to take care of their needs. When she left her home in the dead of night, she left behind a household of holy women including her sister and her mother.
Sixteen days after Clare left the household, her sister Catarina fled to the Benedictine Monastery where Clare was living, resolved to live a life of poverty and penance with her beloved sister. Their uncle, Monaldo, had been angry when Clare had escaped, but he was not about to let a second young woman of marriageable age escape his desire to make a profitable alliance by marrying off his nieces to his compatriots. Armed with swords, he and several of the men of the household went to the monastery to force her return. She refused to leave. When he drew his sword, his arm withered forcing him to drop it. The other men dragged her by her hair out of the monastery, but her body became so heavy that it was impossible to move her.
St. Francis himself cut her hair and clothed her in the habit of penance and gave her the name Agnes, likening her to a little lamb. He then established a convent for them at San Damiano where he had first heard the message to “repair my house” from the crucifix that hung there. Agnes became abbess of the monastery after her sister Clare was unable to lead the sisters because of illness. Agnes nursed her sister until her death and died herself just a short time later. She and her sister lie together in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi.
She was not the last member of the family to join the monastic order. Their mother, Ortolana joined them as well and was beatified herself. Finally, a cousin by the name of Rufino became one of the three companions of St. Francis. Together they have enriched the history and the fame of Assisi, the birthplace of many saints.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator