By Sr. Mary Augustine FHIC
Blessed Maria Clara of the Child Jesus (Libania) was born in a noble family on June 15, 1843 in Lisbon. Libania was the daughter of Nuno Tomas de Mascarenhas Galvão Mexia de Moura Teles e Albuquerque and Maria da Purificação Sa Ferreira.
Orphaned at the age of fourteen, Libania entered boarding school and was later looked after by the Marchioness, a friend of her parents. Though she enjoyed the luxuries of life, the cry of those with nothing and with nobody, challenged her. To respond to this cry, she entered the Convent of Saint Patrick and there she exchanged her luxurious dresses for a simple habit of a religious, receiving the name Sister Maria Clara of the Child Jesus. She was professed on April 14, 1871. Maria Clara assumed the office of Superior of all the Sisters who had pronounced their vows with her. Thus, on May 3, 1871 was born the Congregation of the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Poor for the Love of God, which was later called the Portuguese Hospitaller Sisters and today is known as Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Mother Clara was a woman of prayer, determination, kindness, humility, mercy and compassion. She gave herself totally and courageously, to make her life a gift of love, hope and comfort to all; especially to the sick, the elderly, the orphaned, the poor, the needy and the abandoned of society. While caring for their physical needs, she took care of their spiritual needs as well. Where there was someone in need of food, shelter, clothing, spiritual guidance, consolation or the Word of God, she reached out to them.
Her frequent exhortation, “Let us work with love and for love”, was a synthesis of her life. Charity was at the very core of her being. She was known as “A Sister to the poor – A face of the tenderness and mercy of God.”
She accepted with serenity and faith all the sufferings that she faced. She would say “Nothing happens in this world without Divine permission” or Accept everything as coming from the hands of God.”Under the coordination, dynamism and initiative of the good Mother Clara, the Congregation was led to a rapid expansion in Portugal, further extending to Angola, Goa, Guinea and Cabo Verde.
On December 1, 1899 at the age of 56, Mother Clara died, but she continues to live in the heart of all the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters, spread throughout the following countries: Portugal, Angola, São Tome, Guinea, Italy, India, Philippines, East Timor, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Mozambique, Spain, United States and Mexico. Mother Clara was beatified on May 21, 2011.
The Sisters first came to the U.S. in 1960, to the the Diocese of San Jose in California, to render their services in the field of education and then spread to different Dioceses. At present the sisters are involved in pastoral Ministry, Religious education, caring for the elderly, the sick and rendering service to the developmentally disabled. In the Diocese of San Jose, the sisters are involved in Pastoral Ministry at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church.
In June the Sisters will be celebrating the 175th Birth Anniversary of their Foundress, Blessed Maria Clara. This Jubilee Celebration will be held on June 23 at 10 a.m. at Saint Joseph Parish, Los Banos, presided by the Most Rev. Armando X. Ochoa, Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno; followed by a reception at New Bethany Auditorium, 1441 Berkeley Dr., Los Banos. All are cordially invited.