Sr. Clare was born on November 14, 1982 in Derry, Northern Ireland. She entered the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother on August 11, 2001, at the age of 18. She took her first vows on February 18, 2006, taking the religious name of Sr. Clare Maria of the Trinity and the Heart of Mary. She took her perpetual vows on September 8, 2010. From the moment of her first vows, she served in the Servant Sisters’ communities in Belmonte, Cuenca (Spain), Jacksonville, Florida (USA), Valencia (Spain), Guayaquil (Ecuador), and Playa Prieta, Manabí (Ecuador). She passed away during the earthquake in Playa Prieta on April 16, 2016.
The following testimony was written by Sr. Clare herself in 2014, and she entitled it, “What a movie!”
“I hope this testimony will help your soul and help you grow closer to God, because being close to Him, you will be truly happy…
When I was 16, a famous hypnotist came to my city. I had seen him on other occasions in past years and I really enjoyed his show. I wanted him to hypnotize me, too. Before the show started, the hypnotist told us that only certain people with a certain mental state could be hypnotized. Then, he told the audience—there were about 800 people—to do a simple hand exercise, and at the end of this exercise, those with their hands interlocked could go up on stage, because they were the ones who could be hypnotized. I was with a group of friends in one of the first rows of the theater. None of their hands had remained interlocked. Mine had not either but I pretended as if they were stuck together. All of my friends started shouting, “Go up on stage, Clare! He’s going to hypnotize you!” I went up along with about 30 other people. We got in a row facing the public. The hypnotist came up to each one of us and touched our foreheads with the palm of his hand, saying in a deep voice, “Relax!” I saw how some of them fell into the chair that had been placed behind them, in anticipation of this reaction. The hypnotist sent those who didn’t fall back to their places, while the audience gave them a compassionate applause, seeing how they would not be hypnotized. Then it was my turn. He did exactly the same thing to me and I “fell” into the chair behind me. “I’m completely conscious,” I thought. “I don’t feel hypnotized.” And the truth was, I was not hypnotized. On the count of three, the hypnotizer told us to open our eyes but that we would still be under the effect of I do not remember what. With his back turned to the audience, he winked at us saying, “So, you know what you have to do.” None of us there on stage had been hypnotized. Either they were all actors or they were people like myself, willing to play along with the show of this “legendary hypnotist.”
The audience was completely convinced that we had been hypnotized—just as I had been convinced, when I had been in the audience on previous occasions. The show reached its climax when “Mr. Relax” told us that he was going to give a gift to each one of us who had been hypnotized. Our gift was a “leprechaun” that only we could see and touch. Nobody else could. This leprechaun would be with us until noon the next day. When I came off stage, everybody started coming up to me to ask me questions about the leprechaun. “What is he wearing?” “Does he have a beard?” “What’s his name?” “Is he looking at me?” Everybody believed me. I went home with my leprechaun “Dominic” and I took him to High School with me, too. Even the strictest and toughest of my teachers ended up buying the story.
A few years later, I was home with my family and a few friends of mine. We were all there together in the kitchen, like good Irish people, drinking our cup of tea and having one of those typical conversations that starts with the question: “Remember when…?” followed by a roar of laughter and knee-slapping. Seeing as we were all in such a good mood, I piped in saying, “Remember when I pretended to be hypnotized and have a leprechaun?” Everyone stared at me and there was complete silence. “Remember?” I repeated with a nervous laugh. “No, No,” they responded, “you really did have a leprechaun, but since you were hypnotized you don’t remember anymore… But, you did. You had him in the palm of your hand.” Everyone started talking at once, trying to convince me that it had really happened.
I tell this story because when I realized that God was calling me to the religious life, nobody could believe that God would call a girl like me. For many, it was impossible that I could have a vocation. Yet somehow, they could believe I had a leprechaun. Chesterton once said, “When men choose not to believe in God, they then become capable of believing in anything.” What an amazing quote! And what a sad truth! God can call whomever He wants, whenever He wants, wherever He wants… Why? Because He is God. Our Founder wrote a poem entitled, “Why me?” that says, “I will no longer ask ‘Why me?’ I will simply recognize Your freedom and give You thanks unceasingly.”
No Room for God
The truth is that I never thought of becoming a nun. I thought of becoming a hundred other things... but never a nun! I come from a small corner of the world called Derry, in Northern Ireland. For political reasons, there is a strong division between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. When I was living in my country, this conflict and discord was clearly palpable. I have always lived in a predominantly nationalist area that fought for a free Ireland, which implied a complete breaking-off from Great Britain. Perhaps coming from such an extreme, revolutionary family and environment is what has always made me an “all or nothing” person. Although we were Catholic, we’ve never been fervent in the Faith. I received the sacraments of Baptism, Confession, Communion, and Confirmation, but I never understood—and I never really made an effort to understand—what I was receiving.
I do remember when I was six or seven years old and I went to church with my mom and my younger sisters. It was Lent, and all the statues were covered with purple cloth. We went up to the choir loft and there we saw the Stations of the Cross projected onto a white cloth in the sanctuary of the church. While they put up the images, “Jesus, Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom,” was playing in the background. Although I was very young, everything that I saw and heard deeply touched me and I cried because I didn’t understand why they treated “that man” like that.
A Wild Child
Thanks to the encouragement of my teachers, I began reciting poems at a young age in the “Feis Ceoil,” a traditional Irish festival that includes reciting poems, singing, Irish dancing, etc. I also started singing in a choir and writing stories. Perhaps because my family and teachers insisted that I was a “troublemaker,” I had the idea that I wanted to do something great with my life. I wanted to be an actress—not just any actress—but a famous actress!
When I was fourteen, I read an ad in the newspaper that basically said the following: “For all those aspiring actors who dream of one day appearing on the big screen: this workshop offers you the chance to gain the experience and expertise necessary for working in cinema or television.” I went to the workshop, and thanks to its success I joined an acting agency. I got my first job on Channel 4 in England when I was fifteen years old, then had a few small jobs as a television host, and when I was eighteen I had a small role in a film. I loved theater, just as much acting as writing, reading and directing. My goal was Hollywood… seriously. Why couldn’t it be? Furthermore, my mom's palm reader said that I would be (ahem, ahem).
I was a bit (or a lot) of a wild child. I wasn’t bad with my studies, but being there in school six hours a day seemed insane. The only subjects that I was passionate about were literature and theater. My formation as a Roman Catholic was appalling despite having received my education in a Catholic primary and secondary school. Some friends from my class attended a weekend youth retreat. When they returned from it, all they talked about was the retreat. To follow up with the young people who had gone, a youth group began to meet every Sunday. I had been invited to one of these retreats several times and in the end I went to one. I don't remember that much, but there is one thing that has always stuck with me. We had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (I had no idea what that was). The Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar and under the monstrance there was a large picture of Jesus that read, “Jesus, Our Savior,” and I remember thinking, the same one who is in the box is in monstrance too? Is He looking at me? Is He listening to me? I think it was in the silence of that little oratory that I was aware for the first time that Jesus wanted to tell me something. As I made a lot of friends at the retreat they invited me to the group on Sundays. After a while, they asked me to give talks and be one of the group leaders at the other retreats. I was still really immature as far as my religious formation went. The truth is that I do not know what I talked about during the talks or what kind of example I gave, because I really had nothing to say. I really wanted to live to the fullest and do what I wanted to do in life, but God had no important role in my life at all.
In the World of Acting and Television
Sadly, from the time I was young—about 12 or 13 years old—I started going to parties and clubs and put myself in a really bad, worldly environment. I smoked and drank. Alcohol began to be a problem for me and I was incapable of living without a pack of cigarettes.
When I was sixteen and had already done some work on television I began to experience an emptiness inside me and I didn’t understand what was going on. “This whole thing of being a host isn’t for me,” I thought, and I declined a job offer for a well-known channel, Nickelodeon. Around this time, a friend of mine called me on the phone inviting me to go to Spain. She told me that it was a free trip, someone out there had paid for young people to have the same good experience he had, etc., etc. While she was telling me all this I just thought: “Spain, free, sun, beach, party! Of course I'm going!” I sincerely thought that we were going to go to a tourist island like Ibiza, but this trip turned out to be a Holy Week encounter in a small town in Spain where there was no beach, no sun, no party or anything at all (with all due respect, Viva Priego!). The man who bought my ticket—by the way, I am immensely grateful to him because I’m here because of his generosity—met the Home of the Mother the year before when he attended the Holy Week encounter. He was impressed and wanted to take young people there so that they would have the same experience. The truth is that I don't know why they thought of me since I was very superficial and a wild child. When I found out that it was going to be a Holy Week encounter and that it was going to be in a monastery with nuns and priests, of course I was not happy about it. But I had to go because my name was on the plane ticket.
A Free Trip to Spain
We landed in Spain, olé, olé! Thank God, in the group I had come with there were great people, including a man who helped me a lot, Paddy Mc Connell. I've always admired Paddy because he seemed like a man who believed and lived in what he was saying or singing. He had a lot of charisma with young people and was a man of a very tangible faith, a man of God.
What Are You Going to Do for Me?
During that Encounter, there were faith formation talks, team meetings, prayer, Mass... I only went to the things where I knew that if I did not go, someone was going to notice, for example, the team meetings. That is where I met, Fr. Rafael Alonso, our Founder. He was in my group. All of the girls in my group had great things to say about the Eucharist, which I think was the theme of the Encounter. When they asked me what I thought, I took the cigarette out of my mouth and said, "What's the Eucharist?" When they explained what it was to me, I did not experience any great enlightenment in the faith. I simply answered, "Ahhh."
Good Friday day arrived. I attended the Liturgy with a completely passive attitude. The moment came when all those who were in the church lined up in the central aisle of the church for the Adoration of the Cross. I saw that some genuflected and then kissed the feet of Jesus nailed to the Cross. It was the first time I saw something like that. I also got in line, not moved by any pious or fervent impulse. I just did it because it's what I had to do. When it was my turn, I got on my knees and kissed Jesus' feet. That simple event lasted only ten seconds. To kiss the Cross—something that seemed so insignificant—had such a strong impact on me. Tertullian once wrote: "There is nothing which leaves the minds of men so amazed as the simplicity of the divine actions which they see performed and the magnificence of the effects that follow." I do not know how to explain exactly what happened. I did not see the choirs of angels or a white dove come down from the ceiling and descend on me, but I had the certainty that the Lord was on the Cross, for me. And along with that conviction, I felt a great sorrow, similar to what I had experienced when I was little and prayed the Stations of the Cross. When I returned to my pew, I already had imprinted in me something that was not there before. I had to do something for Him Who had given his life for me.
Although I received this great grace, it is not that I immediately started doing penance and changing my life. Everything that someone says to Jesus when she has received a strong grace either in a retreat, on a pilgrimage, at an encounter—we say all this even with tears when we are “on top of Mount Tabor,”—we have to remember it, return it to say and live it when we "descend from the mountain", when we return to our daily lives, to our usual environment. St. Edith Stein said, "The Crucified One looks down on us and asks us whether we are still willing to honor what we promised in an hour of grace."
I Want You to Live Like Them
At the Holy Week Encounter, Fr. Rafael invited me to go to World Youth Day in Rome with the young people of the Home. It was the year 2000. I accepted the invitation even though I did not really know who John Paul II was nor what World Youth Day was. It was during that pilgrimage through Italy that the unmistakable voice of God began to speak within me again. I admit that I did not live that trip very well. I was more interested in going to the shops in Italy than the churches and cathedrals. But, is it not true that the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep in search of the one wandering sheep? Well, He did the same with me. He searched for me until He found the perfect moment to say to me, "I want you to live like them." "They” were the sisters, and to live “like them” meant being a nun! I turned up the volume of the music I was listening to on the bus, to drown everything out and not pay attention to what God was asking of me. The Lord did not compete with my music. He didn't yell at me, He just repeated the same phrase. I started thinking about everything I would have to leave: my dreams, the parties, my boyfriend… the list seemed endless and of course this followed with “I can't live this life, that's impossible for me, etc. etc. etc. ” And yet, the Lord assured me that if He asked for something, He always gives the grace and the strength to be able to carry it out. Without His help, I never could have done what I had to do to respond to His call and follow Him. Young people often ask, “How do you know if you have a vocation?” I will use the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta when they asked her the same thing: “When a girl hears the call, she knows it. Maybe she doesn’t know how to explain it, but she knows it.”
Sr. Clare on the pilgrimage in 2000
Why Do You Keep Wounding Me?
When I returned to my country, I continued to live as before (yes, ladies and gentlemen…) “But I fall back again into the things below, by the weight of my misery; and am again engulfed in the things I am accustomed to, and am held fast by them” (St. Augustine). However, I could never forget the sisters. It seemed absurd to me, there I was, surrounded by people, going from party to party, very involved in the acting world, and I could not stop thinking about the nuns. Little by little, everything that before I thought made me happy stopped having meaning, and I experienced a deep feeling of emptiness.
One night when I was partying with my friends, the Lord said to me, “Why are you still hurting me?” I understood that by my way of life and lack of response to what the Lord was asking of me, I was harming myself and also hurting God. It was not until I went to England to record the film that I deeply experienced the great cavity that was in my soul. Despite being with famous people, eating in expensive restaurants, staying in I-don't-know-how-many-star hotels, I really felt that that I had everything in my hands, and at the same time I was a poor miserable, girl who had nothing. Everything that I thought was going to make me happy and free only tied me down and deceived me. It was then that I said to God, “That's enough!” The peace that I have found with You and in the Home, I can’t find anywhere else. I have to take this step and it's now or never.” What St. Bonaventure said is true: Voluntas Dei, pax nostra: The will of God is our peace.
I'm Going to Be a Nun!
I think you can imagine the reaction of everyone when I told them that I had a vocation and that I wanted to leave everything to give myself to the Lord completely... “You're crazy!” There, another type of movie began, but the important thing is that I knew—with a strength that didn't come from me—what I had to do. Years later, when one of my cousins saw me, I had already been wearing a habit and was close to taking my final vows. He said, “Clare, I knew you before you became a nun, and now when I see you, I can only say that you are crazy or that God really exists.” Isaiah 55:8 says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord.” God knows what He is doing. We only have to trust in Him.
Honestly, the vocation to the religious life is such a great gift that it confuses the person chosen. God fixes His gaze on a poor soul so that she can live with Him and in Him, and in that way help Him save the world. That really is crazy… but, blessed craziness! We would be crazy if we did not respond to what God asks of each one of us, because what He asks is the best for us. We have been created for great things, not for comfort.
I finish with a few words that Pope Benedict XVI said with a lot of fervor and strength at his first Mass as successor to Peter:
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope [John Paul II] said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”
I attest to that. Viva the Lord! Viva the Virgin! Viva the Pope! And... vivan the nuns!
You have to say: Viva!
Sr. Clare Mary of the Trinity and the Heart of Mary