My name is Sr. Clare. I am from Northern Ireland. I am 28 years old. I entered as a Servant Sister when I was 18 years old. Ever since I was little, I was known for my holiness. People looked at me and said, “I wish she was my daughter.” (
laughter). But, seriously... I’m from a town in Northern Ireland called Derry. I am from a Catholic family but only for political reasons. In Northern Ireland, there is a big division between Catholics and Protestants. I knew nothing about my faith. I remember when I met the Home of the Mother, I knew nothing at all. I was 17 years old and I didn’t know what the Eucharist was; I didn’t know that Jesus died on a cross for me. And I even went to a school with nuns. They always told me…because I was always talking while they were teaching. I didn’t do it with a bad attitude; I just liked to talk a lot. And they always told me, “Clare, empty vessels make a lot of noise.” They always told me that. And maybe they taught me the truth and I just had my head in the clouds and didn’t listen. And I was very talkative, always talking and singing. I suppose that the teachers saw in me a talent that I didn’t know I had. And I say this because I always wanted to be a famous actress. And not just famous in Ireland, but in the whole world. And I was very sure of myself: “This is what I want to do and I am going to do it.” That’s all there was to it. So I guess that’s the reason why my teachers told me, “You are going to go very far even though you are an empty vessel.”
When I was 14 years old, I belonged to an agency for actresses. I had a manager and he got me a contract. What does it mean to have a manager? Whenever there is a movie or they are looking for a TV host, they call you and you go and audition and they either make a contract with you or not. So when I was 15 years old, I had my first job as a host on Channel 4 in Ireland and England. It was a show called “Get With It”. It aired at 10:30 AM on Sunday Mornings. After that I had another job hosting another show on the same channel. And when I was 17 years old they called me to be a host on a big channel called Nickelodeon. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with that channel. Are you? Okay.
When I was 18 years old, I was in a movie that wasn’t very good. That’s why I don’t usually say the name of the movie. So I had a role in a movie…ok, the movie was called “The Passion”, the director was Mel Gibson and I was… (laughter). So when I say it wasn’t a very good movie, I mean that it didn’t have good morals. It was a movie based in Ireland, kind of like the movie “In the Name of the Father”. It was very violent. A movie that fosters a lot of hatred. I had a very small role, because in order to be famous you have to go little by little. You don’t get to Hollywood overnight. So when I was 18 years old I was in this movie, and after that doors started opening to more and bigger roles.
I was always kind of crazy. In school I was always the class clown. “Clare, imitate Mrs. so and so.” So I always imitated the teachers. I didn’t do my homework. Other people did it for me and I would give them cigarettes in exchange. And I was always doing things like this, and always talking.
I loved to party, go clubbing, go out, and I had been doing this ever since I was young. Ever since I was about 12 or 13 years old, I was already going to clubs and in a bad environment. So by the time I was 17 years old I already had a problem with alcohol. A pretty big problem. I say this so that you can get an idea of what kind of environment I was in.
One day, my friend Sharon Dougherty, Sharon Dough-her-tee as they would say in Spanish, called me up and said, “Clare, you want to go to Spain? Everything’s already paid for.” Now, Spain for me was everything that I had seen on TV. I remember a show called “Ibiza” and Spain for me was only Ibiza. And, the show had people going to Ibiza and they had a great time. There were beaches, clubs, etc. And since I loved that sort of lifestyle, I told her that of course I wanted to go! And on top of it, it was free! I couldn’t believe it. So she told me…and I really think that Our Lady had a hand in all of this, you are about to see why. She told me that everyone who wanted to go to Spain had to go by a house to pick up the plane ticket. She gave me the address and she told me that she would be there too. I asked her, “Who paid for the ticket?” And she told me the name of some guy that I knew who was a pretty nice guy. But it never crossed my mind that that man would be coming with us. So I went to the house and I knocked on the door and a man opened…he was an elderly man, maybe about 40 years old. 40 or 50 years old, and he opened the door and I said “Sharon Dougherty, my friend, told me that everyone who was going to Spain had to come here to pick up the plane ticket.” And he said, “Yes, yes, come on in.” And he brought me to the dining room. When I went in, they must have been praying the Rosary or something like that. But there was a group of 30 or 35 middle-aged people there praying the Rosary. And I said, “Are you guys going to Spain?” And they said, “Yes, we’re going on the pilgrimage.” And…I think at that moment I started to have a twitch in this eye. A pilgrimage? What are you talking about? First of all, Doesn’t that mean that you have to go to Mass every day? I didn’t even know what a pilgrimage was, but I knew it had something to do with going to Mass. And my friend who was there sitting on the sofa said, “Clare, I forgot to tell you, but we are going to a monastery.” And I started to say, “No, I am not going.” I told her immediately that I did not want to go and she said “Clare, your name is already on the ticket. You know that if you change a ticket you lose money.” And so I had to go. I had to go. And the funny thing is (it wasn’t so funny in that moment), my friend who invited me – her appendix ruptured 3 days before the trip and she wasn’t able to go. I remember getting on the bus to go from Derry to Belfast and my friend was there clutching her side because she had just been operated, and waving goodbye to us, and from the bus I was like, “You’re dead meat!”.
And this was my attitude when I got to Spain, to the Home of the Mother. I still remember arriving at the monastery. I was a very superficial person. I didn’t mean to bother anyone with my superficiality, but I did. Any girl that only thinks about herself and her eyebrows is a very big nuisance. So please, don’t be like that. So I got to the monastery and the first things I looked for were my cigarettes and a mirror. I thought to myself, “Where am I?” And this was all during Holy Week. I didn’t even know what Holy Week was. But it was an encounter that was going to last for 5 days in the monastery and we were going to participate and meditate on the Passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord. During the encounter we had small group meetings, and Fr. Rafael was in my group. We were all in a circle talking with Father and I was always like this in my chair, because I had no idea about anything that they were talking about and one day they were talking about the Eucharist and I asked, “What is the Eucharist?” Sr. Grace was there and Sr. Isabel was also in my group. Also, I talk with a strong Irish accent so nobody understood me. I remember talking in English and another person had to translate for me from English to English and it was all just a big mess. Now I talk with an American accent so people can understand me. I didn’t go to Mass or anything. I didn’t participate in the talks or any of the activities. And on Good Friday someone said to me, “Clare, today you have to go inside the church. Today is really important.” I think it was Fr. McDonnell who told me this, one of the priests that was with us. So I ended up going into the church and I sat in one of the back pews, with a very bad attitude. I saw everyone in the church get in line to kiss the cross that they had at the front of the church. So, I got in line with my hands in my pocket. I wasn’t thinking about our Lord’s Passion or anything. I was thinking, “What time is this going to be over so I can go get a drink?” And I remember when it was my turn to kiss the cross, and everyone who has participated in the Good Friday service knows that you have about two seconds to kiss the cross – you are not there for two hours or anything like that. I don’t remember if I knelt down or if I did a genuflection, but I remember kissing the feet of Jesus on the cross and feeling like a strong blow inside of me. It was as if God showed me that He was on the cross and the only way that I could console what I was seeing on the cross was by giving Him my life.
Now there was no use in making jokes, I couldn’t do a play to console Him, no. Nothing that I was capable of doing could console Him; I could only give Him my life. And all of this happened without my having any religious formation. I was a crazy girl who only cared about going to clubs, going to Ibiza, but in that moment when I kissed the cross, the Lord knocked me off my high horse. I didn’t understand what was happening because I hadn’t had an experience of God. This was the first strong experience that I had of God. And I remember going back to my pew and I started to cry and cry and cry and, I of course had a reputation of being a cool girl, so being there crying made me worry about what everyone was going to think of me, but I couldn’t stop crying. God clearly showed me that He had died for me and that I had to give Him something and that “something” was not just a Hail Mary, a Mass, or a small commitment…I had to give Him my life, and that is a scary thought. Because you want to be in charge of your life and I said to myself, I want to be a famous actress, I don’t know what’s happening but I can’t change, I can’t. However, I knew that I had to give Him something. Someone once asked me, “Did that really happen to you?” and I said, “If that didn’t really happen to me, I wouldn’t be here now dressed like a Sister.” God speaks to the heart, but what happens is that sometimes we do not listen, or we listen but we try to block out His voice. Father said today that we have to close the umbrella, “But if I do that, God is going to destroy my life; He’s going to complicate my life big time.” Before, I had everything: a ton of friends, a boyfriend, money, fame, people telling me that I was really getting somewhere, that I was great. I had a manager always patting me on the back, telling me I was going to go far in life, and in spite of all that I felt a huge emptiness inside of me that nothing could ever fill, nothing.
After I had this experience Father invited me to go on a pilgrimage to World Youth Day. I had a very bad attitude on this pilgrimage… I am going to give you an example of how bad I was on this trip. Everyone on the trip bought Rosaries, statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for their grandma, and other religious objects, and what did I buy? A lighter that looked like a toilet seat and when you lifted up the lid the flame came out. Everyone on the trip was amazed at my bad attitude. I bought one more thing on this trip. I bought the toilet seat lighter, and an orange and black bracelet with Chinese letters that were supposed to give you creative energies. I remember one of the girls on the pilgrimage went to Father and asked him to bless her Rosaries and statues that she had bought and I looked at what I had bought and thought, “I only have this. I can’t bring this to get blessed.” So, this was how my attitude was on the pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a time when you can receive a lot of graces, but it’s possible to go on a pilgrimage and come home the same person as when you left, as Father said today in his homily. This is an opportunity that God is giving you all to change your lives. This doesn’t mean that you all have to become nuns and priests, but you do have to be give yourselves to Him as He wants.
So in this pilgrimage I felt another “blow” in my soul when I experienced the Lord saying to me “I want you to live like them”. He didn’t tell me that with words, but I understood that I had to live the life of the Servant Sisters, that He was calling me to be one of them. I already knew that I had to give Him my life, but now He was showing me how I had to give it to Him: like the Sisters, in poverty, chastity, and obedience. Of course, I said “No” to the Lord. I couldn’t live without my cigarettes, without going to the club, without….I had a whole list of things that I didn’t want to leave, and on top of that I told God, “God, I don’t know if you know this or not, but I am going to be a famous actress, so there’s no way I can do what you are asking me.” I was 17 years old at the time. I went back to Ireland for a year to finish up high school and in that year, I received two graces that made me react. As I said before, I used to drink a lot. I used to love the party life, the clubs, etc. And one night I was in a club and I strongly and truly felt God’s gaze while I was in a bathroom at the club. I was in the bathroom, sick and about to vomit because I drank so much that I didn’t know when to stop, so I almost always ended up in a pretty sad state. The bouncers almost always had to bring me out of the club to the street. And many nights I was in the street, 18 years old and in a sad, sad state. So one night, I was there in the bathroom because I felt like I was going to throw up and I felt God’s gaze. Inside of me I felt the Lord saying, “Why do you keep hurting me?” And the other day someone asked me, “But, what was it like?” and I responded… I don’t know if you guys have seen the movie of “The Passion”, but there is a moment when the Lord is in Gethsemane and Judas goes to give him a kiss and the Lord looks at him with a gaze of love, but full of sorrow, as if to say, “You are my friend, how are you going to do this to me?” And that is what I felt and I felt it so strongly. It was like someone was looking at me. There were three bathrooms and I was in the middle stall and I thought that my friend was in the other stall standing on top of the toilet looking down at me to see if I was OK or not, that’s how strongly I felt his gaze. And his words there in the club were, “Why do you keep hurting me?”
Also, it was during that year when I had the part in the movie, and I had to go to England to film it. They put up all the actors in hotels and they pay you to be there. You go to eat with famous people, directors and you meet a lot of people. It opens up a lot of possibilities. One night I was in the hotel room sitting on the bed and I was looking at my schedule for the next day. It said that a chauffer was coming to pick me up, to bring me here and there. And I remember looking at it and thinking, “Ok, I am here and I have everything” and really, someone could look at me and say, “Clare, you are so lucky, you have it all.” And there I felt that I had nothing, that there was nothing that could fill me - not fame, not success, not human love. It seemed to me that everything reached a limit and nothing made me happy, and I knew that there had to be something more. I knew that the Lord was calling me to be His in the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, that He wanted me to give Him my life so that others could get to know Him. And there I was, putting other things in front of Him. So in that moment I did what St. Teresa of Avila says, that one has to make a determined determination to say, “Ok enough is enough, I am going to do it even if I die trying,” that’s how it is. I am going to do it even if I die trying.
So that’s what happened, I was making the movie in March or February and I knew that when I finished high school, I was going to go to Spain to give everything to the Lord. So when I told the kids in my high school that I was going to be a nun, there was a roar of laughter. Imagine that there are 50 girls in front of you and someone tells you that out of those 50 girls you have to choose one that you think will never be a nun. You would probably say, “that one over there, the one shouting and being crazy”. And that was me. My friends told me, “You’re crazy!” and my friend Sharon who had invited me to the Holy Week Encounter, before I left Ireland she told me “Clare, I need to tell you something as your friend, YOU ARE RUINING YOUR LIFE.” So my friends were all crying, my family didn’t understand anything at all because I wasn’t living very coherently. I said I was going to be a nun, but I said it with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. So everyone said to me, “Where do you think you’re going? They are going to kick you out of the convent in two weeks.” And God gave me a great grace and he enlightened me to be able to see that if He was asking me to do this, even though I was very weak and very poor and was such a character, He was going to give me the grace to do what He was asking of me. I would say that it’s like being on a cliff. You know you have to jump and you’re scared to death, but you know you have to jump so the Lord can catch you. His hands are there. You jump even though you’re so scared, but you know that the hands that will catch you are His.
I knew I had to leave my country, that I had to leave everything. I understood this perfectly. I mean, I knew I had to leave everything and it was like jumping off a cliff. I was losing control of my life because I was giving it to Him. And I knew that I was jumping – not into nothingness – but so that the Lord’s and Our Lady’s hands could catch me and give me back my dignity, my freedom, the truth about who I was. Because, as an actress, you have to wear a lot of masks. Even if you’re not an actress. We all do this – in front of this boy, in front of this girl, in front of my mother, in front of the teacher, in front of the priest… We’re always wearing masks. So, the Lord – with great love but also being demanding of us – has to remove these masks so He can show you who you are and then show you who He is. And that’s what makes you really happy.
So, I left Ireland, I left everything in June, thanks be to God, and came to Spain. I entered as a candidate on August 11, the Feast of St. Clare. And here I am, thanks to God’s mercy.