A year has passed since Sr. Clare Crockett’s death in the terrible earthquake that devastated Ecuador on April 16, 2016. Three candidates of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, Maria Augusta, Mayra and Jazmina, died with her, as well as a fifteen-year-old aspirant, Valeria, and Catalina, a youth member of the Home of the Mother, who burned with the desire to give her life to God in our community.
At our house in Zurita in Cantabria, Spain, because of the time difference, it was the night of April 16-17, 2016, and we had been asleep for hours. A few minutes after 3 a.m., an untimely bell caused us to wake up startled. After hearing the painful news, we went in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and spread the word to all our Sisters in Spain, Italy and the United States so that they might do the same. We also called our brothers, the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother, who immediately joined our prayer from their house.
A very good priest friend was passing some days at the Servant Brothers’ house, and when he heard the Brothers rush down to the chapel in the middle of the night, he asked what was happening. Later, he told us that, upon hearing the news, he had experienced “something like an explosion of life.” This feeling was so strong that he wanted to tell us, “Do not worry. They are alive.” However, he kept silent, because what came to his mind next was, “But, real life is Eternal Life.”
I do not know if I will be able to explain in the brief space of this article how true this priest’s words have proven to be. St. John Paul II says in Salvifici Doloris that, “In suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace.” It has certainly been so on a community level as well as outside of the community in the death of Sr. Clare and the other five girls. It has been a special grace that we have seen turn into an explosion of life, spiritual life.
Throughout the days following the earthquake and death of our Sisters, we experienced the closeness and affection of so many friends who surrounded us with their love and concern. The telephone rang off the hook, and every time we received e-mail, our accounts flooded with messages. We had to increase the server capacity for our website www.homeofthemother.org, due to the high number of visits. But they were not only friends and acquaintances who called and wrote; several journalists, from religious media as well as in general, contacted us asking for information about the Sisters, especially Sr. Clare. News articles about them appeared not only where the Home of the Mother is present and active, but in places where we never would have thought and – in many cases - in languages unknown to us: Hindi, Chinese, Maltese, Croatian, Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Korean... Moreover, those who knew Sr. Clare, wrote us spontaneously to tell stories and situations in which Sr. Clare had been a help for them by her example, a word... Many strangers began to write, as well, and began to tell us how having discovered Sr. Clare has helped them. For many, it was a cause of conversion, the discovery of a vocation, the acceptance of a rejected vocation, spiritual growth and renewal... To this day, posts about Sr. Clare continue to be the most visited and shared publications of all of our social networks, especially when there are texts written by her, with that mix of spiritual and comical at the same time. Many social mass media outlets continue to publish articles about her. Testimonies about the good her life is doing to souls keep arriving. There are so many examples that we could write an entire book – little by little, we publish them on www.sisterclare.com - but I am going to try to pick a few of them out to give you an example.
From Columbia, Andrea writes: “I want you to know that the situation of our brothers and sisters in Ecuador has profoundly moved me, especially the death of the Servant Sisters. Nevertheless, we give thanks to God, because due to this situation, we have gotten to know the sisters’ story, especially Sr. Clare's. Her testimony has motivated us to continue giving everything for Christ. It has been an impulse for vocations that had kind of died out and that today, thinking about her, have been rekindled with a ‘new fire.’”
Another young person, named Regina, kindly affirms that: “Sr. Clare is turning my life upside down. I’ve seen the testimony about her life and her gifts, and I have read all of the stories and letters about her… She has made me think about the path that I should take in my life. Although I never met her in person, she is influencing my life and drawing me closer to God.”
Kary Rojas, coordinator of Catholic School Youth Ministry sent us this message: “I have taken her as a role model for the girls I work with, who sometimes feel like the world has overcome them. From the point of view of Sr. Clare’s life, I have shown them that it’s not true. The world can’t prevail over them because it is God's love that dominates everything else. We just have to let ourselves be loved.”
It is especially moving when those who write us are religious whom Sr. Clare is helping in their path of surrender to God. We received a testimony from Victoria Vasconcelos, a young religious from Brazil. When she discovered Sr. Clare, she was going through a time of difficulty respecting her vocation. Sr. Clare’s testimony helped her in such a way that she exclaims, “I praise you, oh Father, for giving us your abundant grace that is not limited by distances, tribulations, nor difficulties. It was your Will that I, a young northeastern Brazilian, be strengthened and enriched by your grace, through the example of a young sister who lived in Ecuador. Thank you, Sr. Clare, because your testimony has given me strength, and not only for when I have to teach a class. Rather, it has given me the strength to follow my vocation, and a persevering love in this path of religious life. Intercede for my vocation!”
Another awe-inspiring example is Sr. Magdalena Guadalupe, a young Discalced Carmelite. In her own words, discovering Sr. Clare “shook her inside.” “I felt tired, and my consecrated life didn’t have meaning. For some time I had been ‘addicted’ to the Internet, leaving my prayer life aside. When I learned about Sr. Clare’s life... it shook me inside... the love for Jesus, My Spouse, along with that of my community and my consecration came back. Also, everything that was impeding my union with God became repulsive to me. It was so radical that, in that moment, I called my superior. I renewed my consecration and, in her presence, I destroyed and erased everything that was harming me and impeding me in my path towards Jesus. I know that I was able to do so thanks to the testimony of Sr. Clare’s life. It renewed my love and gave vitality to my consecration. Without a doubt, she interceded for me and changed my heart.”
There is something characteristic about the messages we receive: the fact that many describe Sr. Clare as a friend without having known her. Often, we receive messages such as, “I wanted to share with you what her life has given to mine and now that I know her, we have become spiritual friends.” “I thank God for her... now that she is my friend and model.” “I felt a deep affection, closeness, and friendship between Sr. Clare and I.” “She is a great friend in Heaven, and I continue to speak with her as the friend that she is.” “I experienced Sr. Clare as a sister, friend, companion, and confidant, who sheltered my soul with love and tenderness.” “Although I never met her in person, she knows me... I feel like I have a friend in Heaven. Since the day I heard about her, her life has not stopped being a beautiful motivation.”
Looking back, I cannot help but laugh remembering our reaction on the day after her conversion - which had been on Holy Friday, 2000 - when she took the microphone during the assembly at the Holy Week Encounter and said in front of everyone that she had always wanted to be a famous actress, but now discovered that she had to be a nun. She then thought that perhaps she could be “a famous nun.” We laughed a lot about her conclusion, but only one person in that room took her seriously: Fr. Rafael, Founder of the Home of the Mother. He answered her immediately, “Clare, if you want to be a famous nun, you will have to be very humble.”
Indeed, Father made it very clear to Sr. Clare from the start. A religious cannot become “truly famous” by her natural talents, but by her virtues. For although natural talents may procure the consecrated woman a “certain fame” for some time, without solid virtues, she will be as St. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). When one reads what people write about Sr. Clare and listen to their memories, it is obvious that Sr. Clare was not “a clanging cymbal” that simply made noise. If Our Lord was able to make Sr. Clare a “famous nun,” and her story reached the news worldwide, it is because Sr. Clare walked decidedly on the path of humility and placed all of her natural talents at the service of God’s glory and well-being of souls.
In this sense, Sr. Clare herself wrote to a young woman in 2009: “Like you said, Father had a lot of faith in me and has helped me a lot, but I made the effort to do what he told me.” God does not deny His grace to anyone, but we are free to either accept it or not. Sr. Clare decided to accept it, “With a very determined determination to not stop until reaching the end” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection 21. 2). Obedience, charity, and sacrifice were virtues that stood out in her. Sr. Ana Maria Lapeña, who was her superior one year, confirms this reality in her testimony: “I still have no idea what things were harder or easier for her because she always reacted the same way, no matter what you asked of her or the circumstances at the time. At the end of that year, I thought, ‘I want to learn to obey like that.’ What I saw in her was exactly what we profess in our vows: a speedy, joyful, unconditional, and constant obedience.” Sr. Mary Donovan, who spent some days with Sr. Clare during Christmas 2015, three months before her death, tells us, “When I saw Sr. Clare, after having not seen her for a long time, she seemed different to me and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, she has completely given of herself here.’ Her face and her voice, completely worn-out from all the work and apostolate, made me reflect a lot on my own surrender to God and if I was really giving all I could to bring souls to God.”
For Sr. Clare, nothing seemed too much for Christ. This excerpt from an e-mail she wrote to Fr. Rafael on April 8, 2015, explains what I mean: “Even though Good Friday is a sad day, I do not know how to explain the joy and enthusiastic desire I have to suffer for the Lord. Everything seems so little to me: the lack of sleep, the fast, the heat, having to attend the people... Everything that can be hard for me fills me with joy because it allows me to be close to Our Lord. [...] I was in front of the Cross for a while, praying for the grace to never, ever forget what Our Lord and the Virgin Mary have suffered for me.”
May Our Lord grant that the example of Sr. Clare’s life of surrender lead us to an ever greater personal surrender. To us, may “nothing seem too much” for Christ.