Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity feature Brother Paul R. Clark, OFM Conventual as our April Franciscan Moment Feature.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
A native of Louisville, KY I met the friars at St. Louis University (SLU) where I earned a bachelor’s degree. Twenty-five years ago this month I professed vows on the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (7/31) which is fitting because St. Louis U. is a Jesuit University. I am a friar-brother who ministers in a non-church oriented ministry: I am a Registered Nurse who teaches and researches key nursing issues (such as workplace bullying and workplace stress) at the University of Louisville School of Nursing. Nursing students are the most fabulous students to teach as they are motivated to become professionals and sincerely want to help people
What attracted you to the Franciscans?
Fr. Mario Ross was the campus minister in the dorm where I lived at SLU. He dressed casually, not like a student, but like a campus minister: shorts (when it was warm) or slacks and a black, roman collared shirt with sandals. He was deeply spiritual and very student focused. During finals week he brought boxes of pizza to the dorm floors where we students lived, sat and shared pizza, and then packed up and moved to the next floor. He was kind and gracious and made a positive impression on me. He invited me to live in the friary over two summers while I was an undergrad, and that is where I met and got to know several other really fantastic friars.
What is the challenge of being a friar today?
Poverty and chastity are two vows that we friars (and other religious men and women) take that are not valued by society until after people get to know us. I worked as an Emergency Nurse for a number of years and co-workers would ask me how I bore the difficulty of not having a spouse. I talked about the freedom of having a religious community to root in along with the wings to work locally, nationally, and internationally with the people of God, sick patients, our Franciscan students, etc. No one understood how I could give up “control” of the money I earned, until I pointed out that because of their family’s financial obligations (child’s education, house & car payments, food, utilities, etc.) they generally don’t have control of their money either! After they understood the life which I and the other friars lived (and in some ways the similarities between the our lives), they understood the value of the vows. I believe they find value in the vows after experiencing the power of God in their lives through us friars.
What story or words of St. Francis are dear to you?
I love the story about Francis and the leper. The pre-conversion Francis, the knight and man-about-town, encounters a leper which made him quite afraid. People with leprosy were greatly feared because leprosy was/is so contagious. Francis overcame his fear, saw the Christ in that person who had leprosy, hopped off his horse, and hugged that man. By facing his fears, he overcame them, and he provided a moment of compassion and generosity for a person who generally was ignored at best and feared at worst. More interestingly, the leper almost immediately disappeared, leading some to speculate that the leper was actually Christ, providing Francis an opportunity to deepen his conversion experience.
Is there any past experience that is especially meaningful to you?
When I was a “novice” friar in coastal California, in my third year of formation (training before vows), I would often drive to the shore at Moñtana de Oro state park. I would sit on the sand dunes, perched 150 feet above the shore, and pray, read, and watch the waves crash over the rough, rocky beach below. The sea is amazingly spiritual and healing, and I loved falling in love with God on the shore up on those dunes.
May the Lord bless you, Brother Paul!