The Little Sisters of St. Clare
Mother Gloria Mary Goller
“Love God, serve God. Everything is in that.” -- St. Clare of Assisi
Although the history of The Little Sisters of St. Clare officially begins in 2002, with its recognition by the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, its roots extend back much further, into the last quarter of the twentieth century. Life in The Episcopal Church requires religious life to both adhere to the essentials of the Christian faith and to creatively examine how to serve the church and the world in order to live the Gospel today.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Gloria Gayle Lutz Goller, the founder of The Little Sisters of St. Clare (LSSC), turned aside from the privileged social life of the wife of a community leader to respond to a call to live a more spirit-filled life. She gathered about 10 women for weekly prayer, meditation, and spiritual development in her home. She taught them meditation, Bible study, centering prayer and offered spiritual direction; later the group added Franciscan studies and began praying the rosary. This fellowship group continued for more than 25 years, and became the nurturing ground for women seeking a deeper monastic spirituality.
Gloria’s initial call to follow the footsteps of Francis and Clare began when she and Sally Sulonen, a founding member of the weekly prayer group, joined The Society of St. Francis (TSSF) as Associates. There, they realized their Franciscan hearts as they embraced the Franciscan charism, a form of life centered on the practice of evangelical poverty as a means and a sign of a spiritual poverty that can be filled only by divine grace.
As time went on, Gloria’s dream was to found a community specific to the spiritual transformation and conversion of women that used monastic practices to follow more directly the spirituality of Francis and Clare. She envisioned a community that responded to women’s longing to know this life has a purpose and that beyond this life lies another. Her vision guided her to form women’s community devoted to spiritual formation. It took her a while to find a home for her vision. But like Francis and Clare, she held firm to her dream throughout her lifetime and pursued it faithfully through challenges, disappointments, blessings and gifts of grace. Mother Gloria-Mary died on January 18, 2012 at age 97.
Before Mother Gloria-Mary’s death she called Sr. Dorothy-Anne Kiest to be the next leader of the community. Mother Dorothy-Anne ably led the community throughout a period of growth. The community moved from a single group on Bainbridge Island to three chapters in the greater Puget Sound area. Mother Dorothy-Anne also encouraged the Community to examine our purpose as a community and our guiding documents. She also moved to a style of shared leadership, inviting other members to help shepherd the Community. In 2015 Sr. Dorothy-Anne Kiest oversaw the first election of a new Mother Guardian, Sr. DedraAnn Bracher, as well as other Community leaders.
While we have grown to an expanded community of twelve sisters, two novices, and several companions and friends, we continue to hold fast both to our full respect for the monastic life, and to our focus on our mission: “to do what we can to bring out of the enclosure and into the churches, some degree of the contemplative gifts of St. Clare” (LSSC Manual, p. 4). We embrace the calling of all Christians to be Christ-like, and live out that calling under the evangelical counsels of simplicity, fidelity, and purity, as our particular way of responding to the Gospel.
We take joy in experiencing our monastic community as an expression of tradition and stability. We continue to be rooted in monastic practices of contemplative prayer and active ministries to others in our local congregations and beyond. We continue the difficult navigation between transcendence and practicality, between developing an interior life while serving others, between a practice of contemplative prayer that is intertwined with a commitment to activism. We continue to gather monthly, just as those first women gathered for prayer and formation with Gloria nearly forty years ago. We continue to ask ourselves the central questions: Who and what are we? What is the purpose of our religious life? Why and for whom do we exist in the first half of the twentieth-first century? Like Mother Gloria-Mary, we acknowledge our need to move flexibly in changing times and challenges, to foster new leadership, and to be open to the Spirit’s calling.