Brother Sun, Sister Moon display awe and wonder of God’s creation for Poor Clare Nuns

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Brother Sun and Sister Moon put on quite a show for the Poor Clare Nuns.

As he described in his hymn "Canticle of the Sun," St. Francis believed that everything was a gift from God; thus the elements of nature were his brothers and sisters.

It was a fitting song for the Poor Clare Nuns — a cloistered, contemplative Franciscan community that celebrated the historic total solar eclipse Aug. 21 with an afternoon of prayer and singing at their monastery in south St. Louis County. Of course, there were the elements of fun, too, with a lunch featuring black bean "eclipse" burgers, Sunkist soda and Moon Pies.

Leaving their cloister is a rarity for these women religious, whose mission is to live the Gospel in total poverty, through lives of prayer and penance. Their charism includes living in community, and participating in daily prayer, readings, communing with God and silent meditation.

The sisters were abuzz as they laid out blankets in the grass to prepare for a show of God's creation right in their backyard. Mother Mary Leo, the community's vicaress, said she was in awe of scientists' ability to pinpoint when an eclipse will take place, right down to the exact time and location.

"How any rational human being could know about that and see what's happening today and not come to the conclusion there has to be a mastermind behind this ... that doesn't just happen on it's own," she said. "What I'm praying for is that atheists and other people whose faith is kind of shaky ... they'll begin to realize there's got to be a God in control of all of this. Who else could do things like this except a mastermind whom we call God?"

As totality approached, it wasn't certain that God's canvas — the sky — would remain clear. Thin wisps of clouds occasionally cut across the bright sun, which gave the sisters a false sense that the eclipse was soon reaching totality.

"It's getting paler," exclaimed Sister Mary Stella as the sky dimmed. "Oh, no, it was just a cloud." Some of the sisters remained hopeful: "This too will pass," several said one after the other.

With just three minutes before totality, it was clear God's creation was taking a turn out of the ordinary. The cicadas ceased chirping, and the crickets took their place in song. Dark waves, called shadow bands, danced across the asphalt pavement. Crescent-shaped shadows peeked through the leaves from the trees.

And just like that, at 1:17 p.m., the clouds gave way for totality — lasting 1 minute and 56 seconds — revealing a brilliant, sparkling corona. In the distance, the booms of fireworks could be heard across South County over the shouts of joy from those who were outside to witness this moment.

"It made me think of Fatima from 100 years ago and the miracle of the sun," Sister Mary Stella said afterward. "They could look at it and see the whole sun without hurting their eyes. It was amazing how those clouds lit up from just that little bit of sun."

While keeping their eyes on the sky was a joy for the sisters, the focus ultimately must be on Christ, said Sister Mary Francis, who has been with her community 57 years. "As long as we keep our eyes on Christ, and try to grow in His likeness, that's what's going to change the world," she said. "We're all called to do our part. It really is a life of faith, we have to put our whole faith in Jesus. The whole moon surrounded by this bright light, to me that was picture of God's creation." 

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