When the Rockford Diocese was established in September, 1908, Right Reverend Peter James Muldoon was appointed the first Bishop. Realizing the difficult work that lay before him and animated by his strong faith in the power of prayer, he desired to have a community of Poor Clares who would devote themselves to a life of prayer and penance for the welfare of the diocese. After repeated requests to Mother Mary Theresa of Cleveland for some Sisters to begin a foundation, it was not until March, 1916, that the first two Poor Clares arrived in Rockford.
For six months the sisters labored to set up a temporary monastic existence. Some of the outstanding circumstances that marked this early period of the history of our community were the hospitality of the good Franciscan Sisters of St. Anthony’s Hospital and the Dominican Sisters of St. Thomas’s High School during those first weeks; the kindness and fatherly interest of our beloved Bishop Muldoon; the motherly care and solicitude of Mother Mary Theresa and our dear community in Cleveland; the weeks of hard work while the residence on North Avon Street was being prepared for monastic life.
Finally, when all was ready, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered for the first time in the new little monastery June 29 and the solemn blessing and dedication under the title of “Corpus Christi” took place on the feast of St. Clare, August 12, 1916. Soon the arrival of more Sisters . . .
. . . from Cleveland increased the pioneer community to three professed Nuns, one novice, one postulant and one Extern Sister. Bishop Muldoon was untiring in his efforts, explaining to the people of Rockford, a city only one-tenth Catholic at the time, the life of this mendicant Order and recommending the new community to the care and charity of the priests and laity. During World War I, the terrible epidemic of influenza raged at Camp Grant and throughout the country. People turned to God and in prayer found their only help and comfort during this anxious time. The struggling community of Poor Clares thus became better known and God in His loving care sent them many loyal friends and benefactors.
Several postulants entered and to provide for the growing community Bishop Muldoon purchased a larger property on South Main Street in March, 1920. The building had been used as a Sanitarium and, although a very poor and humble beginning, it provided ample room for both cloistered and Extern Sisters for many years. The spacious grounds gave the solitude the nuns desired and soon they became expert at gardening and endeavored to help themselves in every way. A small chapel was arranged in the basement and six years elapsed before a more becoming dwelling for our Eucharistic Lord was completed. Bishop Muldoon gave permission for the Extern Sisters to visit all the parishes in the diocese and collect alms for the chapel fund. It was a happy day when the new chapel was dedicated in June, 1926. The marble altar and stained glass windows donated by generous benefactors were added later, completing the beautiful chapel that can be seen today.
The new monastery that seemed so near during those prosperous days of the early ‘20’s did not materialized until 1961. The dark days of the depression of 1929 and the years that followed took their toll and the savings of years shrunk to practically nothing. After the death of Bishop Muldoon in 1927, the nuns were blessed in having the Most Reverend Edward F. Hoban to watch over their community with fatherly interest. He directed the building of a brick enclosure wall in 1931-1932 and added a wing to the Monastery in 1934, providing a separate convent for the Extern Sisters.
The cloistered sisters lived in the sanitarium until 1960 and the construction of the long awaited new monastery building was begun. A novitiate wing rose up in place of the sanitarium and was ready to be moved into in 1963.
In the eighties, the community experienced an influx in vocations and it was deemed time to build a new infirmary wing to provide more cells for the aging sisters. In 1990 this became a reality. In 1992, the community was able to respond to the request of the Diocese of Peoria to establish a Poor Clare presence to pray for their priests and people. Then, in 1995, the Rockford community founded a new monastery in Minooka, Illinois.
The sisters continue to thank and praise God for His goodness to them through their many good friends and generous benefactors, realizing that these past one-hundred years would not have been possible without their constant care and support. Blessed memories also fill the minds and hearts of the nuns as they offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for His innumerable blessings, and as they ask Him to reward all those who do good to them for His sake. With affectionate gratitude they recall the heroic sacrifices of their dear pioneer Sisters and pray that the Light of Eternal Glory may shine upon those who have already completed their life work and gone to their reward. Hopefully they look forward to the day when they may meet again the joy of Eternal Bliss.