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A Right to be Merry / Mother Mary Francis

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Can life really be "merry" inside a Poor Clare cloister? This happy book reveals the challenges, cares and joys of that cloistered life from an "insiders" view. The poet's cry, "O world, I cannot hold you close enough!" is the heart's cry of the enclosed contemplative.

No one who has not lived in a cloister can fully understand just how intertwined are the lives of cloistered nuns. Their hearts may be wide as the universe and bottomless as eternity, but the practical details of their living are boxed up into the small area within the enclosure walls. Cloistered nuns rub souls as well as elbows all their lives, and if they do not step out of themselves to get a true perspective, they can become small-souled and petty and remain immature children all their lives long. But, as Mother Mary Francis points out, they also have "as great a right to be merry as any lady in the world."

Nor is merriment all. "Hidden away from the glare and noise of worldly living," Mother Mary Francis writes, "we are enclosed in the womb of holy Church. I walk down the cloisters, and my heart moves to a single tune: Lord, it is good, so good to be here!"

Mother Mary Francis wrote the religious bestseller A Right to Be Merry in 1956, a loving, humor-filled semi-autobiographical account of the life of cloistered Poor Clares. The book was written at the direction of her abbess who hoped it would win a $1,000 writing prize to pay for repairs to a leaky roof. Instead, the manuscript was published by Sheed and Ward, and remains in print today, available through Ignatius Press. Mother Mary Francis helped found four new Poor Clare monasteries, including one in Holland, and led the restoration of two others. She was a strong voice for authentic religious life during the turmoil of the years following Vatican II. In addition to serving as abbess of a convent and of the federation of Colletine Poor Clare monasteries in the U.S., Mother Mary Francis was a prolific writer, producing spiritual meditations, plays, books and poetry. She died February 11, 2006, a few days short of her 85th birthday.

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