Blessed Ortolana de Offreduccio


Blessed Ortolana of Assisi, known as Hortulana or Ortolana, was the mother of St. Clare, the holy foundress of the Order of Poor Clares. Descended from a very noble family, and from her youth was devoted to piety. She took particular pleasure in making pilgrimages to holy places, and in company with a pious relative, she also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Often, she visited the tombs of the holy princes of the apostles at Rome and other shrines in Italy.

At the wish of her parents, she entered into marriage with Favarone de Offreduccio, a scion of one of the foremost families among the nobility in Assisi. Her new station in life, however, was no hindrance to her in continuing to lead a truly God-fearing life. When the time of her first confinement arrived, she prayed fervently before a crucifix for a happy delivery. Then she heard a voice that spoke to her: “Fear not, you will give birth to a light that will enlighten the world with its brilliance.” Soon afterward she happily gave birth to a daughter to whom she gave the name of Clare, that is, “the brilliant one.” How devoutly she reared her children can be attested by their later sanctity.

Blessed Ortolana de Offreduccio

When Clare had grown into a young woman, she founded, under the direction of our holy Father St. Francis and in contempt of all earthly pleasures, the Order of Poor Clares in a poor convent near Assisi. Her two sisters, St. Agnes and Beatrice, followed her into the convent she had founded, and after the death of her husband, Ortolana also entered the same convent, in order to close her life under the guidance of her saintly daughter. There she led so a saintly life that almighty God glorified her by many miracles in life and after her death.

Pious sentiment drew Blessed Ortolana to places of pilgrimages, and as long as domestic duty did not demand her attention, she made extensive pilgrimages. That the practice was pleasing to God and that she obtained many graces from it can be deduced from her saintly life and holy death. Almighty God Himself prescribed in the Old Testament that the Jews were annually to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, and, according to the testimony of the Gospel, Jesus, with Joseph and Mary, made this pilgrimage at the cost of a journey of several days. There can, therefore, be no doubt that pilgrimages are good in themselves and highly pleasing to God.

The so called Second Order of St. Francis, that of the Poor Ladies, was established in 1212. This happened when St. Clare of Assisi left her home and placed herself under the guidance of the Little Poor Man, adopting the same life of poverty as that of the Friars Minor and living a cloistered, contemplative life of prayer, penance, and work. Clare was soon joined by others; and Francis gave them a rule similar to that of the Friars Minor. In 1253, shortly before her death, St. Clare received papal approval for her rule; and after her canonization in 1255 the Poor Ladies were styled Poor Clares.

Early in the sixteenth century, the First Order of Saint Francis was divided into three autonomous branches: the Observant Friars Minor, the Conventual Friars Minor, and the Capuchin Friars Minor. Subsequently, within the ranks of the Observants, several stricter groups were formed, especially the Discalced, Reformed, and Recollect Friars Minor. Never entirely independent branches, these atter were united once more by Pope Leo XIII in 1897; and since then, they are called simply the Order of Friars Minor, and popularly, the Franciscans. The Conventuals and the Capuchins have continued as separate orders, although they, like the Franciscans, observe the rule which St. Francis gave his First Order in 1223. Each of the three branches of the First Order, however, has its own general constitutions and its own superior general, called minister general. 

Since the death of St. Francis in 1226, numerous additional Franciscan religious congregations of priests, brothers, and especially sisters have been founded, many of them in modern times. They adapted the rule of the Third Order Secular to the religious life in the strict sense, and hence all of them together comprise what is called the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. Pope Pius XI gave them a uniform basic rule in 1927. There is one order of priests and brothers which is known as the Third Order Regular properly so called. It was founded in 1447 and uses the initials T.O.R. but all the other Franciscan religious congregations, for instance the Society of the Atonement or Graymoor Friars, the various Franciscan brotherhoods, the numerous Franciscan sisterhoods are all included in the Third Order Regular.

*from The Franciscan Book of Saints by Marion A. Habig, OFM

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