Lawyer ‘not giving up’ dream of monastic life
October 17th, 2012
By George Raine
It is said that half of the young men and women discerning the priesthood or religious life in the United States are facing a formidable barrier: education loans, and all other debts, must be resolved before candidates may enter into any formation.
Some give up on their dreams. Tara Clemens can’t say that the thought of turning away from her calling has never crossed her mind, while still owing some $98,000 in law school loans, but that won’t happen.
“I am not giving up,” said Clemens, who hopes to enter the cloister of a Dominican monastery, Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park. “After all the prayer and discerning that I have gone through the peace that I have that this is the path that God wants me on is stronger than ever,” she said.
Thirty-four-year-old Clemens, of Anchorage, has been accepted for the postulancy, or the second step in the eight-year discernment process in becoming a cloistered nun at Corpus Christi, and has made progress on lowering the debt that a few years ago was $115,000, with her own payments and through the kindness of strangers.
She is backed by The Laboure Society, a nonprofit in Eagan, Minn., which raises funds to help reduce student loans of men and women seeking the priesthood or religious life, and, in fact, Clemens raises funds for the society as well.
The fundraising campaign, with a personal goal of $45,000 – the average student loan for a person who has earned a bachelor’s degree – brought her to the Bay Area in September. It’s an exercise that, for her, was not natural at the outset, although she has since found her groove.
“I tend to be more reserved and introverted and also tend to be very independent and like to do things on my own,” said Clemens. “But one thing that through this whole process I have been blessed learning on a deeper level is how we are all called to be part of a body of Christ,” said Clemens, who added, “I see in my (fellow aspirants at The Laboure Society) and I have seen in myself a great desire to serve God by giving our entire self in his service for love of him and his church.”
In a phrase, Clemens seeks to offer herself, her gifts and talents, to Christ in the cloister, “in contemplation and prayer, for the salvation of souls.”
Her earlier life plan was to be a lawyer, and in 2007 she earned her degree at the Northwestern School of Law and Lewis & Clark College in Portland. She began practicing in Portland and Anchorage but found a void in her life. She became a Catholic convert and asked God, “’What is it that you would have me do?’”
She visited a group of nuns in Michigan – she found it a beautiful community but not a good fit for her – and that was followed by a visit with the sisters at Corpus Christi, to whom Clemens had previously written.
“When I walked in the door it was like coming home,” she said. “It’s a mystery, but the best way I can articulate it is that for me, giving my life in prayer and contemplation and penance, the cloistered life, as the popes have said, puts cloistered men and women at the heart of the church.
“You are right at the life source. Right at the heart. And so to be in that position and to be there praying for people, carrying people in my heart and prayer and giving myself completely in that way, for me I can’t imagine anything else,” she said.
Clemens added, “Most of my experience is with the Dominicans. And that is obviously where I am pulled. The joy and the radiance that comes from them knowing that they are doing God’s will is catching. It bubbles over into everything that they do and everyone they talk to.”
Clemens’ efforts can be tracked on her blog at http://supporttarasvocation.wwordpress.com.
From October 19, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.