Elizabeth Fry vs. Clare of Assisi

Hey, today marks the very last matchup of the Saintly Sixteen! Elizabeth Fry faces Clare of Assisi in an attempt to join Herman of Alaska, Harriet Tubman, Hildegard of Bingen, Brother Lawrence, Margaret of Castello, Joanna the Myrrhbearer, and Joseph in the Elate Eight.

As hinted at above, on Friday Hildegard of Bingen took down Elizabeth the New Martyr 57% to 43%. This means that of the quartet of Elizabeths in the 2020 bracket only Elizabeth Fry remains. Will a single Elizabeth continue on in this year's tournament? Or will the four be barred from further Lenten glory? That's the decision you'll make today, friends. Now go vote -- it's the last full week of Lent Madness!

 Elizabeth Fry

“Oh Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone.”

Imagine an industrious nineteenth-century woman of conviction who, after giving birth to eleven children, had her eyes opened to the brutal and horrifying conditions of women in her society. Elizabeth Fry was so compelled to act and so efficacious that she prayed for guidance about what to leave undone. Elizabeth, called Betsy, was a devout Quaker and saw the inner light of God in every person no matter their race, social class, or the crimes they’d committed. She had the wisdom to understand the causes of social problems and the courage to change them, working to reform the status of women and for the cause of abolition. She is best known as a prison reformer.

“Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal.”

The prison officials at Newgate warned her that visiting inmates was dangerous, but she was not thwarted. In the prisons, she saw inmates starving if they had no family to pay for their meals, children imprisoned with their mothers and clinging to them as the women were taken away to be hanged.  Her goal was "to provide for the clothing, instruction, and employment of the women; to introduce them to a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and to form in them, as much as possible, those habits of sobriety, order, and industry, which may render them docile and peaceable while in prison, and respectable when they leave it.”

In the prison, she taught women hygiene and skills they could use to earn an income. She advocated that women should be housed apart from men, supervised by female guards, and separated by the severity of the crime. She comforted them and read to them from the Bible.

Prison officials were astounded by her results. The most dangerous and undisciplined inmates were transformed into model citizens of the jail, truly reformed and ready to live an honest life upon their release.

Like Jesus, Elizabeth Fry knew the transforming power of love shown to someone who thinks herself unlovable. She spoke up for women who’d been sentenced to death, arguing for the sentence to be lessened. When her pleas fell on deaf ears, she went with the condemned women to comfort them in the moments before execution.

She went from her work in the squalid jails to the palace, where she several times was granted an audience with Queen Victoria, who greatly admired her and financially supported her cause. For her tireless work and groundbreaking reforms, she was granted a key to Newgate Prison.

Fry’s accomplishments are so widely recognized in England that for fifteen years (2001-2016) her image was on the £5 note. On it, she was depicted reading to the inmates and the design featured the motif of the key she was awarded. In her memory, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies works on behalf of incarcerated women and organizes National Elizabeth Fry Week every May.

Like those who continue to honor her, may we all be so convicted, wise, and efficacious as to need to ask God what good works we ought to leave undone.

-- Amber Belldene

Clare of Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi is the first female follower of St. Francis of Assisi and the first woman to write a Rule of Life for a monastic order, what she founded as the Order of Poor Ladies and is known today as the Poor Clares.

She also is a saint for our time, living the #QuarantineLife cloistered with her sisters long before it was mandated for many people all over the world amid the current coronavirus pandemic.

Her austerity, fasting three days a week and praying through many sleepless nights, meant she often was sick and confined to her bed.

That didn’t keep Clare from participating in worship, however.

One Christmas, unable to attend Matins in the chapel with her sisters, Clare sighed, “Lord God, look, I have been left here alone with you.” Immediately, she was able to hear the music and liturgy as if she were in the chapel herself. She even viewed the baby Jesus lying in the manger, as the Gospel of Luke describes, which is why she now is recognized as the patron saint of television.

Like many of us who are staying home to prevent catching or spreading the coronavirus, Clare turned to a pet for comfort during those times she was alone — and once for a towel that was just out of her reach.

When a little cat in the monastery attempted to drag the towel to her, Clare chastised it for dragging it on the ground. The cat, as if it understood, responded by rolling up the towel and carrying it to her neatly.

Clare took social distancing seriously.

During the war of Assisi, members of Emperor Frederick II’s army scaled the wall of the monastery of San Damiano. Clare comforted her sisters: “Do not be afraid, because they will not be able to hurt us.”  Then she threw herself on the ground in front of a monstrance holding the consecrated bread for the Eucharist, praying, “Lord, look upon these servants of yours because I cannot protect them.” The troops suddenly fled, and the saint now is depicted holding a monstrance.

Clare also is credited with a number of miraculous healings — once healing five sisters at once by making the sign of the cross over them while delivering their medicine.

And Clare wrote a handful of letters to Blessed Agnes of Prague, through which she still speaks to us. They include the quote she perhaps is best known for: “Love Him totally who gave Himself totally for your love.”

 -- Emily McFarlan Miller

Elizabeth Fry vs. Clare of Assisi

  • Elizabeth Fry (75%, 5,278 Votes)
  • Clare of Assisi (25%, 1,792 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,070

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Elizabeth Fry: Portrait of Elizabeth Fry by Joseph Simpson, 1915. Public domain
Clare of Assisi: Detail depicting Saint Clare from a fresco (c. 1320) by Simone Martini in the Lower basilica of San Francesco, Assisi. Public domain.


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89 comments on “Elizabeth Fry vs. Clare of Assisi”

  1. I'm a little biassed today - Elizabeth Fry is a distant relative in my family tree

  2. I have to vote for saint Clare. She was not tall. And she had a healthy appetite, it seems. Visiting with her in Assisi is always very moving and her work is so admirable. I'm pretty sure Sister Helen Prejean, the saint-to-be, is a member of the Poor Clares. Don't quote me on that but please do affirm or refute. Cordially, rob

    1. I just looked it up: Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille. That’s a new one for me!

  3. I loved that Elizabeth Fry was on the five pound note for years in Britain. I so hope to see dear Harriet Tubman on our 20 dollar bill soon!!

  4. When presented with poverty’s pain
    Betsy Fry was not one to abstain:
    To the poor she brought ease,
    To the suffering, surcease;
    As a candidate she should remain.

  5. My vote for Clare is actually a cryptovote for Elizabeth, who wins hands down on what we lawyers call “the merits” for all the reasons St. Celia sets forth with her usual eloquence. I just can’t abandon my beloved Clare in her hour of need.

    Please pray for Assisi, and especially for the Church of England congregation of St. Leonard’s, with whom I worship when in my beloved Cortona. The core congregation is small, but it plays an important role in welcoming Anglican pilgrims and has a close relationships with the Anglican Franciscans and the Roman Catholic diocese. If you’re in Assisi on a Sunday once the corona crisis is over, the church is in Via Antonio Cristofani and the service is at 11 am.

    1. Davis,

      I'm voting for Clare because I serve a parish dedicated to Francis. But I admit Elizabeth is impressive, and against someeone else, I'd likely vote for. On a more personal note, I'm thinking that we served together on the Board of the Epsicopal Church at Yale back in the 70's. Yes?

      1. Yes, we did. I’ve noticed your name as well, and may have asked the same question a few years ago in a comment you didn’t notice and I didn’t pursue.

    2. Good to know. Thanks! I'll keep this in mind if I'm there in May 2021, this spring's visit having been cancelled.

    3. Oh, the day we can all travel again—seems like a long way away. I’m glad to know about this church. I like to sniff out Anglican churches when I’m abroad.

    1. What an interesting design. I assume the blank head in the center is us joining in the reading circle. Perhaps the Tubman $20 bill can show a blank head too as we witness slaves escaping to the north and sojourners also escaping to El Norte.

    2. Thank you, Gregory, for sharing the Elizabeth 5-pound note (my computer doesn't have non-American symbols).

  6. Though Clare is a long time favorite of mine, I had to vote for Elizabeth. Learning to pray about knowing what to leave undone is a need for me. I can see the good I could have/can do has been diluted by taking on to much. Through the story of Elizabeth it becomes clear how much power these is in a clear focus.

  7. This is so much fun, so much to learn, love the good humor and am always thrilled when Monday morning arrives to read who won on Friday! My first time with this and it could not have been a better year to join the fun! Many many thanks.

  8. I sometimes vote for the underdog. While I love Elizabeth Fry (my father worked tirelessly for the right of prisoners to mental health treatment) I also love Clare. I do not think, however, that she was "quarantined" by choice. Rather, she and her sisters were forced to be cloistered. She wanted an active life much closer to that of St. Francis. So while I am happy for Elizabeth Fry, I am sad that Clare most likely won't make it to the Elite Eight.

  9. Elizabeth Fry is in the lead and deserves the honour. She is certainly a much more relatable figure than Clare of Assisi, being closer to us in time and a familiar name to this day for her accomplishments in prison reform. But I voted with my heart for the follower of Francis.

  10. Elizabeth Fry is a saint for our times. Bless all who engage in prison ministries at perhaps a risk of violence. Let’s not forget the humanizing effects they may have on the guards.

  11. Elizabeth laid the groundwork for prison reform. We need to resurrect her call now more than ever as the corona virus, immune to walls could and probably will invade our prisons, homeless shelters and other places where the lowest dwell (not live).

  12. The last Elizabeth gets my vote today despite my imitation of St. Clare as I watched the Eucharistic Service on EWTN. I then joined my church for discussion and Morning Prayer on Zoom. Our new rector also does Evening Prayer and Compline on Facebook (God bless him,I'm so proud of Rev Sonny) I will be more computer friendly due to all this

  13. As we have begun conversations and laws re prison reform, St. Elizabeth could be our guide. May we not lose the inspiration and actions of Elizabeth.

  14. When confronted with the names of today's two saints it neve occurred to my that Clare would not win. I'd never heard of Elizabeth before! But upon reading about her I knew she would get my vote, primarily because I'ver done prison ministry for many years now and witnessed what a difference this can make in the lives of those incarcerated - just 'showing up' lets them know that they are not forgotten or throw-away people! What an extraordinary person she was and what a difference her staunch determination made.

  15. I thought I would vote for Claire but the writing wion me over to Elizabeth. Looks like I am not the only one to switch! Keep safe you all.

  16. My youngest child is named Elizabeth Clare, tough decision. But as she is a doer, mover and shaker had to vote for Elizabeth.

  17. Had to go with Elizabeth. She showed the kind of grit that many women undoubtedly had in Victorian times but of which many of us Americans are unaware.

    But if Clare comes from behind for the win, I won't be upset.

    1. And "Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal." Would that more people would take that stance!

  18. A hard choice but in the end I cast for Elizabeth.
    I have a thought: In addition to the official winner of the golden halo, I think that this year we should award and honorary one to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Like so many of our saints he has dedicated himself to healing others and working for our public health. Like so many saints he has been courageous and spoken up to authority to speak the truth.
    If anyone agrees maybe we can suggest it to the Supreme Executive Council.

    1. Brava. A "Declaration of Saintly Service." Expect to find Lent Madness excoriated as LIDDLE' LYIN' FAILING OVERRATED LOW IQ SAINTS WHO CHOSE SERVICE OVER RICHES.

  19. I have little patience with anyone, saint or otherwise, who fasts voluntarily 3 days a week and spends many sleepless nights praying and as a result spends a good deal of time sick in bed. Privation should be just that: private. If one's self-denial means that one cannot participate in the ordinary work of the day, then the practice needs to be reexamined. Especially if Clare's frequent illnesses required that others take on extra duties to make up for the sickly sister.

    Clare's achievements are commendable, but I'm going for the active saint rather than the cloistered one.

  20. I found this one to be the most difficult one yet. I love Clare for many reasons, but above all for her connection to St. Francis of Assisi and the lovely San Damiano. But Elizabeth Fry did so much for women in desperate need. So for her service she gets my vote.

  21. FIfty-four years ago I wandered into the town of Assisi, and spent an afternoon looking at the leathery face of Clare in her glass casket under an altar. How would she feel about being on this display... why did we (the church) feel the need to do this to/with her.
    I have held a bit of her in my heart ever since as an icon of a life that did what she could, and gave the rest of herself... as least her corpse... for the whatever use to mother church.
    But today, in truth, I think that she too would vote for Elizabeth.

  22. I voted for Elizabeth, a local saint, fully expecting her to be behind. We have so much need of her energy, commitment and faith today, not least in our prison service.

  23. You go, Lizzy Fry! I'm cheering you on from the sidelines as my own AVP workshop at the medium security prison in Shirley Massachusetts last weekend was cancelled.

  24. Clare because a young girl named Clare (or Claire) helped shovel my truck out of the snow.