When I was a senior in high school, I had my heart set on attending a prestigious college a few hours from home. But God had other ideas. With the rejection letter that came in the mail came tears, disappointment, and a string of other decisions. I ended up at a university closer to home, where I fell in love not only with the vibrant Catholic community there but also my now-husband. When I look back on my time at school, I can’t imagine a better scenario.
Maybe that’s why the story of an Irish teenager named Clare Crockett so appeals to me. She too found that God’s plans for her life far exceeded her own. As a young woman whose call to religious life derailed a budding acting career, she ultimately discovered the joy of responding to the grace of ongoing conversion—a grace that God gives to each of us.
An Aspiring Actress. Born in Northern Ireland in 1982, Clare grew up in an era when the political significance of her Catholic identity carried more weight than its spiritual meaning. Protestants and Catholics were highly divided over issues of nationalism, and violence between the two groups formed the backdrop of her childhood. Within her home, her family was not especially devout; while her mother made Clare and her sisters attend Mass, she eventually stopped going with them. The girls began spending the Mass hour at a park before returning home.
As Clare grew older, it became clear that she had a talent for acting. “I wanted to be an actress—not just any actress—but a famous actress,” she once wrote. “I not only wanted to be famous in Ireland but in the whole world.”
By all accounts, this was a reasonable aspiration. Clare slowly but surely began to climb the ladder of theatrical success. Her liveliness and sense of humor were magnetic. And her impressions of people were spot-on. She landed a role in a movie and was even courted by the American kids channel Nickelodeon. It would likely take time, but she had every promise of reaching Hollywood fame.
An Unexpected Pilgrimage. As a pleasure-seeking teen plunged into the world of acting, however, Clare slipped into heavy drinking and partying. When a friend of hers called to offer her a spot on a trip to Spain, Clare assumed that she was agreeing to a week of her usual pursuits.
But when she went to meet the rest of the group who had signed up for the trip, Clare learned otherwise. They were a group of middle-aged adults holding rosaries, she recounted, amused, in video footage of her testimony. “I said, ‘Are you all going to Spain?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we’re going on the pilgrimage.’ I said, ‘You’re going on the what?’”
The group was destined not for a beachy tourist town but rather a sixteenth-century monastery. They spent Holy Week with the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, a religious order with a particular apostolate of evangelizing young people. Clare participated in as few of the scheduled activities as she could—one pilgrim recalls her trying to sunbathe instead—but on Good Friday, she reluctantly joined the rest of the group for the day’s service.
“When it was my turn to kiss the cross, I do not remember if I knelt down or genuflected,” Clare wrote in her testimony. “I only remember that I kissed the nail that went through the feet of Jesus and received the grace to see that God had died for me on the cross—for my sins, for my vanities, for my infidelities, for my impurity. . . . I saw how I nailed the Lord to the cross and that the only way that I could console him was to give him my life.”
“You Keep Wounding Me.” But Clare’s conversion was still far from over. Her habits were deeply ingrained and difficult to overcome. On one particularly bad night of drinking, she remembered standing in a bathroom stall, feeling sick. Suddenly, she felt a presence so strong that she was sure one of her friends was looking in to see if she was okay.
Instead, she felt a voice within her heart say, “Why do you keep wounding me?” Clare was in the middle of filming for a movie role. As she thought about the high-end hotel where she was staying and the fancy restaurants where she was eating, Clare realized that she felt unfulfilled.
“There I was—surrounded by people, going from party to party, very involved in the acting world,” she wrote, “and I could not stop thinking about the nuns.” With a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Clare began to confide to her friends that she was going to be a nun. Their response? “You’re crazy!”
But sure enough, when she finished high school in 2001, Clare applied as a candidate for the Servant Sisters in Spain. Flabbergasted, her family tried to talk her out of it. Clare’s mind was made up though. She later wrote of that decision, “It is true what St. Bonaventure said: ‘The will of God is our peace.’” Clare was starting a new chapter—one that set aside her own aspirations for the love of Jesus.
Choosing God’s Will. It wasn’t an easy path. Clare, so accustomed to drawing attention to herself, had to learn the humble ways of religious life. Initially, she struggled with a continuing desire to be famous—a famous nun, perhaps—but as time went on, she cared less and less about fame and more about loving the people around her. To her credit, it seems that Clare put all of her energy into doing what her superiors asked. As tirelessly as she had given herself to a life of pleasure, she now devoted herself to a life of service and evangelization.
That’s not to say that her personality got lost in her vocation. Clare was, in a word, fun. She made people laugh; she carried a guitar and sang songs energetically. She was a favorite among the children whom her order taught and served; they admired her not only for her lively demeanor but for the way she encouraged them to seek Jesus.
Clare’s passion for conversion was borne from her own inner battle to choose God’s will. This is evident in the emphatic letters that she wrote to the children, encouraging them to pursue God’s will. Once, Clare led a prayer activity, the outline for which is preserved among her writings. “Ask the Lord what he wants from you,” she wrote. “STOP doing what you want and what feels good, and START doing the will of God. . . . It is there that you’ll find true happiness.”
It was with that same happiness that Clare made her perpetual vows to the Servant Sisters on September 8, 2010—nine years after entering as a teenage candidate. As she matured spiritually, certain changes occurred in Sr. Clare. Her need for silence and time alone with Jesus increased. With a weary cheerfulness, she endured frequent migraines, lack of sleep, and difficult working conditions. In an email from Good Friday 2015, she told a priest of her order, “Everything that could be difficult fills me with joy because it brings me closer to the Lord.”
“Prefiero el Paraíso.” Since joining the Servant Sisters, Clare had been sent to various places: Spain, the United States, and Ecuador. Some of the communities taught children in schools; one ministered to the dying in a local hospital. Her last assignment was to the rural community of Playa Prieta, Ecuador, where the sisters taught at a local school and ran a parish catechism program.
In April 2016, a tremendous flood ravaged the area, and the sisters spent two weeks trying to restore their classrooms and help the local families. But the natural disasters weren’t over. On April 16 at 6:58 p.m., an earthquake reduced the school to a pile of rubble. Trapped inside were seven girls and four sisters, including Clare.
With collapsed concrete slabs too heavy to move, the little community had to wait until morning to secure a vehicle powerful enough to excavate the debris. They successfully freed three sisters and two students—but Clare and five other students were still missing.
Clare had been teaching guitar to the students when the earthquake struck. Among her favorite songs to sing was one called “Prefiero el Paraíso,” or “I Prefer Paradise.” The refrain (translated here from the original Spanish) proclaimed,
“I prefer Paradise!”
Came the cry from within.
I’ve lost the fear to give,
To surrender to death to live.
Eventually, the news broke: Clare, as well as the five girls with her, had died that day. She was thirty-three—just like the Lord she loved.
Surrender to God’s Life. Clare Crockett dedicated herself to Jesus with all her strength. She found joy in the path she walked with God, even though it was so different from her childhood dreams. Her example is a reminder that God’s grace can guide us—if we let it capture our hearts and change our plans.
In a letter to one of the young girls in Playa Prieta one week before her death, Sr. Clare encouraged her, “Changing is HARD! And the fight is TIRING! . . . Keep going; don’t be afraid!” Clare’s encouragement to do the hard work of following Jesus is an invitation for every person, no matter where we stand in our relationship with God. And it is a choice that cannot fail to lead to abiding peace.
Laura Loker lives in Falls Church, Virginia, with her husband and two sons. Sr. Clare’s testimony and a film about her life are available at sisterclare.com.