Father Clarence Celebrates 79
March 8, 2002
Today we celebrate the 79th birtday of Father Clarence Biggers, the only native of Georgia in our 53-member community. Born in Atlanta, Father Clarence was raised in the Marist parish of the Sacred Heart. His calling to the priesthood came early.
"In the second or third grade Sister would ask how many boys wanted to be a priest," remembers Father Clarence, who was taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. "Half the class, maybe three-fourths of the boys in the class would put up their hands. Mine was always up, and as the number got less and less as we got older and older, mine was still always up."
It was his desire to serve others that attracted Father Clarence to the priesthood. "In my earliest years before I went to seminary, I was always attracted to a life of service," says Father Clarence. "I always enjoyed visiting my relatives — my great uncles and aunts. I could spend a whole Sunday afternoon just being with them. I loved to visit the neighbors in the neighborhood, spending a whole Sunday afternoon talking to the elderly folks and doing things for them. I guess that was the first indication for me that being a priest could be a life of service."
Father Clarence was certain of his call to the priesthood, but was unsure whether it would be a diocesan priest of a priest in a religious order. Having an uncle as a Marist priest influenced Father Clarence to join the Marists. After eighth grade, Father was sent by the Marists to the seminary in Pennsylvania and then, in 1943, to the novitiate in Staten Island.
Although in New York, Father heard about the founding of a monastery in rural Rockdale County outside of Atlanta. "Being a native Atlantan, I was interested in anything about Georgia. I used to get the Georgia Bulletin and newspaper clippings. I was very much interested in a monastery being established in Georgia, but I never dreamed that I'd end up there. Nor did I have any interest in it at that time."
However, three years after his ordination in 1950, Father Clarence said he began to consider contemplative religious life. "I still felt strongly drawn to a life of service, but I just felt the need of a greater dedication to Almighty God," says Father Clarence. The life of prayer lived by the Trappists (today our order is known as the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance) attracted Father Clarence.
"I was beginning to see the Trappists as an order with a special prayer life, supposedly to bring the members to a great degree of sanctity and also to support the rest of the Church by their prayer life."
"During my seminary days I was impressed with Our Lady's message of penance at Fatima and Lourdes." Father saw a special meaning in the Trappist life of reparation and penance for the sins of mankind.
A Marist superior, after hearing from Father of his desire to live a stricter life of prayer, asked Father to give it more time. After ten years as a priest, the Marist order requires their priests to go through another novitiate. It is a time of renewel. So in 1959, Father reexamined his desire for the contemplative life. Was the Trappist life for him? Father's spiritual director advised him to continue serving as a Marist priest.
"I still felt strongly drawn to a life of service, but I just felt the need of a greater dedication to Almighty God."
During the next ten years, Father Clarence was at parishes in Louisiana and Georgia. In 1967, he was transferred to Our Lady of the Assumption parish in North Atlanta. "I kept putting the idea of being a Trappist out of my mind. But in November of 1968, I made up my mind right then and there." Father went to the Marist Provincial to tell them of his calling to the Trappists. The response was hesitancy if not doubtful, but permission was given for Father to continue exploring the monastic vocation by visiting the abbey.
Father Clarence said he rarely visited the abbey during his years at Our Lady of the Assumption church. "I may have been out once or twice at the most for just an hour or two, never for a meal, never for staying overnight. I didn't pay much attention to this particular monastery."
His contact with Our Lady of Holy Spirit Abbey was mainly through Dom Augustine Moore, the abbot, whom he met several times at diocesan special events. When Father visited the abbey to explore the monastic vocation, he spoke with Dom Augustine. "I had several visits with him. He told about his vocation and how he thought mine was kind of similar to his. He was ready to accept me right then and there." Dom Augustine was a diocesan priest before entering the Gethsemane Abbey (Kentucky) in 1942.
It was on October 4, 1968 (his 32nd year with the Marists) that Father Clarence made an obsevership at the monastery. Being a priest was important to Father Clarence; it was not to be forgotten as he entered the monastic life.
"When I was a novice here, one of the novices was saying, 'You know, what you've got to do here in this novitiate is completely forget and put out of your mind altogether that you are a priest. It is just not important to you at all if you are to live this monastic life.' I looked at him and said, 'The day that I completely put out of my mind that I am a priest, and that's not important to me, is the day that I'll leave this monastery.' He just couldn't fathom that at all. My whole being here, my whole call to this monastery and my hope to persevere in my life in this monastery is all integrated with my priesthood."
Contemplation and prayer should be an essential part of the day for those active ministry, stresses Father Clarence. "Christ spent so much time in prayer at night. He was not always preaching and teaching."
"I think back to my ministry with people in the parishes. I was always touched with this request in the mail, over the telephone, in the confessional, in prayer lists, or wherever it might be: 'Father, pray for me.' People were always asking for prayers. They wanted the spiritual support of their priests."
Father Clarence, at 79 years young, continues to support those who ask for his prayers. His daily offering of himself to the monastic life is his prayer for those in need.
Happy Birthday, Father Clarence!
Reference: An Oral History of the Abbey of Our Lady of Holy Spirit by Victor A. and Dewey W. Kramer (unpublished).
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