Janis Clarke loves to sing. She sings at parish missions,
carols in the streets and sometimes even in convenience
stores. During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Clarke, a
consecrated virgin and singing evangelist, is on a mission to
bring God's mercy to the hearts of all who will listen, and
she is doing it one note at a time.
Clarke was born in 1960 to a large Catholic family in Quebec,
Canada. Her birth coincided with the beginning of a political
and cultural change in her province known as the "Quiet
Revolution," a period that saw secularism take the place of
faith in Quebec nationalism. By the time she turned 5, church
attendance dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent. Clarke's
family, however, was among the minority who would remain
"The Lord really protected me (during this time) through the
faith of my parents and the local parish," said Clarke. "The
culture was very life-giving."
Clarke's love and talent for music became evident at an early
age. She started to sing in her church choir at just 7 years
"The choir attracted me to church and nurtured my faith,"
said Clarke. "It helped open up my heart to receive the
graces that were being poured out through the sacraments."
When Clarke was 13, Father Carl Schmidt encouraged her to
write letters to Jesus and let Him write back. The suggestion
had a huge impact on her life and started her personal
relationship with Jesus.
While her province's faith continued to wane, Clarke's
passion for the faith grew. When she was 19, she traveled
with her choir to Rome for the first time in the summer of
1979. There she saw St. John Paul II, which she described as
an "electrifying experience."
"I experienced a deepening desire to use my voice to sing for
the Lord's glory and draw people to Him."
Back home, Clarke attended McGill University in Montreal,
where she earned a bachelor's in music. Throughout college,
Clarke discerned her vocation and how best to use her gifts.
She hoped her future would involve marriage and children.
The summer after graduation she turned down a paid position
at a classical music camp to volunteer pro bono at a Catholic
As the charismatic family camp drew to a close, the leaders
and Father Francis Donnelly, who helped organize it, decided
to give Clarke a scholarship to Franciscan University in
Steubenville, Ohio, for a master's in theology. The gift was
bittersweet for Clarke who wanted to pursue her career as a
singer as well as her relationship with a young man who had
just proposed to her. She decided to trust in the Holy Spirit
and moved to Ohio with her ring firmly in place.
The classes at Franciscan broadened and deepened her
understanding of the Catholic faith.
"It was Father Francis Martin's preaching of the Gospel that
really brought it to life," said Clarke.
Slowly she began to recognize that God was calling her to
Himself and that her desire for marriage and children would
be fulfilled in Him.
A new vocation
Clarke began to discern a calling to consecrated life during
her second semester at Franciscan. After graduation she lived
with a family of seven children close to an order of
cloistered Dominican nuns in Newark, N.J.
"I would go to that monastery whenever I could," said Clarke.
"The intense desire to be with Jesus in His eucharistic
presence drew me like a magnet."
Her enthusiasm for the cloister was tempered by a priest she
knew who felt that her talents would best serve God in the
world instead of in the confines of a monastery. Still
uncertain about her future and vocation, Clarke graduated
from Franciscan and went to work in college ministry in
Montreal. While on a walk, a friend asked her if she had ever
considered becoming a consecrated virgin, a woman who
completely devotes her life to God but lives
self-sufficiently in the world. Clarke had never heard of
this vocation but was eager to learn more. After research and
prayer, she approached her bishop, and in 1993, she became a
Following her consecration, Clarke dedicated herself to music
ministry full time. After receiving an anonymous donation of
$2,000 she began recording songs. During the Jubilee Year
2000, Clarke collaborated with Father Martin to record a
series of rosary CDs. She took her mission on the road, and
her first stop was the Arlington Diocese.
"Two of my dear friends that I went to high school with had
moved to Arlington and attended St. Agnes Church," said
Clarke. "They started to contact parishes for me."
Her ministry was well-received, and as Clarke began to travel
throughout North America she was especially touched by the
impact it had on youths.
"I saw that these kids were under a lot of pressure and at
the same time so open to the Lord and to prayer," said
Clarke. Her rosary missions are a combination of praying the
rosary with singing and meditations in between. Attendees are
encouraged to cultivate an intimate relationship with Jesus
Christ and to discern the personal mission He has for their
"People were especially grateful for the commuter rosary
CDs," said Clarke. "I would get amazing emails in support."
Mercy in silence
During one of her missions in Colorado in 2005 her life took
a frightening turn. Clarke experienced sudden vocal cord
paralysis that left her barely able to speak. Rushing home to
Washington, doctors could not promise recovery. In her forced
silence Clarke spent three hours a day before Jesus in the
Eucharist praying for healing.
"I was crying on the floor one day and the thought came to
me, 'Even if you never get healed you will sing better than
you ever did.'" She continued in this state for nine months
and began to compose, something she'd had no desire to do
before. Clarke attended a healing Mass in early December of
that year and on the feast of the Immaculate Conception a
doctor's camera captured pictures of some normal vocal cord
movement. She began to sing again and continued her ministry
with renewed vigor.
Since 2000, she has produced 14 CDs, including a musical
rosary with Jesuit Father Peter Ryan, and an album, "Heal Me,
Lord," of her own compositions. Clarke continues to travel
throughout North America on missions. She sang for St. John
Paul II, and in 2008, she performed at the International
Eucharistic Congress in Quebec. She looks for every
opportunity to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the world,
whether that is a smile to an overworked cashier or singing
Christmas carols in a busy subway.
In this Year of Mercy, Clarke has taken up a new mission and
will travel to parishes leading people in song and spreading
Pope Francis' message of God's mercy.
"I believe that in this jubilee year the Lord wants to pour
(out) His mercy in us and through us in an extraordinary way
at the very heart of ordinary life and relationships," said
Clarke. "The Lord is just waiting for us to step out of the
boat and experience His power calming the storm as He calls
us to walk on the water."
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