EDITOR’S NOTE: Inspired by Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Consecrated Life, this is the third installment in a series on religious communities in the Diocese of Rochester.
March was an exciting month for Rochester’s Discalced Carmelite sisters. On March 25 Bishop Salvatore R. Matano visited their monastery to bless the renovated chapel, and on March 28 Discalced Carmelites around the world celebrated the 500th birthday of their founder, St. Teresa of Avila.
The excitement doesn’t end with the month of March, however. In October the sisters will mark the 10-year anniversary of the merging of Rochester and Schenectady’s Discalced Carmelite communities, and the current community of 14 sisters plans to welcome a new member in July. Another new member will make her solemn vows in March 2016, according to Mother Therese Marie of Jesus Crucified, prioress of the Rochester Carmelites.
"This is really a graced time in our order of Discalced Carmelites," she said.
The origins of the Carmelite order date back more than 800 years, but after St. Teresa of Avila entered the order in the 16th century she reformed it in the hopes of restoring its former zeal and order, according to the Carmelites’ website, www.carmelitesofrochester.org. She founded 17 Carmels, or monasteries, before her death, but the first Discalced Carmelites did not come to the United States until 1790, Mother Therese said. In 1930 five Carmelite sisters came to the Rochester Diocese at the request of Bishop Francis O’Hern and founded a monastery on Rochester’s Saratoga Avenue. A few years later the community moved to East Avenue, and in 1956 it moved into its current monastery in Pittsford.
In early 2004 the sisters actually moved out of the Carmelite monastery and into the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse because many of the members of the dwindling Carmelite community were ill, and most were elderly, Mother Therese said. They planned to sell the monastery, but before they could do so the prioress at the time learned that the Discalced Carmelites in Schenectady needed to move out of their monastery because the urban neighborhood around it had become quite violent, said Mother Therese, who was one of the Schenectady Carmelite’s 11 sisters.
"She (the prioress) invited us to come from Schenectady to reopen the Carmel," Mother Therese explained. "They had an older community but had a building, and we had a younger community but needed a building."
The Schenectady sisters at first were hesitant but decided to pray about it, and almost overnight many of the sisters had a change of heart, so the community decided to give it a try. The merger brought its share of challenges, however. As part of the deal the Schenectady Carmelites agreed to pay for the necessary renovations to the Pittsford monastery, but they weren’t sure how they were going to pay for those renovations, Mother Therese said. The sisters prayed about it, and the next day they received a gift for the exact amount they needed, she added.
"Prayer brings down many graces, many blessings from God," she remarked.
In fact, prayer is at the core of everything the cloistered Carmelite sisters do. The sisters in the Carmelite monastery rise at 4 a.m. and are praying the Divine Office by 4:30 a.m. Their daily schedule also includes time blocked out for mental prayer, to pray the rosary and to attend daily Mass, which is held in their chapel and is open to the public. They also take prayer requests, which is their way of serving the community while still remaining cloistered in their monastery.
"We withdraw from the world not because we don’t love the world, but because we greatly love the world. We believe our prayers are very effective in bringing down God’s grace on so many problems in this world," Mother Therese explained.
When they’re not praying, the Carmelite sisters frequently may be found cooking, cleaning, sewing their habits, or making rosaries, scapulars and other items to sell in the monastery’s gift shop. Contrary to what some outside the cloister may believe, there’s no such thing as monotony at the motherhouse, Mother Therese said, noting that she hasn’t been bored a single day in her 38 years as a Carmelite. Her sisters in the community also are among the happiest people she’s ever encountered, but she admitted the vocation is not for everyone.
"It’s a call that God puts deep in a person’s heart. It’s a deep attraction to live the contemplative life, to live a life of total sacrifice and prayer," she said. "Our vocation is first of all to serve God. Doesn’t God, our loving creator, deserve a few people who live just for him, exclusively for him, who spend their whole lives loving and praising him?"Tags: Religious Orders