Secular Carmelites seek members - Catholic Courier

Secular Carmelites seek members

A Carmelite spirituality group, active in the Southern Tier since the 1970s, is seeking to increase its membership base.

The Discalced Carmelites — Secular Order meets monthly in the chapel of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira. The group’s next meeting is Sunday, Aug. 8, at 1:30 p.m. Each meeting begins with a Liturgy of the Hours, followed by 20 minutes of silent prayer, a business meeting and group sharing.

According to Deacon George Welch, the group’s spiritual advisor, Carmelite prayer life is an excellent way toward a more intimate relationship with God.

“It’s an invitation to deeper spirituality,” said Deacon Welch, who also serves as chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital as well as deacon for Elmira’s Ss. Peter and Paul Parish. “It joins you with others who practice this prayer, and you see it as a way of serving the church.”

Deacon Welch said the secular order began through the influence of Carmelite friars who served as chaplains at St. Joseph’s Hospital and taught at Elmira Notre Dame High School. The friars also lived at Ss. Peter and Paul Church for a few years after their monastery in Waverly closed in 1981. At that time, Carmelite Father Fidelis Fosselman served as pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul, and Carmelite Brother Ed O’Donnell — who now serves in Washington, D.C. as the editor of Spiritual Life magazine — was the secular order’s spiritual director.

“We used to meet in a basement. A lot of people were members of Cursillo, parishioners, nurses,” Deacon Welch recalled.

Deacon Welch said the secular order currently has 10 to 12 regular members. Based on what he perceives as a recent surge of interest in contemplative prayer, Deacon Welch hopes to see “a rediscovery of Carmelite spirituality” with new members being added to his group as a result.

“It doesn’t mean we’re the only way to get there, but there is a hunger for more contemplative prayer,” he said.

Among the other examples are centering-prayer gatherings, held the first and third Wednesday each month at 6:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph’s Hospital chapel. In addition, Deacon Welch noted a growing interest in labyrinth walks, where prayer is done in a setting similar to a maze. In fact, a labyrinth was recently established at Elmira’s Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

Deacon Welch said these forms of prayer sometimes get erroneously labeled as “new age.” However, he said, “The whole idea of contemplative prayer is ancient. It goes right back to the beginning of the church.” He likened the practice of contemplative prayer to Biblical examples of Jesus pulling away from the crowd to pray with just a few disciples nearby, such as during the Transfiguration and at the Garden of Gethsemane.

Regarding Carmelite spirituality, Deacon Welch said, “The bottom line is, it comes to us from the early monks at Mount Carmel.” He also observed that “Pope John Paul II is a secular member of the Discalced Carmelite order … so this form of spirituality goes right to the top.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the Discalced Carmelites — Secular Order, contact Deacon George Welch at 607/733-6541 or

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