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Order Of The Brothers Of The Most Blessed Virgin Mary Of Mount Carmel (Carmelites: White Friars: O. Carm.)

by Helen Walker Homan

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    A very thorough history of the Order of the Brothers of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
  • Larger Work:
    Knights Of Christ
  • Pages: 49 - 62
  • Publisher & Date:
    Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1957

As the little company rounded a turn in the road, suddenly the holy mountain of Carmel, that "garden-land" of Palestine revered by the ancients, rose gloriously above the sea, stretching its green and wooded slopes to the north and the south; melting at one side gently into the plain of Sharon, at the other descending more steeply toward Haifa.

On this day of the year 1155, the pilgrims and their leader, a man of striking dignity already beyond his first youth and clad in hermit's garb, stopped short to lean upon their staves and let their eyes travel over the mountain's beauty and solitude — and upward, ever upward to where the three loftiest summits soared, shrouded softly in their sea-borne mists. The pilgrims' hearts leaped forward toward those mysterious heights, hallowed for centuries, even from the time of the great Prophet Elias. There, to him, God had once stretched down His hand. There surely, they too could come closer to Him Whom they sought.

Behind them, some nine miles to the north, lay tragic Acre whence they had journeyed this morning. For centuries Acre had been coveted by conquerors, occupied again and again by invading armies — Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Armenian, Roman — for the access it could give by land and sea into the heart of Syria. Not many years hence it would be besieged again by the armies of the Third Crusade fighting to redeem the Holy Land of Christ, but held at bay by the great Mohammedan, Saladin.

Yet the thoughts of the hermits now approaching Carmel were bent upon far different matters, although it had been whispered among them that their leader, the holy priest Berthold, had once himself been a Crusader. Some knew him only as a "Calabrian," or a man of Western Europe; but others said that he came from Limoges and had many years ago followed a Crusade from France. But all knew that Aymeric de Malifaye, who was then the Christian Patriarch of Antioch, was his relative. And that Berthold, rather than return to his homeland, had chosen to remain in Palestine and to enter the religious life. Of all the company, perhaps only Berthold himself knew how, when once on solitary pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Carmel, the Prophet Elias had appeared to him, near the very grotto which tradition had ascribed as his own, and had bade him seek out ten others, and to return with them, there to live as hermit-monks in a monastery devoted to prayer and contemplation.

Berthold had gathered his ten; in fact some of them were already waiting for him there upon the mountain where for generations hermits had dwelt as prayerful solitaries. His kinsman, Aymeric the Patriarch, had promised to come and assist him in establishing the little community. Berthold would build his monastery upon the ancient monastic ruins, which could still be traced near the grotto of Elias. There would be a tower, and there would be a chapel; and each hermit would have his own cave in the mountainside for solitary prayer.

Now on this morning of the year 1155, as the little group moved toward their goal, Carmel stretched out its arms to welcome them, offering its forests for solitude, its abundant fruits and herbs for food, and its summits for contemplation.

As they crossed the brook of Cison which runs at the base of the mountain, Berthold reflected that in its waters, raised long ago by the power of God into a rushing torrent, Elias had once cast down from the mountain above, the false prophets of Baal, to be carried off into the sea, after having confounded them with the sign that there was but one true God, the God of the Israelites. There on the heights, in the presence of all the people and the wicked King Achab, and of the prophets of Baal, Elias had won his challenge: the God who would consume with fire a sacrifice laid upon wood to which no flame had been touched, was the One True God. In vain had the false prophets, hour after hour, called upon their Baal, the sun-god of the Phoenicians. It had been of no avail. But when at last Elias had stepped forward, and praying, had laid a bullock upon an ancient stone altar, the non-ignited wood had burst into brilliant flames, which had immediately consumed the sacrifice.

Holy indeed, was this mountain which Berthold and his companions had selected for their retreat. It was said that not only the Prophet Elias, but also that his successor, Eliseus, had made it his place of prayer. And that upon Carmel, both had guided their disciples, those holy men who called themselves the "Sons of the Prophets" and whose lives were given over entirely to the service of God.

Its beautiful, misty heights had drawn even the Romans in their pagan worship. Here, six centuries before the Christian era, Jupiter had been honored in the days of Darius. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras had sought out this mountain — "sacred above all mountains and forbidden of access to the vulgar" — to meditate upon the immortality of the soul. Much later, the historian Tacitus had written of its oracle, which, guarded by the pagan priest Basilides, had been consulted by the Emperor Vespasian for guidance in his war against the Jews.

Held sacred by pagans as well as by Israelites, since the time of the first Christians holy anchorites had retired to its forests, to dwell there in solitude. As early as the year 570 A.D., it had sheltered a Christian monastery dedicated to Elias. It was upon the ruins of this that Berthold would now erect his own monastery.

The life would be half eremitical, half cenobitic. Apart from communal Mass, the emphasis would lie upon individual prayer and contemplation, as each, breathing the holy air of Carmel, would worship God in his own fashion. To feed the small community, the monks would till the rich soil, cultivate the vines and the olives, and the herbs which everywhere abounded in that "garden-land." So began the first recorded life of the Carmelites. Early with the devotion to Elias had been intertwined an ardent one to Our Lady, whom the early brethren adopted as their patroness.

From the start, the small community was blessed with harmony. Aymeric of Antioch had been true to his promise, aiding Berthold in its establishment; and when some time later he departed, he had even taken with him a few of the monks to form a similar community near Antioch. Soon other visitors of renown were making pilgrimages to the monastery, many of them remaining to assume the life of Berthold and his monks. It was not long before the reputation of the monastery had spread to other lands. John Phocas, a pilgrim from Greece, visited it in the year 1185 and returned home to write of Berthold as the holy, "white-haired monk invested with sacerdotal authority" who guided the community.

The Christian monastery atop Mount Carmel seemed somehow to be a link between the Old Dispensation and the New, for pious Jews still continued to regard the mountain with its Old Testament traditions as their religious heritage. Rabbi Benjamin de Tudela visited it in the year 1163, and wrote:

"Under the mountain of Carmel are many Jewish sepulchres; and near the summit is the cavern of Elias, upon whom be peace . . . On the summit of the hill, you may still trace the site of the altar which was rebuilt by Elias of blessed memory, in the time of King Achab . . ."

Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians frequently united there to pay homage to the great Prophet. But it was Berthold and his monks who were to enshrine the mountain forever in Christian tradition.

After the venerable Father had died, and was laid away to his peace on the holy mountain, he was succeeded as leader of the community by Brocard, one of the holiest of the brethren. Now had the number of hermits increased so greatly that it became necessary to set down certain rules and regulations for their guidance. About the year 1210, some fifty years after Berthold had launched the monastery, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Albert of Vercelli, wrote a short Rule for the brethren on Mount Carmel who now had come to be known as the Order of Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

The hermits were to elect a prior, and to promise him obedience. They were to attend daily Mass and recite the Divine Office in common, but were to live, each in his separate cell, there to spend their hours in prayer and meditation, except those devoted to manual labor, observing silence throughout the greater part of the day. They would own no personal property, and would abstain from flesh meat except in cases of grave necessity. The Rule, pledged to a strict austerity, received the papal approbation of Pope Honorius III in the year 1226.

Now there came, knocking at the monastery door, men of many nationalities of the East and of the West, seeking the prayer and peace of Carmel. Some of these were moved to carry the life of Carmel back to their homelands. Nearer at hand, and early in the thirteenth century, new monasteries had been established on Mount Quarantine, near the fountain of Eliseus; and near the Sea of Galilee; and yet others at Saint Jean d'Acre, Tyre, Tripoli, and Jerusalem. Soon fifteen sister-communities were following the Carmelite Rule, and subject to the supreme authority of its prior.

But increasingly their peace was disturbed by the path swept by the continuing and turbulent Crusades, and the hostility of the Saracens. These did not permit them long to flourish. Monasteries were pillaged and burned; hermits martyred in their cells. For a time the common veneration of the Prophet Elias spared his mountain, yet the hermits lived there under the shadow of the scimitar. As watched men, the Saracens obliged them to exchange the white mantles they had always worn over their rough brown robes and their long scapulars for mantles fashioned of black and white stripes. Frequently they were forced to flee Carmel and go into hiding, but they always returned during the lulls of peace. Yet as the Crusades were spun out toward their final defeat, the position of Christians in Palestine became so precarious that at length the hermits of Carmel were forced to recognize the inevitable, and to make plans for establishment in Europe.

As early as the year 1219, Saint Angelus, called by an early writer "the glorious martyr," had introduced the Carmelite life into Sicily. Soon others had carried it to Cyprus, to France, and to Flanders. By the year 1237 when the first general chapter was held on the mountain, the emigration of friars to Europe was well under way. But many there were who vowed they would never willingly leave the Holy Mountain except under obedience.

In 1242, a group had made its way to England, to establish foundations at Hulme in Northumberland and Bradmer in Norfolk; and at Aylesford and Newenden in Kent. Tradition has it that those who clung to Mount Carmel were visited in 1254 by Saint Louis, King of France, returning from his Crusade. He was so impressed by their sanctity that he begged to take six hermits back to France, where he established them in a monastery near Paris, at Charenton.

Hostilities in Palestine having quieted for the time, the Carmelites remaining there drew courage to build a new monastery and church on the mountain. But these were to be of short duration, for finally in 1291, after the fall of Acre, the Saracens took Mount Carmel with fire and sword. It is related that the intrepid brothers courageously went to their martyrs' deaths, singing the Salve Regina. They must have thanked God, as they were put to the sword, that the eternal spirit of Carmel now lived and flourished in other lands across the sea.

Vastly different from those in Palestine had been the conditions in which the transplanted Order had taken root in the West. Europe during the mid-thirteenth century was scarcely the place to launch the strictly contemplative life of the desert hermits of Carmel. Francis and Dominic, during the sunset of feudalism, and the concentration of populations in the cities, had changed all that. The Franciscans and the Dominicans lived among the people, preaching and teaching, working among the poor and establishing themselves at the universities. Traditional descendants of the early hermits of the desert were hard put to it to find any deserts in Europe. The older contemplative Orders were increasingly leaving their feudal solitudes to work among the people. The Carmelites, devoted to silence and contemplation, had not been able to carry their Holy Mountain with them; and now perforce must adopt a different type of monastic life. But although they wisely modified their program to meet Western needs, they were still to retain the marked characteristics of contemplatives, and to follow a Rule, which exceeded in austerity that of other Orders which had preceded them in Europe.

There had arisen in England a holy Carmelite of great vision and ability, Simon Stock, who saw quite clearly the new path which the Order must take to survive. In 1245 a general Chapter was called at Aylesford to discuss modifications of the Rule, at which he was elected Father General of the transplanted Order. It was determined that the Carmelites should become a mendicant Order, as were the Franciscans and Dominicans; and that the hermits should be transformed into friars, to undertake their share of aiding the diocesan clergy in their ministry among the people. In the new mode of life it would be necessary to mitigate some of the former austerities as they had been practised on Mount Carmel, for they were now engaged upon an active apostolate. They retained however many of their eremitical customs, including long hours of meditation in their cells.

Within a short time, the new General had won the approval of Pope Innocent IV for the modified Rule. Now the Carmelites began to spread rapidly throughout England and into Ireland and Scotland, France and Germany, Spain and Italy. Within a period of thirteen years, foundations had been made at Cambridge, Oxford, London, York, Paris, Bologna, and Naples. Simon Stock was anxious to establish the Carmelites at the universities, since now the new work of the Order demanded both preachers and teachers.

While amazingly successful in effecting these transitions from the old way to the new, yet was his path far from easy. The Order was competing with the sons of Francis and Dominic who had been established in Europe some fifty years before the Carmelites, and who were bound by a less austere observance. And he was meeting opposition from the Bishops and the diocesan clergy everywhere who questioned the canonical status of his Order. The Church's Council of Lateran in 1215 had forbidden the further establishment of new Orders, but the Carmelites could point back to years preceding that date when they had functioned in the Holy Land as an Order formally approved by the Apostolic Legate, the Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, during the General's long life — it is said that he died at the age of one hundred — the matter remained a subject of contention.

It is concerning his anxiety about recognition of the Order that tradition associates the famous vision of the Blessed Virgin accorded him at Cambridge (though more probably at Aylesford) in 1251, when he saw her as she held the Carmelite scapular in her hands and assured him that all who would die wearing it would be saved from eternal punishment. From this tradition sprang the scapular devotion approved by the Church, which the laity through the centuries and up to the present have faithfully followed in prayer, themselves wearing the Carmelite scapular in miniature.

During his tenure of office, Saint Simon Stock had succeeded in transforming an Order of contemplatives whose roots had been planted in the soil of the East, and whose first members had been true "hermits of the desert," into an active and effective arm of the Church in the western world. Danger again threatened the Order however in 1274, when the Second Council of Lyons issued a decree regarding the suppression of Orders not yet confirmed by the Holy See. The decree read: "We do not intend to extend this decree to the Order of Preachers or to the Order of Minors . . . For the rest, We grant to the Order of the Hermits of Saint Augustine and to the Order of Carmelites, whose institution preceded the aforementioned General Council (Lateran IV) that they remain in their present condition until We ourselves dispose otherwise." The Prior General, Peter de Millaud, and several Eastern prelates protested, but in vain.

A few years later in 1287, the Carmelites abandoned the striped mantle which had been forced upon them by the Saracens, and returned to the traditional one of white, worn over their brown habit and scapular, and so won in England, where they had now come to be greatly beloved, the sobriquet of "the White Friars."

The closing years of the thirteenth century were marked with increasing prestige and growth. They now had nine provinces. Their success in England was assured when, a score of years later, they found a powerful supporter in the person of King Edward I. Having first won the people by their poverty and unremitting charity, they now entered an era in which royalty and nobility sought them as confessors and ambassadors. Early in the fourteenth century, which was to witness their greatest epoch, King Edward II of England bestowed upon them his royal manor at Oxford where they had long been established as teachers of theology.

Perhaps a factor of their success in the West lay in their early choice of generals. Saint Simon Stock had been English; his successor, the Blessed Nicholas, was a native of France; and their third general was the Blessed Radulph of Germany.

By the year 1318, the nine provinces had grown to twelve with more than one hundred monasteries spread throughout Europe. From Cyprus, one of their earliest foundations after their flight from the Saracens, the Carmelites by the middle of the century were turning their faces again toward the East, and making a foundation in Constantinople. Every true Carmelite looked back with longing to the misty, holy heights of Mount Carmel where the Order had been born, close to God, and under the spirit of Elias. Indeed, they looked to Elias as their traditional founder.

Would they ever again be able to retrieve the Holy Mountain for themselves?

The old controversy on canonical status had continued, but in 1326 Pope John XXII finally put an end to it by making the Carmelites equal in all things to the other mendicant Orders.

But now, having reached their zenith, the White Friars began to meet the first of a long series of forces which were to bring about a decline. Before the Order could recover from its heavy losses from the Black Plague, the Great Schism of the West had begun in 1378, disorganizing the Church as two rival Popes claimed the Chair of Peter.

It was thirty-nine years before unity was re-established — a long interim during which the Orders perforce had to acknowledge the papal supremacy of him in whose territory their various provinces lay. The situation necessarily caused division, and a corresponding laxity in observance of the Rule. But within the Carmelite family, even before the schism ended, several attempts at reform had been launched.

Although the even flow of their development had been arrested by plague and schism, as the fifteenth century opened, the Carmelites could look back upon one hundred and fifty years of distinguished achievement in Europe, during which they had won a reputation for sanctity and learning. They had played a successful part in combating the heresy of Wycliffe, and later that of Huss. They could point to Carmelites who had held high office in the Church as Bishops and Archbishops. They could invoke in prayer the intercession of their own martyrs: those of the Holy Mountain itself; of Saint Angelus who had died for the Faith in Sicily; and Blessed Anthony of Offen, martyred by the Turks in Hungary. Other of their Saints were Albert of Sicily, Theodoric of Germany; and also Saint Avertanus and Saint Andrew Corsini, Bishop of Fiesole; and the great Saint Peter Thomas of France, himself the leader of a Crusade, ambassador of Popes, and hero of the plague in Cyprus. There were also Blessed Frank of Siena, Blessed Romaeus, and Blessed Nuno Alvarez Pereira.

But now the spirit of the Renaissance was everywhere weakening the asceticism of the ancient Orders; and the Carmelites, to assure their growth and continuance, endeavored to meet the times by adopting modifications of their primitive Rule. These were approved by Pope Eugenius IV in the year 1432. Yet many there were who wished not a mitigation of the Rule, but rather a return to a stricter observance; and who, casting their glances ever backward to the Holy Mountain, dreamed of achieving greater sanctity through finding again the early path of extreme poverty, prolonged fasting, silence, and intensified prayer. So now there arose within the Order two groups of differing aspirations.

Those desiring a stricter observance had launched their reforms early in the fifteenth century, first in scattered monasteries to the north of Italy. Starting in 1413, the reform movement had soon spread southward, notably to Mantua, which became its center. Eventually Mantua united several monasteries of the strict observance into a separate congregation, independent of the provinces, and subject only to the Father General of the Order. The Congregation of Mantua was crowned with extraordinary success, and at length numbered six provinces of its own, and more than fifty monasteries. Among the saintly figures of this reform were Blessed Angelus Augustine Mazzinghi, Blessed Bartholomew Fanu, and Blessed Baptist of Mantua.

The reform movement was greatly encouraged by the saintly Blessed John Soreth of France, who had been elected Father General of the Order in 1451, but who strove to maintain unity along with reform. A man of outstanding ability, it was also he who established the Carmelite Sisterhood, as well as the Third Order for laymen dedicated to a form of religious life in the world, and to the scapular devotion. Throughout the centuries, as members of the Third Order, kings and peasants, generals and their soldiers, queens and their maid-servants were to live according to its precepts during life, and were to die and be buried in the Carmelite habit. In more or less anomalous form, both the Sisterhood and the Third Order had existed from early days, each in its different sphere emulating the holy life of the friars. But it was Blessed John Soreth who secured from Pope Nicholas V, in the year 1452, the canonical institution of both.

As sisters of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the nuns, under the direction of the Father General, established their first convent in Holland in 1453. Soon they had spread rapidly throughout Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain. It was in Spain that they were to reach their greatest effectiveness in the flowering, a scant hundred years later, of one of the greatest Saints and mystics of all times, Teresa of Avila.

Again, a century had unfolded which had brought both good and ill fortune to the Order. There had been successive plagues and their concomitant losses. Both laxity and an increased austerity had marked the passing era; but reforms had been solidly launched, and the sisterhood and the Third Order formally organized. It had been a great era of Carmelite contribution to art and science. Fra Filippo Lippi had painted his masterpieces of the Carmelites' beloved protectress, the Mother of God. A Father General of the Order, Blessed Baptista Mantuanus (Spagnoli) of the Congregation of Mantua, had written his great Latin poems, which in the opinion of Erasmus were rivaled only by those of Virgil. The old century closed, as it had opened, on the repeated note of reform; this time at Albi in France, in 1499.

The same note was struck upon the opening of the new century, at the monastery of Monte Oliveto near Genoa, in 1516. But all the reforms among the Carmelites, and all those within the other ancient Orders which were then in progress, were not sufficient to stem the tide of the Protestant Reformation which broke upon the world with the defalcation of Luther in Germany in 1520; and smote down the Church in England in 1538. With the exception of the Latin countries, it had soon affected most of Europe. Supported by the ruling powers, it was stronger than Rome, the established Church, and the monastic Orders together, whose sincere efforts toward reform were like jackstraws in the wind before the force, which now swept like a hurricane through Europe. As with all rebellion against established order, it probably went further in the long run than at first intended, finally attacking not only alleged abuses but the very heart of revealed Christianity.

The Carmelites suffered with all other religious congregations, enduring confiscations and violences, expulsions and death. And as with the others, many there were who, through force of circumstance, through political and economic pressure, went over to the "new learning." But the hard core remained firm. The year 1538 began the destruction of all the English monasteries, with Henry VIII gathering in the spoils because Rome had refused to sanction a divorce from his lawful wife. Unable to reform himself, he set about reforming the Church. It was easier. He declared himself the supreme head of the English church. Carmelite friars who courageously refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy went to prison and death. Friar Lawrence Cook was martyred in 1540; Friar John Peacock in 1553. Thirty-six Carmelite monasteries in England were destroyed or sold to private owners; and a score of others in Scotland and Ireland. In 1539 the famous Carmelite library in London suffered a similar fate.

But the Carmelites distinguished themselves in combating Lutheranism in Denmark, Holland, and Lower Germany. It is said that Cologne remained faithful largely due to the brilliant theologian, Everard Billick, the Carmelite provincial. Nevertheless the provinces of Germany, France, and Belgium suffered great harm; while those of the British Isles, Saxony, and Denmark were completely destroyed.

When the storm had finally quieted, the Order, although it had lost all of its northern provinces, still retained nearly 700 houses, and 12,351 religious. Not many years after they were also to suffer a loss in a different quarter, when in 1571 the Turks took the Island of Cyprus, murdered all the friars, and burned their monastery. Alas, for the dreamers on Cyprus who had hoped one day to regain their lost Holy Mountain of Carmel!

Meantime, off in Spain, a force of tremendous significance, both to the Carmelites and the Church, had been set in motion by the Spanish noblewoman who had become a Carmelite nun in the year 1535. The extraordinary Teresa de Ahumada — mystic and writer, organizer, diplomat, and statesman — had gone about her own reform in her own way. Starting in Avila, her birthplace, she had launched with the approval and aid of the General, John Baptist Robeo, a Carmelite convent of strict observance in 1562, based on a return to the early asceticism. Before she died in 1582, and in the face of great opposition and difficulty, she had founded thirty-two other reformed houses.

Teresa's idea was that the return to the early ideals of Carmel and the more austere life should by no means be restricted to the women of the Order. She enlisted the support of two friars for a similar reform in the monasteries: Antonio de Heredia, prior of the friars' house in Medina; and Saint John of the Cross, a young Carmelite who had just completed his studies. They were soon joined by others in the province of Castile, and before long they had spread into Andalusia. In their return to a greater austerity both friars and nuns now went barefoot in sandals, and hence were known as the Discalced Carmelites; or sometimes as Teresians. (Eleven years after the death of Teresa, the reform became an Order in its own right, whose history is traced in a succeeding chapter.)

Meanwhile reform had also touched those monasteries which did not embrace the Teresian movement. The houses of the older branch, or the Calced Carmelites, as they were now known to distinguish them from the others, themselves experienced a renewal of fervor and sanctity.

This was best epitomized in the Reform of Touraine, launched in Brittany in the year 1604, at the convent of Rennes. There, the Venerable Philip Thibault introduced a return to the strict observance. The holy lay-brother, Venerable John of Saint Samson, greatly promoted the reform which spread in France, and eventually into Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Poland.

The Council of Trent which had opened in 1545 and in which the Carmelites had played their role, had unified the Church and officially established norms for the religious congregations. Reduced and shaken as they had been by the Protestant Reformation, they now gathered new strength to resume their destiny, which had literally opened up to them a New World across the seas. By the year 1573 the Carmelites had established themselves in Mexico, and also in Spain's province of New Granada (later to become Colombia) in South America. Other missionary endeavors, notably in Brazil, marked the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the Order in Europe regained much of its former prestige, especially in France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy.

In Ireland, where the Carmelites had long been established, the course of the seventeenth century was violently disturbed by the invasion of Cromwell, and the iniquitous laws which put the Church and all religious "underground" for more than two centuries. There, as martyrs, and as "hidden priests" continuing their apostolate among the poor, the Carmelites played their heroic role. In Europe, the latter part of the century was further disturbed by a series of ecclesiastical controversies regarding the antiquity of the Order's foundation on Mount Carmel, a dispute, which endured so long that in 1698 a papal decree, imposing silence on the respective protagonists, was issued.

The start of the fateful eighteenth century was marked by additional missionary activity. By 1720 the Carmelites had spread further into South America, where they had erected provinces in Bahia, Pernambuco, and Rio de Janeiro; and had also made foundations in Guadeloupe and San Domingo. But soon in Europe the storm clouds were to gather, foreshadowing the cataclysm of the French Revolution, which in the later part of the century would strike down the Church, send its representatives to the guillotine, and disperse the members of all religious communities. During the Terror, and in the long years of European anticlericalism, which were to follow in the nineteenth century, the Calced Carmelites would bear their share of death and persecution, of confiscation and exile. The Order's eight flourishing provinces in France were totally decimated; while in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Holland the Order was all but destroyed. Increasingly the Orders turned their eyes toward the new republic across the seas.

Although history records the presence of Irish and Spanish Carmelites in colonial North America, it was in 1864 that the Carmelites first settled in the United States, coming from Straubing, Germany. The first foundation was made in Leavenworth, Kansas. Devotedly the Carmelites had perpetuated their Order's consecration to Our Lady, who more than six centuries before their foundation in America had so richly blessed their brown scapular. Soon many new houses were established with the aid of Dutch and Irish Carmelites: at Scipio, Kansas, in 1865; at Englewood, New Jersey, in 1869; in 1870 at New Baltimore, Pennsylvania; and in 1875 at Pittsburgh, and also in Canada at Niagara Falls. In 1889, the American Carmelite houses were united to establish the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, now one of the largest provinces of the Order.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the Irish province, after a long history of difficulty, poverty, and persecution, began to emerge from its tragic shadows and to experience a remarkable resurgence. In 1881 they sent missioners to Australia and eight years later they made their first foundations in the United States, settling in New York City and at Tarrytown, New York. These houses, with others since established, became the Carmelite Province of Saint Elias, officially erected in 1922.

Today in North America, the two Carmelite provinces have foundations stretching from coast to coast, and into Canada. Maintaining their contemplative tradition, which reaches down to them across uncountable centuries from the misty heights of Mount Carmel, they are engaged also in the active apostolate of education, direction of parishes, and foreign missions. They conduct colleges and high schools; houses of study, novitiates, and seminaries. In their brown robes and scapulars, their white cloaks, they are familiar to thousands of laymen who are members of their pious Confraternity of the Brown Scapular, and their Society of the Little Flower which honors Saint Therese of Lisieux, a great Saint of the Discalced Carmelites and the patroness of foreign missions. The Order is composed of priests and lay brothers. Membership in the United States today numbers almost four hundred and fifty. In the world at large there are approximately 3,000 members serving in the United States, Canada, Ireland, England, Holland, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Australia, Malta, Sicily, Portugal, and Poland. They conduct missions in Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Rhodesia. The motherhouse of the Order is in Rome, where resides the Prior General.

Following the first World War, the Order everywhere experienced a great revival. Foreign missionary activity increased on the part of the province of Holland, in Indonesia and Brazil; on that of the Irish Carmelites in Northern Rhodesia; and of the American friars in Peru, Chile, and other areas.

The tradition of martyrdom has been brought close to our own times, with the heroic death in Spain's civil war of the 1930's of more than fifty Carmelites who died for the Faith. Others similarly perished in German concentration camps during World War II, among them the famous Reverend Titus Brandsma of Holland, a martyr of the Catholic press.

Throughout the world the Carmelites everywhere continue to honor Mary, daily singing the Salve Regina as tradition relates that it was sung by their martyrs who met death at the hands of the Saracens on the Holy Mountain in the year 1291. From out the East, those cloudswept heights still beckon compellingly to them through the mists of time.

© Ignatius Press 2001.

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