Discalced Carmelite Monastery of
Mary Immaculate and Saint Joseph
1600 Newburg Road, Louisville, KY 40205
Five Discalced Carmelite nuns came to Louisville on April 30, 1930, as a foundation by the Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia at the invitation of then-Bishop of Louisville John A. Floersh, whose own sister was a member of that community. These first nuns included the superior, Reverend Mother Seraphim of the Holy Spirit; Sister Philomena of the Trinity, sister of Bishop Floersh, who served as the first Novice Mistress; Sister Agnes of Jesus; Sister Peter of the Holy Face; and Sister Veronica of the Crown of Thorns. The former Speed residence, across from Central Park on the corner of 6th St. and Park Ave., was converted to serve as a temporary monastery. After the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Louisville’s Discalced Carmelite Monastery of Mary Immaculate and Saint Joseph was the second contemplative community in the Diocese.
Growth within the community led the nuns to build a new monastery at 1740 Newburg Road (left). The Carmel Club was formed in 1950 to help raise funds for the construction. It was a wonderful success and only disbanded after the monastery was free of debt. The cornerstone was laid on December 10, 1950, by Archbishop John A. Floersh, on land donated by the Archdiocese of Louisville. On July 29, 1952, the community, now numbering fourteen nuns, moved to the newly constructed monastery. The building, “devoid of architectural decoration,” as reported in 1951 by The Voice of the Highlands newspaper, was designed by Louisville-based Thomas J. Nolan & Sons Architects. This new home would allow the community to grow to its prescribed maximum of 21 members. St. Teresa of Ávila, who reformed the order in the 16th century, limited the size in order to foster an atmosphere of quiet prayer, while authorizing a large enough community to celebrate the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) and maintain the monastery.
Among the many visitors over the years, Missionaries of Charity foundress, Mother Teresa (canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016), is probably the most well-known, having stayed here in 1982 after being awarded the Bellarmine Medal the year before. When in Louisville, Trappist Thomas Merton (Father Louis) would visit the monastery while awaiting his return ride to Gethsemani Abbey.
On August 6, 2015, after over 60 years at the Newburg Road monastery, the community moved. The decision, announced in early June, came after months of dialogue and discernment, with special concern for the health of the nuns. By the year’s end, the property was sold to neighboring Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Louisville. Of the community’s eight nuns, an extern sister resident at nearby Nazareth Home died a year later, four moved to Nazareth Home Clifton, one transferred to another Carmelite Monastery, and two transferred their vows to the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville. The announcement stated that the remaining Discalced Carmelites of Louisville would continue their ministry of contemplative and apostolic prayer in a new context.
• Discalced Carmelites of Louisville Archives
• Archdiocese of Louisville Archives
• The Record
• An American Holy Land: A History of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Crews, 1987
More From The Record
Interview with Rev. Clyde F. Crews, Archdiocese of Louisville Historian (Emeritus) and Mother John Baptist of the Lamb of God, Prioress
April 21, 2016 | Discalced Carmelite Monastery of Mary Immaculate and Saint Joseph | Louisville, KY
Father: “Well Sister, we were starting to talk about daily life in Carmel, and here we are in the former cloister of Carmel. Maybe this would be a good spot to talk about that.”
Mother John Baptist: “That is, cloister itself, is an idea that is kind of, unknown to some people or associated with The Sound of Music. But, the cloister is really just the space that’s set apart for the nuns. This, within that space, this, this little, these hallways that go around, around the courtyard are what we refer to as the cloister. And that, typically, is a monastic structure design that represents kind of the, the combination of communal life as well as the solitude that’s built in. The building itself is structured (???) as support. You mentioned the sayings of the wall … everything was to cultivate an attentiveness to God and what we refer to as recollection.
In a strict way, cloister also is kind of a technical requirement for nuns and monks. It limits the public access to a certain part of the building and it also kind of defines the space where the, the nuns or monks ordinarily would be living. As cloistered nuns, we lived here all day, every day, unless you were going out to the doctor or something similar to that. But, but, otherwise the life was intended to believe, be lived as a community and yet in our tradition it allowed for, rather than working, together very often, for the most part, we were, the (ideal? /idea?) was that we should be able to work each one apart so that that could preserve silence and also recollection. Because work itself, and this part of the (???) tradition and part of the monastic tradition. Work itself is considered sacred and it’s a (creative?) thing but its also to help support the life.
As a community, when they first came, they were doing mostly sewing as a way of supporting the community and much of that was hand – done. It was embroidery or something like that … for instance, liturgical embroidery, all though there was also some other hand work that was typical of that time. That type of work could actually be done in the cell. It’s on another floor, cells were on another floor. But, at, in the early days, it was typical for the nuns to spend a good part of their day in their cell working. Later on, when we had other responsibilities, for instance the cooks sisters, all the, the sisters who were doing the cooking would need to be in the kitchen for a good part of the day but then when they were free, they would ordinarily go to their cell unless we were involved in other community acts. The day was more or less divided between those times of solitary work and the times of community acts. The core of, of, of the life was of course structure was liturgy … the (divine office?) or the office of the hours … the liturgy of the hours. And going back into the early days of the church, that kind of mirrored the Jewish tradition of prayer where there were prayer times.
In monastic tradition, it was, there are about seven prayer times … juggled a little bit in, in the reforms after Vatican II. But from, from the time I’ve been here, typically what we would do is, the first prayer of the day, community prayer of the day, would be at six o’clock in (???). And the nuns would come in silence to the choir and we would chant the (???). It was a very simple chant, not the elaborate chant that you may be able to get at the (Benedictines?). That also represents the Carmelite tradition. And we very quickly went to the vernacular after Vatican II so that our chant was, our (???) of the chant was in English. But in Saint Therese’s day, when Latin was still required, and maybe because they didn’t have a strong educational tradition, they were not in monastic schools at that time, at least Carmel was not. Latin was something that people could learn to recite but (???) because it was not understood. So then, that was kept fairly simple, in terms of, you, they went through those times of prayer which are the prayer of the church. Its, it consecrates that, and ties in with the Eucharist of the liturgy. Here in Carmel, our specific tradition, going back to the time of Saint Teresa, involved two times of (???) and prayer that were in community. So after we complete, perhaps a half hour of, excuse me, of the chanting prayer of the morning prayer (lauds?), we would have a hour silent prayer in the community, in, in the choir. And unless somebody had a specific duty, for instance, if they needed to help in the infirmary getting someone up and ready for mass, then they would remain in the choir during that time of prayer (as we would pray?). And that, usually was kind of a meditation but in our tradition that was more than it was (???) sense of (???), it was moving into a reflection, meditation of Christ and then that interior dialogue with God. So that’s how we would begin the day. At the, close to that time, there was what began three little hours of prayer during the day. We say hours of prayer but actually this one took about ten to fifteen minutes.
In the old days, there was a shortened time, there was another time, (???), but with the reform of the liturgy, it began, we would have church. And that would be, take us right up close to the time for mass so at that point the sacristan could get ready for mass and then the nuns could do the few things that they needed to do just in that short time. Then we would have, have gathered in, as community (???). On Sundays it was pretty much just the community but on weekdays the chapel was also open to the public. And we did, it varied from time to time, as to how many people there would be, whether it be a dozen, whether it be a handful. Sometimes you would have more than that. In recent years, on Saturday, when it was hard to find an eight o’clock mass, we sometimes would have maybe two (of those?). But often times people would just come in to share in that quiet mass. The nuns would sing … actually, not before Vatican II. Before Vatican II, as we mentioned, it was kind of a (solid wall?) and there were even norms that required that the nuns not be singing during mass, that they could respond, it just was not chanting. But that was lifted with the reforms and very quickly, our community had some gifted musicians … moved into chanting, sing, not just, not just Gregorian chant but also singing. And that, that has continued to be a part of our life as a community. After we would be, in the community, as mass, it would be a (sung?) mass. In old days, early, early days, pardon me … the Dominicans, we were down the street from Saint Louis Bertrand, and the Dominicans were our chaplains. Then when we came, moved here, kind of by a little quirk that Bellarmine was our twin foundation almost.”
Father: “Well, you had Sister Horrigan, Monsignor Horrigan’s sister.”
Mother John Baptist: “Monsignor Horrigan, and that’s really the way it got started. One of our sisters had a brother, Monsignor Horrigan, who was the founding president of Bellarmine and he was right in the neighborhood and they didn’t have anybody else to sign this (???) so (he? /we?) wrote a petition again and that started a kind of a very rich connection between our community and Bellarmine that has been (???) over the years. Family ties have been an important part of those connections, but, those, of, the ties that we have with friendships, as well as with the priests in the diocese. We’ve had chaplains here, we had, the diocesan priests from Bellarmine and then later from Saint James, Monsignor Horrigan, we’ve had our neighbors, the Passionists have often helped us out. They were Franciscans, mostly have being connected with Bellarmine originally, although for our (confessors?) we’ve had Dominicans, Franciscans, and Passionists at different times. So that’s made a good connection with the men religious of the order, of the diocese, Archdiocese, as well as the, in recent years our chaplains have been retired priests of the Archdiocese for the most part.”
Father: “And, and when Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke at Bellarmine, she came here and stayed with the sisters.”
Mother John Baptist: “That’s correct. My understanding on that was that when she needs to stay some place, she tends to look for a Carmel. And a lot of that, and, and her reasoning on it is that its, its very plain and its very, set, set apart. It’s a quiet place with little publicity and it was a very nice connection. She stayed in the external quarters when she was here with her companion Sister (???). They … kind of … part of the simplicity of the life, was that by the time you know with the police escorts, when they arrived to, to pick her up to take her to Bellarmine, it so happened that one of our old friends, who, who was delivering milk for us happened to come up and meet her … he was, he was allowed in. And so she very, she was very happy to meet him. And, but that’s, that was just kind of her simplicity as well. And, and, but I think in part of what even her attraction and, aside from just her devotion to Saint Therese, who was her patron, Saint Theresa (???) … Carmelite nun whose patrons of missions of all things. Her appreciation for the simplicity and the poverty, that are ahead, remain a part of our life. Even with all the complexities that modern life involves, and, and even the demands that it has made on our life, adaptations that its required. That, that simplicity of life, the familiar relationship that, that in a beautiful way is, is reflected in parishes in another way but, but can be lived more intensely in, in the monastic context, especially, you know, in a very small, monastic community.”
Father: “And Thomas Merton was another visitor here very frequently.”
Mother John Baptist: “That’s right. He, he was especially attracted by Carmelites spirituality … that was probably the main draw. And he quietly showed up in the chapel … I think he was, I think it was back on Park Avenue at the time, just quietly showed up to pray when he was, you know, waiting to do to the doctor. He had permission to come. He came several days before they found out who it was. And then he began with our priors at that time, meeting from time to time with Mother Sarah. He kept a, had a good relationship with her. She was a, actually kind of a mentor to him …”
Father: “And, and he would come to this Carmel too sometimes?”
Mother John Baptist: “That, he came here, kind of the same agreement, that he was waiting for a ride … but then, then a, a friendship got established through that and then correspondence. That was a time of, he … that friendship has helped Carmel, not just our local Carmel, but his deepening awareness of Carmelite spirituality, the spirituality of prayer, and his ability to popularize that … which is, can hardly be matched by anyone (???), in modern times. They would say, you know, he is what Saint Teresa did in her day of, just making, you know, becoming, helping people to become aware that, that, that prayer is, is an invitat-, its an open invitation. And that that’s, its not a specialization. Its not a specific vocation … its, its, its an invitation to people to live their ordinary life (???) with God. And, its, deepening, his own deepening experience of it and the struggles with it, that as much as it helped opened up also … kind of (brought? /broadened?) him, the Trappist tradition, you know, opened it into its own tradition in some ways, broadened, mold, contribute to the way that there, that they responded to Vatican II. That, it has been a big help, where, in popularizing Carmelite spirituality that has allowed the secular order to grow in, in recent decades. Really right now its probably, almost, probably fifty.”
Father: “Well, I (have to?) digress, (you were talking about?) part of your day and then we talked (about your visitors?).”
Mother John Baptist: “There weren’t too many of them. The (???) stopped but that’s about the limit of our, our (???) visitors.”
Father: “But we were up to daily mass.”
Mother John Baptist: “The daily mass, yes. From there, the, we, there would be a, kind of, a morning time of (period?) of work and then coming together just before lunch time, (???) which was our main meal of the day, coming together again for another short time of prayer and, a daily period, just a short time of reflection (where we calm things down?). Its time to think on what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been doing it, and to kind of refocus a little bit and recenter right at the time when there is a little break in the day. As a community we would come over. There were processions, would come, the (cluster? /cloister?) were kind of famous for their processions going back and forth. Sometimes, they were, in the old days especially, there would be chanting of Psalms during that time and it was more ceremonial. By, in, by the time I came, the processions tended to be in silence. But it was moving as a community. So we had, in Carmel, there is that duality of, of the community life and yet at the same time that emphasis, especially on, on the solitude and, and especially the call that each one has to, to an unique life of prayer, an unique relationship with God, that, that contributes to, to the community. But, but, but fostering that time apart, that space apart was an important part of, of the structure of the day. After the, after the period of lunch, and this is Saint Teresa’s kind of innovation (???) … she thought it was important for community to gather not only for prayer, not only for the meals … during the mealtime we would have, it would be eaten in silence except for the reading, a spiritual reading. By, in more recent years we took advantage of (???) taped conferences for, for lectures or something like that … occasionally music on feast days.
But for the most part it was a (???) spiritual reading, whether it be scripture or religious, spiritual books. Originally it would be a sister who would do the actual reading but, partly with a smaller community and partly with the (???) of tapes and things, we started, for the most part it was reading. Then we would start doing the clean up … and you know, again, that domestic part of the life, you know, (???), its domestic life. The housekeeping, the serving, just the ordinary service during the day, those things were all, (part of?), they weren’t just things that had to get done. The idea that if you live your life, you know, doing the things that have to get done, you’ll never have time for prayer. So you, what you have to do is just live, live the life, in prayerful way so that you have the awareness that what you’re doing, you’re doing for, before God, in Gods presence, even as you’re, whether you’re with community whether you’re on your own. That, that it (???) the presence of God, you know, that special presence where two or three are gathered, the community presence. But also that, that, that (???) to, to that, that one is with God in prayer, that is a more solitary experience. We would gather as a community in the recreation (room?), which was also set apart. It gave us a special place for community. And then we would have an hour of just casual conversation, but it was as a community. And it was, it wasn’t games. Ordinarily, we would just bring our ordinary some kind of small work that we could do while we were talking … often times it would be sewing or something like that, things that didn’t require a lot of concentration. And then we would, the idea was that it would be one conversation, not, not separate, a lot of separate conversations.
In fact, that was challenging when people became hard of hearing. But the main challenge became, when, where we really couldn’t keep all the bases covered. You know, with getting the work done, with having people at the same time, (other times?) we were off in the infirmary and getting their (???). So in more recent years, especially that mid-day recreation period, was often just spent free to work out in the garden and then we could talk while we worked there, but sometimes worked together. But otherwise work was, ideally was done on your, on your own in a special place, depending on what your work was. Just so that it, you, to allow for more silence while we were working, to allow for more recollection for prayer.”
Father: “During your (chatting time?), I kind of hope you didn’t end up talking about politics too much?”
Mother John Baptist: “That, for the most part, even though, (???), I was asking (???), for instance during World War II or, you know, when (???) on Park Avenue, she said they wouldn’t be … we didn’t… newspapers were discouraged in the tradition, especially at that time. But even in more recent years, we would get news from people about what was going on through family members or chaplains or things like that. So, we knew more or less what was going on but to follow very closely was not in tradition. I don’t think anyone can understand it… not having the media and it’s hard to imagine that now… not having the television and the radio going all the time, whether it’s by your own choice or because you are in the car or you’re going all over. That probably in the past fifteen years, people have had to explore that a little bit more, partly because they have been going out to the doctor more of the time, so they are getting more of the outside contact anyway.
But really, probably until almost 2000, it was very filtered information coming in. Politics were not really the sort of conversations we had. We would get news (prayer requests?) that would come in, especially about families… good news, bad news, but we also talked about what was blooming in the garden. It was just a sharing, sharing of stories, in a very beautiful way. At the time 1990, we actually had four generations living in the house. One of whom (???), the last of our (???) which is still living. So, we got not only community history but we got history of some places we knew about some ways for some families, we kind of knew more about their (great aunt?) than they did. It was a… just a, gentle time of sharing, the goal of it was a time of relaxation, that would allow the sisters to go back to prayer, allow them to (sustain?) in some ways the solitude in a better way. But also there is something about recreating together. Sometimes they would walk in the garden together. That time for Saint Teresa was important as far as the bonding goes, you know sharing concerns like your family member is sick, you know and that everybody healed, and you’d get news on and you are kind of sharing that prayer as well as getting news on graduations or births. We also heard about the news of the local church as well as news in The Record, which of course did make it in, at least in (???).”
Father: “The thing about politics is, it’s important of course, and it could be helping, and it could also be depressing.”
Mother John Baptist: “One thing, probably until about 2000, the nuns did not vote. After that time, they were free to do that but… one of the questions obviously of responsibility is that if you’re going to vote then you are going to have to be more informed. So, people, each one could make that decision.”
Father: “What about, you mentioned like (lunch?), what about diet?”
Mother John Baptist: “We don’t, according to our rule of life, unless there is a need, for instance, for health reasons to eat meat, then we didn’t. So ordinarily it wasn’t available, occasionally if we had someone in the infirmary that needed it, then they would make some arrangement for it. But other than that, it was a lot dependent on what was given, what was donated, that was an important part of supporting our life. In fact, going back to the early days of the depression, one of the families there that came for prayers, a man who came for prayers for his business, he was very (grateful?), and he needed to donate vegetables to us, even (until we moved?). So, a lot of what was given to us, we would make use of those things. In a very… that was a way that we kind of stayed close to kind of the domestic side of (old?) family. So, a lot of it we were getting for instance, people coming to the (turn???) asking for prayers. It was a very family kind of, somebody stops at the grocery, and you know comes by (Caramel Avenue/Carmelites?) stocked with the grocery, drops off a few cans of soup, and leaves their prayer intention for (???) and talks about what is going on in their family right at that time.”
Sitting in Sisters Choir
Father: “Now were in the Sisters Choir and I think that Sister John Baptist will have some very (???) to tell us about this remarkable space.”
Mother John Baptist: “The (???) is on the opposite side of the chapel. After Vatican II, the (solid wall?) two sides was opened with (gates or grates?) so that we were able to see the alters, the priest at the alter during mass. And also, the side gates were opened so that we were better able to hear the (???), which of course the vernacular is now in English. For most of the day, which was a continuation of really of the Eucharistic liturgy, kind of the Eucharistic part of the day and of our lives, was spent chanting of the divine (office?) in the liturgy of the (???) of the monastic tradition here in the choir. The (top?) of the monastery was built, was built (???) at that time the maximum for Carmel, for the discussed Carmelite nuns which was 22. That included the priors and the subpriors, the two who governed the community, democratically elected by the chaplain which is the gathering of the nuns. But the nuns would divide into (???). For the most part we did things (???), meaning one side and then the other would respond, as though we were speaking the Psalms to each other as well as praying together during that time. With Carmel, the balancing of the time of solitary work, the coming together with community didn’t just divide the day but it kind of unified the day.
As I mentioned, we began in the morning here first thing, during we would have a (silent storm?) from the after the (???) until the following morning, then the nuns would come. First thing that we would do, so first the (chapel?), actually we would have the ringing of (Cant..???), the bell tower, we have two bells, I think. The bell tower would announce the beginning of the day and call the nuns to prayer. We would begin with the Angelus, which (began in ???) (???) (???) praying together those prayers. Then we would go right into the liturgical (office?) of morning prayer thoughts. As we would chant, as primarily chanting psalms, our tradition is very simple and we would take (???), except for feast days. It would just be a simple (record?) tone, really a monotone chant, but it was accompanied by (ceremonies?) which are typical of the monastic order. The tacks on the floor, were places that identified where the nuns would go to stand. So, on each side they would come together and someone would be designated to chant a certain part, an introduction or … there would be one sister who would be appointed for the week to lead the prayers. So that, all kinds of little weekly routines where you would be designated, and it built … it tied… obedience was part of our life even in just the ordinary things. You would be designated to do something for a certain week, you would wash the dishes or cook, but it was tied together so that you had your religious duty, your ceremonial duty, as well as your household duty for the week.
But here in the choir, because it was so focused, we had the Blessed Sacrament preserved in the Tabernacle, which used to be on this side after the renovation, formerly it was in the center. It was a place of prayer. Sometimes the nuns would take a little bit of time during the day when they had some short time and come make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, maybe pray the Rosary at that time. But the main thing that this choir was for the chanting of the liturgic, chanting of the liturgy, as prayer of the church and was the responsibility of the nuns. If you want to talk about our role in the church, as (???) then that kind of represented what that was. So that everything around the day, was just (???), we just kept coming, on behalf of the church, coming together for those prayers. (???), it is God’s gift to us, the Psalm’s, so it’s chanting (???). We would, there were ceremonies involved with it that had added beauty to it but also kind of coordination and … kind of a focus, held a kind of attentiveness that would really foster a sense of participating, that even, worshiping with your whole body, you know the (???), the standing, the sitting, the moving from one part of the space to another. It was kind of a gracefulness about it, that was not choreography, but some, an orderliness.”
Father: “And when a sister died, she would be waked in this space?”
Mother John Baptist: “This really was our worship space. So sisters having lived in enclosure, would also be buried from our chapel, from our side.”
Father: “Any particular rituals associated with wake or the funerals?”
Mother John Baptist: “As much as possible, we would… actually the last sister, we had two, in the time that I have been here, we’ve had two sisters who actually died here, maybe three, who died here at the Monastery. Ordinarily, sisters live their whole life here, and by way of (extension/exception?), especially in more recent years, with the opportunities that the nursing facility provides as well as limits to our capacity to provide that care, that we have made use of that. Ordinarily, when people lived here their whole life, and even in the early, when it first came, we were still able to keep the sister here even in preparation for that, preparation for the burial rather. Sisters would, someone would come into assist us a bit with that. Then the sisters would stay, keep vigilant with the body, (???), continue our prayers in the choir at the ordinary time, it was kind of surrounding the sister with prayer. At certain times, the grate was opened for people to come and (???) the prayers, for people to come for a visitation. Then we would have a funeral mass. The mass itself would take place on the outside but then at the end, a priest would come in, a priest and his attendant, would come in and we would go proceed to the cemetery at the back of our (???). We were very fortunate that the original property came from Calvary Cemetery, which allowed us to bury quickly and closure, not every Carmel has that opportunity. That has been a blessing for us also… because, just prayer for the dead. That sense of the communion of saints, the living and the deceased. We have a strong sense of that in this life… not only because we are specially requested to pray for the dead… that’s built into the liturgy and that we have so many friends that have gone before us and our own sisters… but that sense of community of the church, you know, that’s just (???), throughout the world but as they say, (???) … it goes through time, the sense of community… there… a sense of praying for the dead but also a sense of the intercession that they provide. In the old days, the daily chanting, there was one sister who would move from one part of the monastery to another as community, in procession. They would have specifically some of the prayers of (the day before?) that were specifically prayers for the dead, offered for the dead.
In the ancient monastic custom, actually had to do it quite, often times the crypt was below the (???), which wasn’t the case here but… that sense of praying for a continuum of life, (???), is very much at the heart of the Christian tradition. We have sisters who would pray, pray to somebody to thread the needle. I mean, it was just an ordinary part of our life… but also very beautiful. Often times, we would, different ones of us would incorporate just walking out in the garden… maybe just, kind of a little prayer walk where we would go down to the end of the garden, where the cemetery is and just stop for a time of prayer. Again, it has been a beautiful way for maintaining not only our prayer for those, who those who have died, but those more recently as well as those sisters already gone, and our old sisters as well as all the departed.
But in a beautiful way, that sense also that they pray for us… that we have intercessors… as a community it has been something that has helped us to maintain our sense of… the broad sense of community, the sense of tradition, the sense of mutual support. In religious life, as much as it is an individual consecration, that one has to really, really choose, it’s also a communal vocation. It is a gift to the church, it is lived in the church, and especially in religious life, it is supported by a (ecclesiastic?) community. We certainly have that sense of support in the Archdiocese but here, within the closeness of the religious community, we have to be there for each other, even though it wasn’t a lot of verbal exchange. Not a lot of one-on-one conversations, just that mutual sense of supporting each other in their efforts to grow in holiness, to be faithful to God, to be faithful to growing in prayer, to the acts of charity. Because we lived so closely together and spent so much time together, side by side, we would be here for the (chanted?) prayers but we would also be here for mass, but we would also be here for the silent prayer, which is unique to each one, but we were gathered for it so there was sense of solitary that supported us and continues to support us even in (???).”
Father: “It was very kind for you to answer all these questions and we are very grateful. Is there anything that I have not had a chance to ask you would like to talk about before we conclude today?”
Mother John Baptist: “(Our place in the church?), we’ve touched on it with the ties with the Archdiocese, but friends that have supported us in all kinds of ways. I mentioned religious, but the lay people who have been friends over the years, whether it is coming for prayers, helping take us to the doctor. I didn’t really talk about what led us to leave… and that’s kind of a long story but in some ways a very short story because it happened very quickly… but the changes in the demographics of the community… that interplay between tradition and the needs of the modern age, the demands of living in a modern age. Those things pressed on our would in a way that… and throughout the country… that have, partly in a very good way, allowed and provided opportunities, health opportunities for sisters to go out to the doctor more, as they can do more for, they can do therapy. There are a lot of things that can be provided that the house calls of the old doctors couldn’t provide and we’ve been able to (???) that and we have sisters who live long, long life’s and continue (???) what typically was the case. The change in vocations really did drop off, in the 60s for sure but really in this Carmel it dropped because we had met our number and we really didn’t have anyone coming in the 70s or 80s… I think very end of the 80s we had first ones starting to come back… and then we’ve had people in and out in the (???), for different levels of formation that has kept people coming in and allowed us to keep the community open longer but as far as finite vocations, that has not… that’s been very… the numbers have been very small and at a certain point, this big, beautiful monastery, there were fourteen nuns when they moved here from Park Avenue but we were down to just six people living in the monastery at the time we left. So to maintain the form of life, we had to choose what was central and as much as community is an important part of our life…”
Mother John Baptist: “… and we’ve been able to preserve that, even in our new situation. The time and space for prayer is something that a building can’t completely provide. You need (???) of a formidable life that is livable, that you have, that is, where you’re not overwhelmed by the demands and where you can provide for the needs of the sisters, each one. So that really is where, what led us to move into another very gracious (convent?) …
Father: “At Ursuline and Sacred Heart home.”
Mother John Baptist: “At Ursuline and Sacred Heart home, and we still have one sister up at Nazareth.”
Father: “Any special memories of the very last day, saying goodbye to this place?”
Mother John Baptist: (Laughter)
Father: “Maybe melancholy? Maybe (???)?”
Mother John Baptist: “A lot of angst… we did gather as a community in a tradition that we have. Right behind us is the chapel, that was the other gathering space for, in monastic tradition, where we would address community situations and where we would discuss, that’s where our discussion about what moves we should make, what needed to do, that’s where that facilitated discussion came. But there was a tradition that was actually associated, especially with Holy Thursday, which was … there beautiful ceremonies for Holy Thursday … the washing of the feet, observed not so much as a (???) but in monastic tradition, it was actually a community ceremony that we’ve maintained. So it’s adapted in different ways over the years. But that Holy Thursday tradition, of gathering together, our move came, the decision to move came during the Easter season. But in addition to the liturgical celebrations of Holy Thursday, at the beginning of that day, we would gather together and instead of having formal (chapter?), where each one would say whatever area there might have been a (???) in (???), I over slept, I broke a (???), in a formal way that was an ordinary part of the life. On that day we would gather together just in silence, as a community, and after a simple reading of scriptures of passage, short, just short verses of passages spoke of community, love, and reconciliation. Then each one, in just a very simple, informal way, could speak of the things, where especially over the past year … areas of where they would just like (???). And I think … mutual forgiveness is such an important part of any community.”
Father: “Very powerful, mhm …”
Mother John Baptist: “And it really, just this community, the mutual love where we could presume that day-to-day (???).”
Father: “Well it was clearly a very powerful time.”
Mother John Baptist: “It was. And right before we moved, of all the rituals that we had, certainly we have the beauty of celebrating mass together and it was the feast of the transfiguration … but of all the rituals, we chose that one as being a very simple way where we confirm … our mutual commitment to support each other … and just so that we were moving together.”
Father: “It wasn’t quite like … This wasn’t quite like when he left one of his residences’, of course this is (pre-? /early?) (18th/19th?) century, and he records in his journal that he went around and kissed each wall, so (I assume that didn’t happen here?).”
Mother John Baptist: “You know, I think for each one, you know, just familiarity, there is something about sweeping out your (cell?) that … certainly there was still a lot to be done. We didn’t empty the building at the time we moved, which was probably a good thing, in the sense that it allowed us to move as a community and separated ourselves a little bit from the building, Not that, the (???) would be lovers of the place, but I guess we are also because we just lived here so, so (intensely?) and such a continuum, with our sense of community, from the sisters, especially with the way we have the cemetery.”
Father: “So you’re saying, its not just a building but their presence is in the building.”
Mother John Baptist: “Right, right. And just the familiarity, I guess each one with their, with their workspace (???). But … “
Father: “Like leaving an old friend.”
Mother John Baptist: “Leaving an old friend … but it was important to just kind of have that sense that, that we go with God … and so that even this was a kind of obedience, just a new way of God leading us. But it’s … going out the (???) door, there had been more of it in recent years as we were going back and forth to the doctor, but there really is something strange about locking everything up behind you for the first time, and knowing there is nobody on the inside to open back up. So … it was a strange thing, but it was a good thing for us, as things developed and we realized what direction the building would, you know, who would be taking charge of the space. It was a consolation to all of the nuns that it’s, that it would still be, it was given back into the care of the Archdiocese.”
Father: “Kind of staying in the family a little bit.”
Mother John Baptist: “That’s really what it was, yes, that’s what it was. I guess … the separating for the nuns, I think, when we were really kind of going separate directions immediately, the (mother house?) and the Sacred Heart home. That was a very strange, strange feeling but … as I said, there was good, a lot of solidarity in the process of coming to a recognition of what is community to (serve as Gods will?). I guess that … take for granted that people understand that (vows?) are a part of the life. The space suggests to us the poverty but there is also the part of it, the poverty that each one of us knows. Especially, Carmelite tradition, the sense of detachment of not letting anything come between you, even the things that would be helpful and supportive of your spiritual life … that is not the thing itself, but it’s the relationship. So that moving out, that also, was kind of a part of obedience to what we recognized as Gods calling … part of the poverty … the vow of chastity, is really for us, we experienced it as, you mentioned that old, traditional (???) ceremony. But belonging to God. What we’ve experienced in our new situation is how much that belonging to God goes with you but in a way that God can give you, give you to others in a new way … and that’s what, especially over at (Mercy?) Sacred, Sacred Heart homes, the sisters there blessed that there with a Ursuline community of sisters as well. But … the people welcome having sisters (???) and they are realizing that it’s a gift. Kind of the (???) that they have always lived within the wall, of the (???) prayer for the church … they are living it in the midst now.”
Father: “You know, I was just thinking John the Baptist himself was the forerunner and lead people to what was to come. You, Mother John Baptist, have been kind of a leader and helped transition to what is to be. So we thank you for that and thank you for your time today with us.”