Discalced Carmelite Nuns Mark Century of ‘Prayer and Praise’ in New York


Sister Michaelene Devine, O.C.D., and her prayerful colleagues in Dutchess County have been rejoicing over this year marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of their order, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, in the Archdiocese of New York. The monastery, with the nuns leading a contemplative life, is located on Hiddenbrooke Drive in Beacon.

“This milestone is great for the community, and I think it's great for the archdiocese,” said Sister Michaelene, 78, prioress at the monastery, in a phone interview last week with Catholic New York. 

When nuns from the order arrived in New York from Belgium in 1790, they stayed a few days before moving on to settle in Maryland, so when the Discalced Carmelites established a monastery in New York in 1920, "it was like we came back," their prioress said. 

Sister Michaelene entered the order in 1964 when the monastery was in the Bronx; she has served as prioress since 2018.

"Unable to celebrate our 100th anniversary with due solemnity (because of Covid-19 precautions), we were happy to welcome Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Colacicco (Auxiliary Bishop Gerardo Colacicco) and our pastor, Father Richard Smith, who came to celebrate Mass for us on Oct. 15, the feast of St. Teresa of Jesus," she said. 

Cardinal Dolan was the principal celebrant. Father Smith, pastor of St. Joachim-St. John the Evangelist, Beacon, was the homilist.

“We pray for the Church; we pray for the world. Our lives are a life of prayer and praise to God,” said Sister Michaelene, who was born and raised in Manhattan. “We pray for our country and for the archdiocese, for all the people in the archdiocese.” Her childhood parish was St. Elizabeth in Washington Heights. 

She said the monastery used to have daily Mass before the pandemic, with guests welcome; currently it is once a week, with no guests. “We suffer with the people,” Sister Michaelene said of the spiritual connection she and other nuns of the monastery have had in their daily prayers for Covid-19 victims, and the families of the sick and the departed. 

The monastery has 11 Discalced Carmelite nuns. One of them is Sister Marjorie Robinson, O.C.D., a former prioress, who said, "I came to the community in 1974 when it was in the Bronx. I'm proud to be part of the community." Sister Marjorie, 72, still serves on the monastery council, which has four members. She is also on the leadership team of the order's national association, Carmelite Communities Associated (CCA).

“Prayer expands the heart, and it expands the mind, so that we are able to embrace all people,” Sister Marjorie said, noting the importance of prayer especially during this challenging time of social unrest and pandemic illness and deaths. 

“We are all human beings equal in the eyes of God, important in the eyes of God.” She also noted the significance of praying for our “global village.”

In 2013, the Beacon Carmelite community welcomed Redemptoristine nuns to share their home. “We are two separate communities but share our lives of prayer; we find it is an enrichment for both of our communities,” Sister Michaelene said. There are presently five Redemptoristine nuns at the monastery.

The Carmel of the Archdiocese of New York was the 14th founded in the United States, and the last foundation of Baltimore Carmel. The five foundresses (four nuns and one novice) arrived in Manhattan on July 15, 1920. They resided in Manhattan for about nine months before relocating to the Bronx. In 1982, the Bronx Carmelite community relocated to Beacon, about 60 miles north of Manhattan.

St. Teresa of Jesus, born in Avila, Spain, in 1515, was the driving force behind a reform of the ancient Carmelite Order. She entered the local Carmelite monastery at age 20. In 1562 she established a small community, the Carmel of St. Joseph, also in Avila. In the years that followed, St. Teresa of Jesus (also called St. Teresa of Avila) founded 16 more communities and, with St. John of the Cross, also initiated the reform of the men in the order. St. Teresa of Jesus died in 1582.

In 1790, after religious freedom was secured in the newly formed United States, four Carmelite women left the Carmel of Hoogstraten, Belgium, to journey across the Atlantic. Three of the four foundresses were from prominent Catholic families in Maryland. They arrived at Port Tobacco in Southern Maryland. After some years, they moved to Baltimore.


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