Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, a small group of European hermits settled on Mount Carmel near the present-day city of Haifa in Israel. St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, gave to them a "way of life" which charged them with a life of simplicity, community, a particular "allegiance to Christ" and most especially prayer. They built a chapel in the midst of their hermitages and dedicated it to Our Lady. Soon they were known as the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or simply Carmelites.
Reform and Growth
When the Carmelites came to Europe later in the century, they adapted their style of life to the mendicant movement, so that they could live in cities and minister to the needs of the people. Nonetheless, they never lost sight of both the contemplative dimension and origin of their lives, although they would often struggle to maintain its integrity in the midst of a busy and turbulent world.
In 1562, a Spanish Carmelite nun, know to history as St. Teresa of Avila, although the name she herself chose was Teresa of Jesus, sought to restore the emphasis on contemplative life, first among the nuns, then later among the friars. In this she was ably assisted by St. John of the Cross. The two established a vibrant new family within Carmel, dedicated to single-minded search for God in prayer at the service of the Church. Because they wore sandals, the footwear of the poor, they were popularly known as barefoot or Discalced Carmelites. The nuns led an enclosed contemplative life of prayer and sacrifice for the needs of the Church. The friars shared their spirit and life of prayers, but added to it the care of souls in a varied ministry, particularly in helping others develop a strong relationship with God thorough personal prayer.
The Discalced Carmel spread rapidly throughout Europe and to the New World. St. John of the Cross himself was selected to go to Mexico, but his untimely death prevented this.
Although Discalced Carmelite friars had been among the early explorers of what is now the western United States, they did not establish a permanent community until friars came from Bavaria to Wisconsin in 1906 to staff the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians (which, in 2006, was honored with the distinct privilege of Basilica status as part of its centenary celebrations). In 1914 they added a parish, St. Florian in West Milwaukee, to their responsibilities. In 1942 they came to Brookline, Massachusetts to open a novitiate to accommodate the growing numbers of applicants. (This community transferred to Brighton in 1989.) In 1947, these monasteries were joined to a 1916 Spanish foundation in Washington, DC to become the first Discalced Carmelite Province in the United States: the Province of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Washington Province.
Missions and More Foundations
That same year, the new Province sent six missionaries to the Philippines to help re-establish the Church in Infanta. Two friars of the Province, Patrick Shanley and Julio Labayen, later served as bishop of Infanta.
Other foundations followed: a residence in Youngstown, Ohio meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of the area and a minor seminary (later retreat house) in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Eventually these houses closed as new needs emerged elsewhere. In 1968, the Province established a community of hermits in Hinton, West Virginia. Thus the varied possibilities of the Discalced Carmelite way of life were all present in the houses of the Province.
The next step in the history of the Province came in the summer of 1995 when it assumed responsibility for the Discalced Carmelite House of Studies in Nairobi, Kenya. This is a seminary residence for English speaking African Carmelites preparing for the priesthood. The Province also oversees the spread of the Order in Kenya itself.
And so the Province continues to grow, serving the Church with all the wealth its spiritual patrimony has to offer.