A Deeper Prayer Life

July 21-Aug3, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 26
A Deeper Prayer Life
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Men and women religious and lay people have been attracted to the Carmelite Order and have followed its tradition for eight centuries. Although prayer and meditation are the mainstays of the Carmelite Order, their spirituality is more than just a call to prayer. Carmelites learn how they can live more responsibly in the Carmelite community and how to contribute to the community’s work in the life of the church. The Carmelites have two models: Elijah the Prophet as patron and Mary the Mother of God as patroness.

Seven Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm exemplify Carmelite spirituality as they serve in various capacities at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Utica. The Carmelite Order provides nurses, an activities director and assistant, a social worker, a dietician and an administrator to the nursing home.

The Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm is a congregation founded by Mother Mary Angeline Teresa McCrory in 1929 to provide quality care in a dignified manner to the aged and infirm so the latter years of an elderly person’s life would be meaningful and happy.

Sister Xavier Francis Russo, O. Carm. has been a member of the Carmelite Order for 50 years and serves as a nurse at St. Joseph’s. Her interest in the Carmelite Order began in 1955, when she read a book about the Carmelites, which was given to her by her pastor in Hoboken, N.J. Soon after that, she entered the Carmelite Order.

“I love my order and my habit,” said Sister Xavier Francis. “We wear the mantle (a white cloak) for Mass and special occasions. We offer Mass to the elderly. I am able to combine my religious life with my work. We put our spirituality into everything we do.”

Sister Mary Vianney, O. Carm. is another sister at St. Joseph’s that likes wearing her habit. “I fell in love with the mantle,” remarked Sister Mary. She’s been a member of the Carmelite Order for four years after moving to Utica from Canada.

She was impressed by the sense of holiness embodied by the sisters when she visited the motherhouse in Germantown, N.Y.

Sister Mary likes the way she is able to combine prayer with her work as an activities assistant. “Our order is very devoted to Mary, the Mother of God,” explained Sister Mary. “She is the Patroness of our order. I look up to Mary and try to do the will of God. It helps me to keep going on my journey.”

Sister Patricia Markey, O. Carm. is a nurse practitioner at St. Joseph’s. She’s been a Carmelite since 1949 and she likes the spirituality of the order. “My religious life brings me closer to God,” said Sister Patricia.

“I receive great joy from serving older people,” remarked Sister Patricia. “It’s wonderful. I love every minute. I love working with the residents.”

Sister Patricia has been involved with nursing homes since she was 19 years old. While attending college, she was a member of the USO Club and volunteered at a nursing home. After a year, she stopped volunteering at the home because she was called to the religious life. “Through working with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, I was able to go back to serving in a nursing home,” explained Sister Patricia. “I’m very happy that I did.”

The Carmelite Order was founded during the 12th century by a group of hermits on Mount Carmel in Israel. They were inspired by and modeled their life after the Prophet Elijah. Carmelites see him today as a model for the task of witnessing to the presence of God in the world.

The hermits built a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady in the Wadi ain’es Siah. Around 1210, they approached Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to ask him for a “formula of life” to guide them. Albert gave them a “Rule of Life”, which received the approval of Pope Honorius in 1216. The hermits were known as the Brothers of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, or Carmelites.

The Carmelite “Rule”, though written between 1206 and 1214, is still very much in tune with the spirituality of today. It begins and ends with Christ. With its insistence on continual prayer, obedience to a superior, solitude and simplicity in every phase of life, its prescription for silence, perpetual abstinence and fasting, this first Rule has been called a “Rule of Mysticism”.

In the 13th century, the Carmelites migrated to Europe, where they became friars. Because their habit was a brown tunic and scapular with a white cape and hood, they became known as “white friars.”

During the 16th century, the mystics St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross helped establish a reformed branch of the order known as the Discalced Carmelites, who went without shoes as a sign of austerity. The main purpose of the order is contemplation, consisting of prayer, penance, hard work and silence.

Dorothy and Donald Roller are members of the Secular Discalced Carmelites Order in Syracuse. The chapter celebrated its fifth anniversary on July 9 with the inception of three new members. A period of formation and training is required for anyone interested in becoming a Secular Discalced Carmelite. During this introductory period of attendance at several monthly meetings, one meets the community members and learns about the Secular Order. After this introductory period, one may become a member by entering formation.

The Secular Discalced Carmelite, in keeping with the spirit of the order, dedicates himself or herself, to a life of prayer and good works and follows the Secular Discalced Carmelite Rule of Life, now referred to as the Constitution. The Constitution’s daily obligations are the morning and evening prayers from the Divine Office, a half hour of mental prayer, and wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Highly recommended, but not required, are daily Mass and Communion, saying night prayer from the Divine Office and spiritual reading.

Since 1991, the Rollers have been practicing Carmelites and are members of a group of 20 who meet monthly at the Dominican Monastery in Syracuse.

“My faith has always been strong, but being a Carmelite draws me closer to God,” remarked Dorothy. “It describes the love that God has for us in such a sublime way.” She said being a Carmelite has deepened her spirituality. “I have a deeper prayer life,” Dorothy said. “It involves more than just saying a prayer. It’s a meditative prayer that is in union with God. It’s so beautiful — it’s the best kept secret in the Catholic Church.”

Donald is president of the Syracuse chapter and feels that his life has changed since becoming a Carmelite. “I was drifting along as a Catholic, but this brings you closer to the Lord,” explained Donald. “You develop a meaningful prayer life and it makes you a better Christian.”

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