Copyright © 2014-2015 Carmelite Nuns of Barrington, RI

Origins of Carmel and the Barrington Monastery

Mount Carmel in the Holy Land is a region of hills and valleys. In the Bible, it is used as a symbol of beauty and fruitfulness. It forms a sort of triangle with a summit that extends the mountains of Samaria. The northwest angle of the area, known as the promontory, end with the head of Carmel and forms the southern limit of the boy of Haifa. Various valleys descend from this crest into the Mediterranean Sea. In one these, Wadi, situated about four miles from Haifa, some Latin Hermits established their hermitage after the Third Crusade (1187 - 1192). Drawn by a dream to follow more closely in the footsteps of Jesus, these hermits were inspired to live in a spirit of the great prophet Elijah. The memory of this Old Testament figure pervaded the mountain. These lay hermits asked Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem to prepare a written rule to codify their already existing practices. This Formula Vitae, given to the hermits somewhere between the years 1206 and 1214, carries within itself the eremitical and cenobitical elements that have nourished the contemplative dream of Carmelites over the centuries. They chose for themselves as their titular patroness the Blessed Virgin Mary and constructed a small church in her honor. They were called the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Our primitive rule states that we must pray without ceasing. . . I shall mention the practice of three things that are necessary for those who seek to follow the way of prayer. The first of these is love for one another; the second is detachment or interior freedom; and the third is humility."
St. Teresa of Avila, Foundress,
Way of Perfection

The Carmelites were forced to leave the mountain and became part of a growing mendicant movement in Europe. Periods of mitigation and reform followed them. In the 16th century, drawn by a dream, a woman named Dona Teresa de Ahumada entered one of the communities following the mitigated Rule. At the Carmel of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, Teresa was given a new dream. Inspired by the contemplative spirituality of the first hermits on Mount Carmel, she began to make foundations of reformed houses, known today as the Discalced Carmelites. Living as hermits within community, the Discalced Carmelites became a separate Order in 1594. Foundations were made in France, Belgium, and Holland. American women entered the Carmel of Hoogstraet, Holland founded from Antwerp. The following of their dream to found a Carmel in their native land became a reality in 1790. Three American women, Mother Bemardina Matthews, her nieces, Mary Eleanora and Mary Aloysia Matthews and an Englishwomen from Antwerp, Sister Clare Joseph Dickinson, made the two and a half month sea voyage from the Netherlands to America and settle in Port Tobacco, Maryland. From this foundation, the Carmel of St. Louis was established in the midst of the Civil War (October 1, 1863). In November if 1877, a third foundation was made, fulfilling the dream held by two women from the city of New Orleans, who had entered the St. Louis Carmel and brought it to their home in Louisiana.

On May 17, 1930, the Carmel in Newport, Rhode Island was founded from the Carmel of New Orleans. This 26th foundation was made at the request of Mrs. Emily Post, a great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Mrs. Post was a prominent society lady and a convert, who had a great devotion to the newly canonized St. Therese and had a dream to give her family home, Stoneleigh, as a Carmelite monastery. The Carmelite fathers became chaplain and confessor to the small community. During the 1950's, as the community grew in numbers, the building was inadequate and needed extensive repairs. Bishop Russell J. McVinney most generously offered the community the site of a former summer camp in Barrington, a suburb twenty miles south of Providence. On September 24th, 1957, eighteen members moved from Newport to Barrington. The split-level red brick structure overlooks Narragansett Bay. In the place of natural beauty, women are still drawn by the dream of the prophet Elijah to be filled with the zeal for the Lord God of Hosts, the dream of the early hermits to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the dream of Teresa of Jesus to be community of friends who live lives of prayer for the Church.