Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus Central Province
In honor of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Ávila, Managing Editor Elizabeth Herzing interviews Sr. Mary Elizabeth, Carmel DCJ, a Carmelite sister, on the apostolate.
“Begin anew, with holy zeal, love and faithfulness, to be genuine daughters of our St. Teresa and true servants of the Divine Heart of Jesus. This is what I wish for and implore of you continuously with warmest love.” —Blessed Maria Teresa
Q. What is the history of your order, and how is St. Teresa of Ávila connected?
A. The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus were founded in Berlin, Germany, in 1891 by Blessed Mother Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, Anna Maria Tauscher. Anna Maria was born in 1855 to a Lutheran family and converted to Catholicism as an adult. She had a deep desire to live a life of prayer and serve the poor and homeless. Though she feared that founding a new religious order was a “temptation,” she was reassured by a priest that those doubts were groundless and moved forward. Mother Maria Teresa took St. Teresa of Jesus as her model. She embraced the Carmelite spirit of prayer and coupled it with direct service in the apostolate. Her first home, St. Joseph’s Home for children, was born in Berlin. Other young women soon gathered around her mission. Thus the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus were born. After many years and numerous trials, the congregation finally reached approval as an Ecclesial Congregation of Pontifical Rite. Essentially, the charism of Carmel is following the prayerful nature of Christ in the spirit of Mary. Prayer, primarily contemplative prayer, comes first. It is the source of all our life and activity. The union of the contemplative spirit with the active apostolate is the distinguishing mark of the Carmel of the Divine Heart of Jesus and its gift to the Church and the world. Our apostolate is carried out in harmony with community life and religious discipline.
Q. Explain the mission of your order’s ministry.
A. Our mission is to work and pray for the salvation of souls in the spirit and zeal of the Carmelites of old. We strive to perform all of our tasks in a spirit of reparation and consecrate ourselves to the Divine Heart of Jesus in atonement for all the outrages committed against him, for our own sanctification and for the salvation of souls. While our apostolic work provides homes for youth and the elderly, our ultimate goal in meeting this need is to help people find their home in Christ.
Q. How has your ministrytouched lives?
A. Our ministry has brought children, youths, and seniors to Jesus in the United States since 1912. The stories of lives touched and changed are numerous. Children in our day-cares have asked their parents to please let them be baptized so that they can share in the life of Jesus. Youths from our homes have returned to say that being with the sisters was a life-changing experience and in some instances their first experience of love. And our senior residents say this is a great place to prepare for their “final exam.” We are channels of God’s tender love and mercy, helping everyone have access to the sacraments of the Church and the loving mercy of God. The employees in our ministries are also touched daily by their contact with the sisters and the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in our homes. Once, an employee even asked if she had to be Catholic to go to confession. The sisters themselves come together to share the various stories of the apostolate at our noon meal and at recreation. Seeing the faith of our senior residents, with their aches and pains, trying to genuflect as they come into the chapel inspires the young sisters in their faith. All the sisters are enriched and blessed by their service to the old and young.
Q. What do you foresee for your ministry?
A. In keeping with the principles of with our founding mother, we see our ministry being increasingly involved in the New Evangelization. Although the specific manner in which we carry out our apostolates may change—for example, we used to own and operate orphanages, but these have become obsolete in more developed parts of the world—the need to bring people home to the heart of Jesus is permanent. Heaven is eternal, and God is unchanging. We are privileged to love the little ones into this life and the elderly into eternal life. I foresee this continuing for a long time. However, we will certainly face challenges due to relativism and an ever-increasing culture of death. We need to be educated regarding our faith and in the practical aspects of our specific ministries. We must possess a gentle charity and solid inner conviction to help others recognize the truth.
Q What challenges do you face? How will you overcome them?
A. One of the biggest challenges is the ever-increasing business-mindedness of the senior-living industry. We seek to offer a true home for the elderly. Our mother foundress wanted us to be a place where seniors could “spend a quiet evening of life, lighted up by peace and warmed by God’s love.” While we operate like a business in today’s society, we are not a business. The sisters firmly believe in the power of prayer, especially the generous intercession of St. Joseph, to support our work. We also face challenges from the ever-increasing government involvement in health care and long-term care. Life is sacred from conception to natural death. In recent years, the government and society have put increasing pressure upon religious organizations to act in ways contrary to their religious liberty and conscience. Our authentic freedom to pursue our apostolic work in accordance with the moral norms of our faith is in danger. We will not act contrary to the teachings of our faith. Additionally, although vocations are more about faithfulness than numbers, we wouldn’t refuse more young women! God is still calling, but in today’s society it is much harder for young people to hear his still, small voice. Ultimately, we trust in the faithfulness of our Father, who always provides.
Q. How can people support your ministry?
A. We always appreciate any support and assistance in encouraging young women to attend retreats and discover the incredible depth and beauty of consecrated religious life. Contact our vocation directress if you would like to help us spread the word about our events for young women by hanging event flyers or placing our community’s brochures at your local parish or retreat center. If you know a young woman who has a great love for silent, contemplative prayer but doesn’t feel called to a cloistered life, encourage her to visit our website or join us for a retreat. Our goal in every retreat is to simply expose young women to the awe-inspiring gift that the consecrated life is to the Church and assist them in honestly and genuinely seeking out the vocation to which God is calling them. We always appreciate monetary donations, and we pray daily for our friends and benefactors. We also depend on volunteers. We love and appreciate the many volunteers who assist us in our ministry. For more information, visit carmelitedcj.org.