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MOUNT CARMEL IN MARYIAND.
The first convent of religious women in the United States of America was founded in 1790, at a distance of about four miles from Port Tobacco, on the property formerly belonging to Mr. Baker Brooke. The place was henceforward called Mount Carmel, and to this day is known to the people of the neighborhood as " the Monastery." It was situated on an eminence over-looking a wide expanse of solitary country. The new convent was dedicated to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, with Mother Bernardina as prioress.
It was comparatively small, and unfinished, and as building was very expensive, on account of the high wages demanded by workmen, the Community necessarily experienced many obstacles and inconveniences. The existing buildings were constructed of wood, the room the Sisters used for a choir was not even plastered, and the cells were so open to the weather that during the winter the nuns were often obliged to shake the snow off their beds, before rising in the morning.
Under these trying circumstances the Sisters found a true friend in their spiritual director, Father Charles Neale. He would cut wood, drive the cart and gather vegetables for them. His compassionate heart was always ready to solace the afflicted. His advice was full of unction, and seemed to come from a heart penetrated with the love of God, and absorbed in His divine Presence. Towards the sick he was full of charity and kindness.
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In course of time the Sisters were enabled to increase the size of their dwelling, and improve its condition. I will here give a description of it as it was when they left it to remove to Baltimore.
It consisted of seven separate buildings and the chapel, including the infirmary, priest's house and kitchen. The buildings were of logs, or weatherboards, some inlaid with bricks, others with mud. They were all one story buildings, but some of them were surmounted by an attic, with dormer windows. In the rear of the buildings stood the chapel, opening in front and at the side. In front the chapel communicated by means of a grating with the choir, situated in a frame house, inlaid with brick, which stood in the centre of the group of buildings. The chapel was flanked on its left, a little to the rear, by a house connected by means of a covered passage with the building in the centre. Under this centre building was the cellar. This house communicated with another on the right by means of a similar covered passage. The last-named building was the parlor. At a short distance from this house, to the right, and outside of the enclosure, the priest dwelt in a small frame house, consisting of two rooms, separated from each other by a little passage, into which each room opened. A corridor led from the main buildings to the infirmary, situated on the left, at a distance of about seventytwo feet. Adjoining the infirmary the nuns had their kitchen.
In the rear of all the buildings stood the ice house, while a well, at a little distance front the same, supplied the Community with water. Towards the end of their sojourn at Mount Carmel, the nuns erected a new frame dwelling having an upper story. It was situated in front, and a little to the right of the building which served as a parlor.
All the rooms in the monastery, except the one used as an infirmary, were unplastered. No fire was kept, except in the kitchen. In cold weather each nun filled daily a small iron pot with burning coals, which she carried to her cell. A large pan of burning coals served to warm the choir.
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Each cell had a small window sash containing four small panes of glass. It opened on hinges, and was kept closed by means of a wooden button.
A plot of ground in front of the main buildings, and a little to the right, was set aside for the nuns' cemetery, and in the rear of the priests' house, outside the enclosure, a graveyard existed for the people.
Persons from the neighborhood were accustomed to gather in the little Carmelite chapel to hear Mass, but sometimes their number was so great, that the chapel could not contain them, and many were obliged to remain outside. Not far from the place where the chapel stood repose the mortal remains of several of Maryland's Catholics. On those silent tombstones can be read the names of Semmes, Hamilton, Davis, Spalding, Farrel, Brent, Brooke, Clements, Jameson and Sanders, who there await the sound of the archangel's trumpet.
The Monastery was not long founded before several young ladies applied for admission. Father Neale, writing to the Mother Superior of the Carmelite convent at Antwerp, under date of October 27th, 1790, says, they had many postulants, but few fortunes; he adds that the postulants could not be admitted, before some additions had been made to the house.
The first novice received was Miss Elizabeth Carberry. She was born in the year 1744, in St. Mary's County, Maryland, of John Carberry and Mary Thompson, his wife, and her young heart was early trained to virtue. For many years she sighed after the happiness of becoming a religious, but her holy desires could not be gratified until she had attained her forty-eighth year, for only then was the first religious house established in the United States. She made her vows on May 1st, 1792. By her great virtue, she proved herself worthy of the singular privilege of having been the first person to pronounce solemn vows in the United States. She was remarkable for her gratitude to God for the great grace of vocation, and for her profound humility and childlike
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obedience. Our Lord honored her with extraordinary gifts, and she was sometimes favored with a knowledge of future events.
We have seen that when the Carmelites came to America, the ecclesiastical superior of the United States, Father John Carroll, was absent in Europe, whither he had gone to receive his episcopal consecration. The superior of the Hoogstraeten community who had succeeded Mother Bernardina was Mother Ann Lewis of our Blessed Lady. Her name in the world was Ann Hill, and she was born in Prince George's County, Maryland, of Mr. Henry Hill and his wife, Ann Hoskins. She received the habit on September 13th, 1754, and was professed on the 30th of September, 1755, in her 21st year. She was elected prioress on April 24th, 1790, and died in England October 29th, 1813, aged 79. With the exception of Mother Bernardina and her two nieces, she was the only American who ever entered the Community of Hoogstraeten.
Mother Ann Lewis was a cousin of Father Carroll, and having heard of his arrival in Europe, she wrote him as follows:
Being informed of your safe arrival into England, I cannot omit doing myself the honor and satisfaction of writing a few lines.... We heard that you, Honrd Sir, had desired Mr. Charles Neale to return to Maryland with three or four religious of our Holy Order to make there a foundation of Carmelites; in consequence of which our worthy superior, the Rev. Lord Bishop of Antwerp, chose our much esteemed superior, Mrs. Mathews, for that great work. Her two nieces and one of our Order of Antwerp accompanied her. They left us the 19 of April. The grief as well as the great loss we have sustained in parting with so valuable and much esteemed a superior, is greater than I can express. What has added much to the increase of my grief is, Providence has ordained me to succeed her in her office. I fear your absence will defer for some time the foundation; it will be, I am sensible, a great disappointment to her. We have lately heard of the great loss our country has sustained in the death of
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worthy Mr. Mathews, her worthy brother. His death must be a cross and affliction to her. I must acknowledge it is a subject of joy to me to hear our holy faith and religion flourishes so much in my native country, and that religious are permitted to make establishments there, and live up to the spirit of their holy institutes. I am glad our holy Order is the first; though must own at the same time that myself and community have made the greatest sacrifice we possibly could in parting with its worthy foundress. We have distressed ourselves very much, but confide Almighty God will be thereby more glorified, and our holy religion much propagated in America. I add no more on this subject, as I doubt not but you are apprised of the whole affair, it being undertaken by your desires and request, etc.
Hoogstraeten, Aug. 8th, 1790.
Hon d Sir.Your Ob d humble servant and cousin,
ANN LOUISA H ILL.
Bishop Carroll returned to the United States in 1790, and began to take a great interest in the welfare of the Carmelite Community. At the same time their European benefactors ceased not to show them great signs of benevolence. Among them Mr. de Villegas distinguished himself most. Some time after their arrival in America, he sent them a large oil painting of the three Sacred Hearts, which they used as an altar piece, while they were in Charles County. He had given them, before they left Europe, a handsome reliquary, made by Madame Louise de France, and presented to him by herself. He kept up to the last a friendly interest in the foundation, and always inquired after the nuns in America. It appears, from several letters, written at this time, that he wished also to found a convent of Visitation Nuns in this country. It was proposed that they should take the house then occupied by the Carmelites in Charles County, while the latter should build a new convent with the funds he would furnish. He wrote to Annecy in France, where the first house of the Order had been established by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal, hoping to obtain Sisters for this foundation. He
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also applied Father Stone,1 rector of the English College at Liege, to obtain a priest to accompany the Sisters to America. His efforts were, however in vain; the time decreed by Divine Providence for the introduction of the Order of the Visitation into the United States had not yet arrived.
Good Mr. de Villegas went on collecting and sending money to his beloved Carmelites of Maryland, near whom, as he said, he would have liked to end his days.2 He complains, however, in one of his letters to the Sisters3 that he experienced great difficulty in the matter, as the times were very bad, and so much went to the priests that had emigrated from France. He had obtained 1400 florins from Mr. Borrekeins of Antwerp and his family. However, this gentleman's purse must have been well nigh exhausted, as de Villegas complains that his letters to him, as well as those written to some others, remained unanswered. He adds in his original style: "They affect not well to understand what I tell them, that the Lord and his Kingdom is gone to the other part of the sea." He on the same occasion informs the Sisters that he was still deprived of his office of councillor. " I wish," he adds, " I had the 1600 florins they have taken from me, to share with my dear children." Conjointly with his cousin, he promised to leave the Sisters £ 2000, of which the Carmelites received only a small sum after the death of their benefactors. It was
1Father Marmaduke Stone was born at Dracot, in the County of Stafford, on November 28th 1748. He was a young man of great piety, and entered the Society of Jesus at the age of nineteen. He was chosen President of the Academy at Liege in 1790. During the French Revolution he was obliged to leave Belgium and arrived at Stonyhurst, in England on August 27th, 1794. This asylum had been offered to him for his Community by Mr. Weld. He is the founder of the College of Stonyhurst, and became the first Provincial of the restored English Province. He was appointed as such by Father Gruber, General of the Society in Russia, in 1803. In this dignity he remained until 1817. He died at Lowe House on August 21st, 1834. Oliver's Collections, S.J.
2Letter of the Lady Dowager de Villegas, Dec. 11, 1794.
3July 29, 1792.
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probably concerning this legacy that he wrote them, in a letter dated July 29th, 1792, as follows: "The titles of the rents for the foundation are in my hands, sealed with my seal and that of my cousin, that in case of death they would not be kept and reclaimed by her heirs, who have no right when they have no titles. We put upon the sack a memory that they must be remitted to the Carmelites of Antwerp, Hoogstraeten or to the English College at Liege, and in the sack is the donation of the said rents to the Carmelites of Maryland." He promised also to raise 5000 florins of exchange in case the Carmelite convent was transferred to the Visitation nuns. Four thousand florins of this money were destined for the building of the new Carmelite monastery, and the rest was to be given the Visitandines. Besides £100 he had already given to the new Foundation, they received from him in 1791 £75, 3s, 6d, in 1792 £326, 8s, 7d, and in 1703 £108, 7s, 8d.
In his letter of 1792 he thus continues: "Mr. Brosius will tell you, the Jesuits are returned to Spain, but under restrictions. I consider that event as calculated by the Almighty for the Spanish mission of South America, so that in time the Society of the divine first leader to heaven will keep and increase religion together with the English Jesuits through all your parts, for at this side, in Europe, there is not the same disposition to be conducted to heaven. I say so humanly, for as it is the work of Almighty God, who necessitates the human politick to employ again the Jesuits, he may also again clear the way to heaven at both sides, taking away the obstacle which is at Rome."
He informs the Sisters in the same letter that he had sent them by Captain Waits two works: the Evangèle médité and the Grandeurs of Mary, and was then sending them a little collection of holy images. Such articles were at that period of our history very rare on this side of the Atlantic, as appears from a letter of Archbishop Carroll, written some time after.
About this time the Carmelites received a letter from Father Nagot, Superior of the Seminary of St. Sulpice at Baltimore.
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It is dated January 28th, 1792. He writes:1 Having by permission of the Bishop, read a letter written to you by the Bishop of Antwerp, the desire arose within me to enter into a union of prayers with you and your infant community. Our heavenly Father has conducted us, in His Divine and Amiable Providence, into this new country to adore His Holy Name, to profess the Faith of the Holy Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, in the midst of so many different sects abandoned to all kinds of errors. We have been sent hither to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ truly present in the Mystery and the Sacrament of His love. You are here to lead a life of retreat and contemplation, in imitation of the hidden life of Our Lord, who, during the first thirty years of His sojourn upon earth, prayed, wept and immolated Himself in spirit to His Father for the sake of the world. Our object here is to combine with the life of prayer and solitude, that of men chosen by Our Lord to work at the extension of His Kingdom, by forming ministers worthy of Him and His Church. Our heavenly Father having thus called us hither to accomplish such ends, let us render to each other in the spirit of that charity which Jesus Christ came on earth to extend, the assistance that we mutually owe to each other. With the desire of obtaining this favor of you, Madame, I have interrupted your silence for a few moments. I hope that the motive which has dictated this letter, will move you to pardon me the distraction I have caused you. Charity divides its time between God and the neighbor, and even gains in leaving God for the neighbor's sake. And what can more interest the Spouses of Jesus Christ than the necessities or the spiritual good of a little colony of ministers of God's Church, transplanted to a new world, to form perfect adorers of God, and to attempt the work here, that they can no longer continue in France? Without having the honor of being acquainted with you, Madame, since my last conversation
1The original is in French.
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with the Bishop, I have all the knowledge that the most intimate acquaintance before God could give me."
In the same letter the writer informs the sisters that the community of Sulpitians at Baltimore numbered ten members: five priests and five young men. He also adds, that they then had the Blessed Sacrament in their house at Baltimore for nearly two months. At the same time he makes known to them that the Holy See had granted several indulgences to the religious communities in the United States, which, at that period, were only two in number: the Carmelites and the Sulpitians.
In a letter to Bishop Carroll, dated September 29th, 1792 Cardinal Antonelli expressed great satisfaction at the establishment of the Carmelites in Maryland. These are his words: " We were extremely pleased that the Carmelite Nuns who went thither from Belgium have, by the liberality of pious persons, been able to establish a residence in Maryland."1 On August 16th, 1794, the same sentiment is repeated in another letter of the Cardinal.
On July 28th, 1792, Pius VI granted a plenary indulgence to all the faithful, who, after confession and communion, should visit a church or public oratory of the Carmelite Nuns in Maryland, and there pray for the intentions of his Holiness on the first Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi, and on the first Friday of each month. This indulgence is applicable to the souls in Purgatory. He at the same time granted an indulgence of 100 days, twice a day, to every one who would pray before an image of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; this grant was to be valid until revoked.2
The great benefactor of our Carmelites, Balthassar Joseph Ignace de Villegas d'Estainbourg, departed this life on July
1" Mirifice gavisi sumus, quod Sanctimonialibus Carmelitis a Belgio istuc appulsis, in Marylandia, piorum hominum liberalitate, sedem figere permissum fuerit."
2 The Carmelite Chapel was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was the first in Maryland that bore that title.
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23, 1794. His death was the faithful echo of his life. After a great many sufferings he slept peacefully in the Lord, having been previously fortified by the sacraments of the Church. Intelligence of his decease was conveyed to the Carmelites of Maryland in a letter dated December 11th, 1794, and written by his cousin, the Lady Dowager de Villegas de Louvrange, born de Villegas d'Aa.
On March 15th, 1795, the same lady informed the Carmelites that she had sent them the sum of 2,892 florins. " It had been gained by Mr. de Villegas," she said, "in the sweat of his brow." He had desired to send it himself, but having been prevented, he had requested his cousin to do so. A letter from the banker, March, 1795, speaks of having sent to Bishop Carroll for the Community, £183 sterling. This is possibly the sum mentioned in the letter of Madame de Louvrange. She had become security for a capital of 22,000 florins given to the Sisters by her cousin, Mr. de Villegas d'Estainbourg. To this she added 10,000 florins in honor of the ten virtues of the Blessed Virgin. This money was to be paid to the Sisters after her death. For this she requested them to have yearly anniversary Masses celebrated for her father, mother, cousin and herself. The bequest of Madame de Louvrange, in favor of the Nuns, included also the value of her jewels. The will was, however, contested by her heirs after her death, and declared null, as we shall see hereafter.
Bishop Carroll, having returned from Europe, took special interest in the welfare of the Carmelite Community. It may be interesting to our readers to see here a letter from the first Bishop of the United States to the Mother Superior. It will show them the high value he set upon the Institution over which she presided, and his solicitude for its welfare.
The enclosed was received lately by me under cover of a letter from its venerable writer, the good Bisp. of Antwerp. I hope you
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have received some weeks ago my letter and the bill of exchange. Be so kind as to tell Mr. Brooke, that if he has not received a letter from me, he will find one in the Post Office at Pt. Tobo to which I desire a speedy answer. It relates to an offer made by one of the nuns lately arrived here from France, who wishes to engage to teach French, etc., to the girls boarded with him, and asks no recompense but her subsistence, hoping that by her nearness to your holy Community, she may practise in great measure the duties of a religious life according to her vocation, and perhaps recommend herself so as to be thought in time not unworthy of becoming one of your blessed number.
I had letters lately from Rome; I had given in mine an account of your settlement and of the sweet odour of your good example, and had taken the liberty to add, that in order to render your usefulness still greater, I wished that it were consistent with your constitutions to employ yourselves in the education of young persons of your sex. The Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda having laid my letters before His Holiness, informs me that it gave them incredible joy, to find that you were come hither, to diffuse the knowledge and practise of religious perfection, and adds, that, considering the great scarcity of labourers and the defects of education in these States, you might sacrifice that part of your institution to the promotion of a greater good and I am directed to encourage you to undertake it; and, now in obedience to this direction I recommend to your Rev ce and your holy Community to take it into your consideration, and pray you all, fervently to remember me in your supplications to the throne of grace, especially during this time.
I am with the greatest esteem and respect,
Hon d and Rev d Madam,
Yr. most obed t Serv t in Christ,
+ J. Bis p of Balt re .
The Sisters did not make use of this dispensation to teach until many years after.
The Carmelite Sisters of Port Tobacco experienced the charity of several kindly disposed persons in Europe. Out of gratitude to these benefactors of our American Carmel, we add a list of their names and donations:
Rev. Mr. Maddocks, of Antwerp, - - -£ 100
Mrs. Weld, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 100
A gentleman at Antwerp, about - - - - - - 80
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A lady in England, whose name was not made
known, gave, requesting prayers, the sum of £560, 10s
The Mrs. Moretuss, - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -£36
The Prior of the Abbey of Heylissen, - - - - -- - - - - -- 30
Smaller sums were sent by the following persons; Rev. Mother Hauseman at Lierre; Mrs. Dewael and husband; Mrs. Mals and children, and her cousin; Canon Beeckmis; Dr. Benna; Mr. Van Holan Aquieste; Rev. Mother Stones, at Louvain; Mr. Moylen; the Baroness de Sevenberg; Mr. Dewael; Madame Charles; Madame Gellis Sanvers; Madame d'Aquillart, at Brussels; Rev. Mr. Claessens; Mrs. Ulens. Mr. C. Wright, and other gentlemen of the Academy of Liege, sent £56. There were, moreover, other benefactors whose names were not known.
Rev. Father Charles Neale gave at the beginning £150 towards the new Foundation. This good Father, moreover, brought along with him a monstrance, two small chalices, the pyxes, holy oil stocks, a curious old clock, and a medicine chest. Madame the Countess de Bergeyck sent the Sisters a present of several silk gowns and other objects. They received from Italy a set of breviaries and a relic of St. Barbara. Father Groenen sent several valuable relics and some purificators, and Mr. De Wolf, a surplice. From the Carmelite Sisters at Havana they received a large chalice, a carved image of the Blessed Virgin and some silver flowers.
In the year 1793, Bishop Carroll made the Community a present of the Lives of the Saints, by Ribadeneira. Mother Bernardina, assisted by Sister Mary Eleonora, bound it in sheep-skin.
Thus did Divine Providence raise up kind and charitable persons, whose names we hope are written in the Book of Life, to assist the infant Community of Mount Carmel in the United States.
During the sojourn of the Carmelite Sisters in Charles County, they edified all by their great poverty and love of
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labor. Although they had been brought up most delicately, many of them having been reared in affluence, with numbers of slaves at their command, they cheerfully embraced the most laborious occupations. Rev. Charles Neale attended to the management of the farm of about 886 acres and regulated their temporal affairs, though at the cost of much labor.
Father Neale was particularly zealous in their spiritual direction. He wrote for them several retreats of eight days and retreats for the profession of novices, in which be showed his deep and practical knowledge of the religious life, as well as his true appreciation of the spirit of Carmel. The Sisters under his wise and prudent direction were noted for their love of poverty, their childlike obedience, spirit of prayer and recollection, their penance and zeal for souls. The principal object of their Foundation had been to aid the American missions by their prayers; hence they took the deepest interest in the spread of religion in this country. They not only endeavored to aid the zealous efforts of the clergy, but also strove by every means in their power to encourage and assist the different religious communities, as they, one after another, were formed; they gave generously of their slender means to help them in their necessities, and kept up friendly relations with them.
In 1791, as we have seen, Father Nagot, of St. Sulpice, in Baltimore, wrote to them requesting a union of prayers and good works between the two communities. Contracts of prayers were also formed with the Visitation nuns of Georgetown and with the Sisters of Charity at Emmittsburg. The seminarians of St. Sulpice went sometimes to visit the monastery, and beg the prayers of the nuns. All the Jesuit Fathers on the American Mission often visited Mount Carmel to minister to the Community. The monastery being on the road leading from St. Thomas' Manor to Georgetown, the Fathers frequently received hospitality at the monastery, in the quarters outside the enclosure.
One of the occupations of the nuns was the copying and binding of prayer-books, thus imitating the religious of
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mediaeval times. As it was difficult to procure prayer-books printed in this country, they were obliged to copy their prayers on sheets of paper, which they afterwards bound in sheep-skin. One of the first prayer-books printed in America, The Pious Guide, was compiled at the monastery, principally by Mother Clare Joseph. Not being able to procure breviaries in this country, the nuns were obliged to print them by hand.
A portion of the property of the nuns, while they were at Mount Carmel, consisted of slaves. Many of the novices, on entering the community, brought their slaves with them. These were comfortably lodged in quarters outside of the convent-enclosure and did the work of the farm. They were treated with great love and charity by the sisters, and were considered as children of the family. Their souls being regarded as a precious charge, for which the community was responsible to God, they were carefully instructed in their religious duties, and all their wants, both spiritual and temporal, faithfully attended to. On their part these poor creatures were devotedly attached to the community. Their number was about thirty, and twice a year the sisters would spin, weave and make up suits of clothing for them, besides spinning and weaving their own clothing.
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