Four Centuries of Spousal Love for Christ

Author: Carmelite Nuns

Four centuries of Spousal love for Christ

Rome's first Carmel of the Teresian reform celebrates fourth centenary of its foundation

St. Joseph's Monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns on Via della Nocetta in Rome was the first Carmel of the Teresian reform to be established in the Eternal City. This year the sisters are commemorating the 400th anniversary of their foundation. The celebrations began with a solemn Mass offered by Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, on Sunday, February 9, 1997, in the convent chapel. On 19 March, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Fr Camilo Maccise, Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, will also celebrate Mass for the nuns.

Here is a brief reflection on the 400 year history of Rome's oldest Carmel, written originally in Italian by the nuns themselves.

When the gift of religious consecration is accepted and takes root in hearts you have chosen and set aside-like the "three" you took up to Mount Tabor, O Jesus-this gift becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, an ardent supplication "to be with you"! This is because you are our only Love and our only Lord, you who are-both the only Son of the Father, in whom he was well pleased, and "the fairest among the sons of men".

With these sentiments we open ourselves to the grace offered us on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the foundation of our Teresian Carmelite community. Accepting this grace is a way of "being with him"; indeed, if we are to live this gift, this "being" is indispensable. The reason is simple, for it means entering, to the extent granted to us, into a "sacred" history, whose principal agent is the Lord himself.

This history of salvation passes through humble, frail creatures marked with his seal; a history that unfolds in the human flow of the most varied and complex events, those of a little community belonging to the society of its time and which therefore-as Jesus said- must "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's"!

For 400 years, with his singular generosity, the Lord has shown his mercy and fidelity, his unfailing providence and at the same time, his pleasure at "being" with his brides.

We offer a brief historical outline of these 400 years.

On 9 February 1597, Fr Francisco Soto, a Spaniard, one of St. Philip Neri's first companions and a great admirer of the Teresian Carmels in his homeland obtained from Pope Clement VIII an Apostolic Bull to build the first monastery of Discalced Carmelites in Rome.

Fulfilling a desire he had long cherished, with the encouragement and support of St. Philip Neri who liked to call himself the "grandfather" of these first Carmelite aspirants, he purchased a few run-down houses on Via Capo le Case, on the Pincio Hill, and had them remodeled as a convent.

On 14 April 1598 the cloister was established and the first 10 postulants clothed. Together with the Discalced Carmelite Fathers who came to Rome in 1597, Fr Girolamo Graziano, former confessor of St. Teresa of Jesus and an enthusiastic collaborator of Fr Soto, was one of the first to teach the young aspirants the Carmelite life.

In 1603, Fr Soto translated and published for his nuns: and of Mother Teresa.

In the meantime, the first seed sown in such well-prepared soil grew and bore fruit, giving life first to a foundation in Fano in 1632 and then to another in Rome in 1637 - Corpus Domini Monastery-at the initiative of Cardinal Domenico Ginnasio-which after a long history was finally united to the one in Fano in 1906.

In 1799, the community-as did the whole Church and especially religious life-began experiencing a series of difficulties and persecution that lasted throughout the 19th century. In those years, throughout the succession of historical events, the nuns - constantly harassed-had to struggle and suffer much so that their monastery would not be suppressed or they themselves expelled from it. It is something of a miracle that the community continued to be united, with no interruption to its regular life, even in its periods of "exile".

This fact has always been attributed to the special protection of St. Joseph. However in 1932 they were obliged to surrender and definitively leave the house where they were founded. Through the good offices of Pope Pius Xl the community moved to makeshift premises on Via Casilina. Here, on 13 February 1943, the convent at last came under the jurisdiction the Order and, with the greatest joy, the sisters renewed their religious vows, for the first time in the hands of the Superior General. Their providential meeting with Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, a professor of spiritual theology at the International College of the Discalced Carmelites, occurred during this same period-1941. He became the community's spiritual director and "father" until his death in 1953. This priest, of Belgian origin, was sought- after as a speaker and spiritual director. To his credit, he made the teaching of the great Carmelite saints accessible to all, guiding souls to an ever more intimate union with God.

With his advice and help, in 1952 the monastery embarked on its first editorial venture, publishing the first slim volume of , which today has reached its 19th edition.

As time passed, the house on the Via Casilina became increasingly inadequate for the requirements of cloistered life. The community, poor and without resources, turned trustfully to St. Joseph to obtain a house where new vocations could be accepted. Heaven's response was not long in coming through the generosity of the Sullivan family of San Francisco, California, USA, who bought land and built the present convent on Via della Nocetta at their own expense. On 15 July 1957 the community could at last move into its new residence.

Down the centuries, many saints and Supreme Pontiffs have visited our community and been its benefactors. Continuing this tradition, in 1982-the fourth centenary of the death of St. Teresa of Jesus- we had the joy of welcoming the Holy Father John Paul II, who urged us to be faithful in following Teresa's footsteps. His exhortation continues to echo in our hearts: "I invite you to be faithful to Christ, to the Church, to the Teresian Carmel and to contemporary man".

Drawn more and more by the "beauty of God and the love of Christ, the Beloved", we would like "not only to recall and recount a glorious history", but -humbly aware that everything comes from God-to entrust ourselves to the Spirit, so that the history of the Lord's great marvels may continue in our poverty.

Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph's Monastery, Rome

Taken from the February 19, 1997 issue of "L'Osservatore Romano". Editorial and Management Offices, Via del pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.