From the Crusades in the Holy Land came the desire to follow Christ in his homeland by living a life of solitude and service. One such group settled on Mount Carmel, a place inspired by the figure and spirit of the Prophet Elijah. They wanted a life of prayer and service to the pilgrims who sought their hospitality and spiritual direction.
Carmel in Europe
In the 13th century the Church asked this group, later called Carmelites, to serve the faithful by bringing their contemplation and love of prayer into the urban marketplace and the rural town square. At that time they joined the ranks of the other apostolic priests, brothers and sisters needed so badly by the alienated people in the growing medieval cities of Europe. Thus they became mendicant friars along with the Franciscans and Dominicans.
The Carmelite Model
In everything they did for people, to whatever apostolate of service the Church called them, two figures inspired and motivated their deep prayer-life, their contemplation and their zealous service of neighbors: the Old Testament prophet Elijah, and Our Lady. At once he embodied the ideal of the contemplative and apostolic man of God. She called them to selfless service and closeness to Christ.
The result of Carmelites living together in Christ soon manifested itself in their preaching, spiritual direction, teaching, and care of the neglected city and country folk. The people called them "Whitefriars" because of their white mantles over a dark tunic -- a special sign of dedication to Mary, the Mother of God. They were also called "Our Lady's Brothers" by the people they served.
Wherever there was a spiritual thirst, the Carmelites sought to satisfy it in their unique fashion as contemplatives in action: sacramental ministry, counseling, social welfare, chaplaincies, missionary work, preaching, university teaching, and quiet prayer-life. Some became famous in holiness and in service to society: St. Albert of Sicily, a great preacher in rural Italy; Bl. Nuno Alvares, the George Washington of Portugal; St. Andrew Corsini, renowned peacemaker between warring cities; St. Peter Thomas, patriarchal ambassador and founder of a university faculty; Bl. Baptist of Mantua, great humanist writer; St. John of the Cross, deep spiritual writer; St. Teresa of Avila, spiritual writer and foundress; and St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the foreign missions. Bl. Titus Brandsma was a champion of journalistic freedom, imprisoned in Dachau, and later died in the gas chamber there.
Carmel In America
The Carmelites came to the United States during the Civil War. They cared for the growing Catholic immigrant groups, who were often isolated from both their surrounding society and their Church. The American Carmelites saw to their immediate needs. They established parishes, organized schools, preached throughout the country, and published books. They opened missions among the Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, the Blacks in Maryland and the Indians in Mississippi and the Indian Territory. In the teeming inner cities Carmelites worked with the large ethnic groups of Irish, German, Polish and others.
Carmelites are in most of the major population centers of the nation: from New England to California and Ontario to Texas, and in Mexico and South America. Carmelites came to the Diocese of Venice in 1986. They assisted at Epiphany Cathedral, St. Michael and St. Thomas More. They assumed the administration of St. Raphael parish in Englewood in 1988, and St. Francis of Assisi in Grove City in 1996. A home for retired Carmelites was constructed in Nokomis in 1999, and the parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Osprey was formed in 2000.
As Carmelites served the concrete spiritual needs of medieval people, so today they serve the American people. Current needs are met by hospital chaplaincies, parochial ministry, preaching renewals, shopping center ministry, high school and college teaching, military chaplaincy, spiritual-psychological counseling, retreat work, religious education and many other ways. Like his medieval counterpart, the American Carmelite is a contemplative in action caring for and serving his fellow Christians, motivated by the example and inspiration of the Prophet Elijah and Our Lady. In his work the Carmelite is supported by a life shared deeply with his brothers in Carmel. As part of the pilgrim people of God, American Carmelites seek to walk in the light of Christ and to help others whom God sends into their lives see that.