The history of the Carmelites in Paraná begins with the history of Ulrich Goevert, a member of the Upper German Province. He went to Brazil in 1936, and joined up with the work of the Carmelites in the Northeast. After fifteen years he set out from there to begin a mission of his own in line with a project of his province that took shape in Paranavaí.
In 1951 he asked the Bishop of Jacarezinho, Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, SVD, to give him a parish, with the idea of developing his missionary work there. He was sent, at that time, to the parish of St. Sebastian in Paranavaí. He described the principal church as a “house made of timber, with no roof, and a small tower”. The city had no more than 60 houses.
The installation of Frei Ulrich as the new parish priest took place on the 29th of August. There was a lot of work to be done. The progress could be seen when ten years later the church had a roof. This allowed Frei Ulrich to have a tabernacle in the church. He said at that time: “Saviour, as long as the Carmelites are here, this little light must never go out.”
Here begins the story of not only Frei Ulrich, but of the Carmelites in Paranavaí and in that whole region, since the Parish at that time covered an area of 12.000km². Given the extent of the work, in 1952, a helper was sent from the Northeast in the form of Frei Estanislau José, to help in the mission and in the upkeep of the house.
As church participation continued to increase (1952) it became necessary to build another parish church. What was built was a beautiful church, 45m long and 18m wide, with three naves and a tower, all in wood, and with an altar, a tabernacle and a crucifix that were all sculpted by Frei Henrique. The crucifix is still used today in the Carmelite shrine.
Among the many difficulties there was the need to provide catechesis for children who were illiterate. In order to meet this need, Frei Ulrich set up the Parish School of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
As time went by the Province of Upper Germany sent more and more friars to the mission in Paranavaí: Frei Henrique Wunderlich 1952, Frei Boaventura Einberger 1953, Frei Burkard Lippert and Frei Alberto Först 1954, Frei Bruno Doepgen 1956 ,Frei Matias Warneke 1958, Rafael Mainka 1961, frei Joaquim Knoblauch 1962, Frei Jerônimo Brodka 1963, Frei Justino Stampfer 1965, Frei Afonso Pflaum 1966, Frei Agostinho Wolf 1968, Frei Paulo Pollmann 1971. We can see some of these friars in this photograph from 1970.
In 1953 Frei Boaventura was sent to Graciosa, 18 km from Paranavaí. In order to take care of this community which would later become the parish of Our Lady of Graces, he built the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, on land donated by the families of Graciosa. This initiative dealt with the need both for a school and for Carmelite vocations all together.
The Carmelite Order in Paranavaí was greatly enriched when Carmelite Sisters arrived in 1955. Four members of the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus came from Italy to help the friars in the upkeep of the house, in the work of the parish and in teaching.
The foundation Stone of the new parish church of Paranavaí was placed in 1960. However, once the Carmelite missionaries began to work, the church turned into a much larger construction of 60m in length, 24m wide and 9m internal height, a beautiful church that was ready to be blessed in 1965 and sometime later would become the postcard image of the city. The church was adorned with the paintings and sculptures of the artist Bálint Fehérkuty.
There was now a need to build a new house for the religious, which would be built beside the church. It was designed by the architects Kölg and Szylagi, in the same style as the church, spacious and practical.
Concerned about the formation of new candidates to the Order, the Carmelites had already set up the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Graciosa (1953) and the Seminary of St. John of the Cross (1969). However there was no place for a novitiate and no place to house the young Carmelite philosophy and theology students. The Carmelites therefore went to Curitiba in 1968 and began to work in the parish of Our Lady of the Conception, where they built a house for the novitiate and for studies.
In the decade of the 1980s, the Carmelite friars who were in Curitiba turned to the very poor, offering a number of services such as formation in the Bible and the liturgy and in building the church in the peripheries.
The Carmelite presence which began in Paranavaí, would extend its work in 1984 to another pastoral region by taking on the parish of Senhor Bom Jesus in Dourados, in Mato Grosso do Sul. Frei Först went to work in Dourados and in 1988 he was appointed as the Bishop of that diocese.
Contemplation, the mark of the Carmelite Order, became very clearly present with the arrival of the Carmelite nuns. In 1991 Carmel in Parana was to receive these nuns whose life is dedicated totally to prayer. Eight nuns came from the monastery of Flos Carmeli in Jaboticabal. With the help of the friars and of the faithful they founded the monastery of Mater Carmeli in Paranavaí.
In 1994 the Carmelite friars extended their work to new communities. The first was in Bairro Novo in Curitiba, which in 2000 became the parish of Elijah the Prophet. The second was a mission in the interior of Brazil in the Amazonian region in the city of Rolim de Moura, in the young state of Rondonia, where they would look after some one hundred rural communities. In that same year a new project began, to help people with a chemical dependency. This developed into the Association of Houses of the Suffering Servant.
On the 20th of October 2012 the Carmelite Order through the offices of the Prior General, Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., handed over responsibility for the Carmelite Order in this region to the Brazilian friars, by erecting here a General Commissariat. If today we are a group of 33 friars, living and working in Paranavaí, Graciosa, Curitiba, Rolim de Moura and in the parishes of Navegantes and Florianopolis where a variety of ecclesial, social and educational work is being done, we owe all this to the great missionary endeavour of those first German missionaries who brought the Carmelite Order to Paraná.
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