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125th Anniversary of the First Carmelites in New York, USA

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by Fr. Michael Kissane.

It was an overcast day with a bit of rain.  However, that did not dampen the spirit of the joy-filled celebration of the 125 anniversary of the arrival of the Carmelites in New York.   Many gathered at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Middletown, NY for the mass and luncheon on March 29, 2014.    His Eminence Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan was the Principal Celebrant and Homilist.  Most Rev. Fernando Millan, the Prior General of the Order and Fr.  Raul Maravi Cabrera, the General Councilor for the Americas and Fr. Mario Esposito, the Prior Provincial of the St Elias Province were the Principal Concelebrants.   Joining them were Fr. Martin Kilmurry the Prior Provincial of the Irish Province, Fr. William Harry the Prior Provincial of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Province and former provincials of the St Elias Province, Fr. Matthias DesLauriers, Fr. Michael Driscoll and Fr. Michael Kissane.  

In 1852 the Andrew Daly, the Provincial in Ireland wrote to the General in Rome expressing his desire to go to the United States to begin a mission among the Irish immigrants in New York or Philadelphia.  It would take a few years for this dream to materialize.  In 1870 there were only 41 members of the Irish Province.  Yet, the Irish province somehow was able to send four men - Rev. John Bartley, Rev. Edward Southwell, Rev. Michael Daly and Rev. Paul McDonnell to begin a foundation in New York.  They began the parish of Our Lady of the Scapular in 1889 and began ministering at Bellevue hospital that same year.  They laid the foundation for what we have today, 125 years later, the Province of St Elias.  The dream came to fruition and continues to flourish.  That is what all gathered to celebrate. 

The mass began with the singing of “God of All Grace” which gave thanks to God for all the blessings over the past years.  Fr. Mario Esposito welcomed Cardinal Dolan to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and introduced the main concelebrants to the Cardinal who travelled from many parts of the globe to be present.    On behalf of the Province he thanked Fr. Martin Kilmurry, the provincial of the Irish province for the sacrifice his province made in beginning the mission to New York.   He pointed out that the Irish province now has “grandchildren” - the foundations that the St Elias Province began in Trinidad and Vietnam.  

Cardinal Dolan in his homily for the occasion said it was a joy for him to be present and with so many Carmelites – Carmelite Sisters, Lay Carmelites and friars.   He thanked the Carmelites of the St Elias Province for their presence in the Archdiocese of New York and for the wonderful service they have provided to the people in New York.  He noted that the day was truly a time for celebration and was glad to see so many young members of the Province.   Cardinal Dolan mentioned that all gather to give thanks to God for all the blessings the province received in the past 125 years.    He said: “As I look out today I am in awe”.

He then told the story of a Jewish man who came to see him recently who wanted to make a donation to St Patrick’s Cathedral.  He noted: “That’s always music to my ears”!  He said the Jewish man told him about the devotion that his wife (a catholic) had for Mary.   Her Father served in World War I.  Before going overseas, his wife gave him two small squares of cloth attached with string.   His wife had told him to wear it during the war and Mary would protect him.    The Jewish man was impressed that his wife had held on to the cloth scapular all these years.   Her father’s devotion to Our Lady of the Scapular gave him strength during the war.   Cardinal Dolan noted that it is because of the Carmelites that the devotion to Mary under the patronage of Our Lady of the Scapular grew and continues to be one of the more popular titles of Mary. 

After communion Fr. Mario Esposito made a few presentations.   Fr. Mario mentioned that he had heard that when Cardinal Dolan has a drink he normally likes beer.  So, he presented to Cardinal Dolan beautiful beer stein from a Carmelite brewery in Belgium.   Cardinal Dolan in a humorous way asked if there is “anything to put into it”.   Fr. Mario then presented him with a gift of beer that was made in the Carmelite brewery. 

Fr. Mario then presented the Provincial of the Irish Province, Martin Kilmurry with a beautiful Icon that was made especially for the celebration for the 125th anniversary.  The icon depicts Elijah passing on the mantle to Elisha.  Carmelites interpret Elisha’s reception of Elias’ mantle as the handing on of the prophetic tradition and the continuation of Elias’ spirit and ministry to a new generation.  The icon honors the past but it points to the future.   The Order has spread throughout the world.   Below the depiction of Elijah and Elisha, on a mountain there is a banner depicting the “passing on” of the mantle from the Irish province to the foundation in the United States  to the foundations in Vietnam and Trinidad and Tobago. 

After mass a joyous reception was held at Kuhl’s Highland House in Middletown, NY.  Fr. Fernando Millan, the Prior General of the Carmelite Order congratulated the members of the St Elias province for their dedicated service to the Order and the Church in the past 125 years.   He talked about the new life that has developed by the Province in Vietnam and Trinidad.  He encouraged all Carmelites present to continue to share the Carmelite charism and spirituality with all God’s people.  

As the day came to an end all looked forward to serving the Church and the Order for many more years in the foundations in Vietnam, Trinidad and the US.  Let us pray that God may continue to bless the St Elias province.  May the good work of all those who came in 1889 with the dream of serving the Church in the United States continue for many years to come.   

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister." 

 



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