The Carmelites of the Ancient Observance in Allentown, Pennsylvania, are unique in many respects not the least of which is their monastery and chapel, a close duplicate of the one in Lisieux, France, where St. Therese the Little Flower lived and died. It is also the first Carmel of the Ancient Observance established in the United States.
The Carmelites trace their lineage back to Elijah, the great prophet, though the order was formally begun probably in the 12th century on Mount Carmel in modern-day Israel where hermits were believed to have resided for many, many centuries. You may recall from the first book of Kings that it was the site of the great confrontation between Elijah and the false prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged them to a trial by fire, won by the true God of Israel. When the people saw fire descend on the offerings of Elijah, they cried: “The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God!” (cf. 1 Kings 18)
For all who have been to Mount Carmel in Israel, overlooking the harbor of Haifa, it is a place that leaves one with goosebumps. I happened to stay a memorable night at Stella Maris with the Carmelite nuns who live on the mount and offer pilgrims rooms. The cave below the main altar is believed to be the cave where Elijah lived.
Mother Therese of Jesus, O.Carm., founded the Allentown Carmel in 1931 along with her companion, Mother Clement Mary. Mother Therese was born in Germany and Mother Clement in North Dakota but both came to America by way of a Carmel in Naples, Italy! In fact, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius precipitated their departure.
Mother Therese died on Easter Tuesday morning, April 11, 1939. However, when the mausoleum was being renovated in 2001, her body was exhumed and appeared to be incorrupt, 63 years after her death. So was the green palm branch that had been placed in her tomb. Her body was moved to the Monastery, and the tomb is now open to the public on Sundays for visits and prayer. The cause for her canonization is being studied.
The chapel, whose patroness is St. Therese of Lisieux, is full of stained glass windows showing scenes from the saint’s life not often seen depicted in stained glass. Other Carmelite saints are also highlighted. It sounds like a wonderful place to contemplate the mysteries and majesty of God!
“With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” (Carmelite motto)