A History of Faithfulness: Rochester Carmel

The Rochester Carmel traces its roots to colonial America and a time when penal laws did not permit the existence of religious houses. In that day, following a call to religious life necessarily meant traveling to Europe, which is exactly what Ann Matthews, a native of Maryland, did in 1754. A member of the Hoogstraten Carmel, located in present day Holland, she was later joined by two of her nieces.

In 1790, after the Revolutionary War had ended and the free practice of religion was possible, Ann Matthews, now Mother Bernardina, returned from Holland and founded the first Carmel in the United States at Port Tobacco, Maryland, along with her nieces and an English nun from the Carmel of Antwerp. The monastery represented America’s first religious community. Growing to more than 30 members, the community moved to Baltimore in 1831 and continued to thrive.

Carmelites spread their order by founding “daughter” monasteries. Of the more than 60 Carmelite monasteries in the U.S. today, over two thirds of them can trace their origins to the Port Tobacco/Baltimore community. Rochester is no exception. The Rochester Carmel was founded in 1930 by Mother Beatrix of the Holy Spirit, who had entered the Baltimore community in 1868. At 84 years old, Mother Beatrix answered the request of Bishop John F. O’Hern, arriving from the Philadelphia Carmel with four sisters to found a community on Saratoga Avenue in downtown Rochester.

By the 1950s increased urbanization and the growing number of sisters made it necessary to find a more suitable location. In 1956, the nuns entered their new monastery at 1931 West Jefferson Road in Pittsford, New York, a suburb of Rochester.

The beautiful period monastery, modeled on historic Carmelite monasteries in Spain, was constructed specifically to accommodate the Discalced Carmelite way of life. Dedicated the Monastery of Our Lady and St. Joseph, it provides a “paradise set apart” for a life of prayer, contemplation, silence and community. It is here, on our own Mount Carmel, that each sister abandons herself to God for the sake of His Church.

“Pray always.” 1Thes. 5, 17