Four centuries of Spousal love for Christ
Rome's first Carmel of the Teresian reform celebrates fourth
centenary of its foundation
St. Joseph's Monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns on Via della
Nocetta in Rome was the first Carmel of the Teresian reform to be
established in the Eternal City. This year the sisters are
commemorating the 400th anniversary of their foundation. The
celebrations began with a solemn Mass offered by Cardinal Eduardo
Martinez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, on Sunday,
February 9, 1997, in the convent chapel. On 19 March, the
Solemnity of St. Joseph, Fr Camilo Maccise, Superior General of
the Discalced Carmelites, will also celebrate Mass for the nuns.
Here is a brief reflection on the 400 year history of Rome's
oldest Carmel, written originally in Italian by the nuns
When the gift of religious consecration is accepted and takes root
in hearts you have chosen and set aside-like the "three" you took
up to Mount Tabor, O Jesus-this gift becomes a hymn of praise and
thanksgiving, an ardent supplication "to be with you"! This is
because you are our only Love and our only Lord, you who are-both
the only Son of the Father, in whom he was well pleased, and "the
fairest among the sons of men".
With these sentiments we open ourselves to the grace offered us on
the occasion of the fourth centenary of the foundation of our
Teresian Carmelite community. Accepting this grace is a way of
"being with him"; indeed, if we are to live this gift, this
"being" is indispensable. The reason is simple, for it means
entering, to the extent granted to us, into a "sacred" history,
whose principal agent is the Lord himself.
This history of salvation passes through humble, frail creatures
marked with his seal; a history that unfolds in the human flow of
the most varied and complex events, those of a little community
belonging to the society of its time and which therefore-as Jesus
said- must "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's"!
For 400 years, with his singular generosity, the Lord has shown
his mercy and fidelity, his unfailing providence and at the same
time, his pleasure at "being" with his brides.
We offer a brief historical outline of these 400 years.
On 9 February 1597, Fr Francisco Soto, a Spaniard, one of St.
Philip Neri's first companions and a great admirer of the Teresian
Carmels in his homeland obtained from Pope Clement VIII an
Apostolic Bull to build the first monastery of Discalced
Carmelites in Rome.
Fulfilling a desire he had long cherished, with the encouragement
and support of St. Philip Neri who liked to call himself the
"grandfather" of these first Carmelite aspirants, he purchased a
few run-down houses on Via Capo le Case, on the Pincio Hill, and
had them remodeled as a convent.
On 14 April 1598 the cloister was established and the first 10
postulants clothed. Together with the Discalced Carmelite Fathers
who came to Rome in 1597, Fr Girolamo Graziano, former confessor
of St. Teresa of Jesus and an enthusiastic collaborator of Fr
Soto, was one of the first to teach the young aspirants the
In 1603, Fr Soto translated and published for his nuns: and of
In the meantime, the first seed sown in such well-prepared soil
grew and bore fruit, giving life first to a foundation in Fano in
1632 and then to another in Rome in 1637 - Corpus Domini
Monastery-at the initiative of Cardinal Domenico Ginnasio-which
after a long history was finally united to the one in Fano in
In 1799, the community-as did the whole Church and especially
religious life-began experiencing a series of difficulties and
persecution that lasted throughout the 19th century. In those
years, throughout the succession of historical events, the nuns -
constantly harassed-had to struggle and suffer much so that their
monastery would not be suppressed or they themselves expelled from
it. It is something of a miracle that the community continued to
be united, with no interruption to its regular life, even in its
periods of "exile".
This fact has always been attributed to the special protection of
St. Joseph. However in 1932 they were obliged to surrender and
definitively leave the house where they were founded. Through the
good offices of Pope Pius Xl the community moved to makeshift
premises on Via Casilina. Here, on 13 February 1943, the convent
at last came under the jurisdiction the Order and, with the
greatest joy, the sisters renewed their religious vows, for the
first time in the hands of the Superior General. Their
providential meeting with Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, a
professor of spiritual theology at the International College of
the Discalced Carmelites, occurred during this same period-1941.
He became the community's spiritual director and "father" until
his death in 1953. This priest, of Belgian origin, was sought-
after as a speaker and spiritual director. To his credit, he made
the teaching of the great Carmelite saints accessible to all,
guiding souls to an ever more intimate union with God.
With his advice and help, in 1952 the monastery embarked on its
first editorial venture, publishing the first slim volume of
, which today has reached its 19th edition.
As time passed, the house on the Via Casilina became increasingly
inadequate for the requirements of cloistered life. The community,
poor and without resources, turned trustfully to St. Joseph to
obtain a house where new vocations could be accepted. Heaven's
response was not long in coming through the generosity of the
Sullivan family of San Francisco, California, USA, who bought land
and built the present convent on Via della Nocetta at their own
expense. On 15 July 1957 the community could at last move into its
Down the centuries, many saints and Supreme Pontiffs have visited
our community and been its benefactors. Continuing this tradition,
in 1982-the fourth centenary of the death of St. Teresa of Jesus-
we had the joy of welcoming the Holy Father John Paul II, who
urged us to be faithful in following Teresa's footsteps. His
exhortation continues to echo in our hearts: "I invite you to be
faithful to Christ, to the Church, to the Teresian Carmel and to
Drawn more and more by the "beauty of God and the love of Christ,
the Beloved", we would like "not only to recall and recount a
glorious history", but -humbly aware that everything comes from
God-to entrust ourselves to the Spirit, so that the history of the
Lord's great marvels may continue in our poverty.
Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph's Monastery, Rome
Taken from the February 19, 1997 issue of "L'Osservatore Romano".
Editorial and Management Offices, Via del pellegrino, 00120,
Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.