Philadelphia’s Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph and St. Anne, at 66th Avenue and Old York Road, celebrated the 115th anniversary of its foundation with a Solemn High Mass on the evening of Wednesday, July 26.
The Carmel, which was established by nuns from the Boston Carmel and originally located at 18th and Poplar Streets then at 44th and Spruce Streets, has been at its current monastery since 1910, according to the Prioress, who in keeping with the Carmelite charism does not wish to be named.
The nuns themselves were an unseen presence at the Mass because of their rules of strict enclosure. They only receive visitors from behind a screen.
(See scenes from the Mass in our Photo Gallery, here.)
The Mass was really a double celebration. The Philadelphia Carmel, which was down to three active members, marked the arrival on July 25 of 10 new members drawn from thriving Carmels in Valparaiso, Nebraska in the Lincoln Diocese, and Elysburg, Pa. in the Diocese of Harrisburg, which was itself established by nuns from Valparaiso.
The new arrivals “are all in their 20s and 30s and they are all devout, intelligent and talented, and many were home-schooled,” the Prioress said. “They want an authentic Carmelite vocation. We will have a solemn profession for several of them in January and one is still a novice.”
The Mass was celebrated in the monastery’s beautiful chapel which was designed by Maginnis and Walsh, the Boston architects that later designed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The celebrant was the monastery’s new chaplain, Father Scott W. Allen, F.S.S.P. (Fraternal Society of St. Peter).
The Mass itself was in Latin in the Extraordinary Form using the 1962 Missal. It was unlike the typical Ordinary Form Masses that are usually celebrated in a vernacular language using modern translations of the Scripture readings.
The Latin at the Extraordinary Form Mass was straight from the fourth century Vulgate Bible of St. Jerome, with a pamphlet that provided English translations taken from the Douay-Rheims Bible was compiled from 1582 to 1610.
Such Masses are never concelebrated, but because it was a Solemn High Mass — something none of the attendees under 50 had ever seen when the Tridentine Mass was the norm in the church — Father Allen was assisted by two other priests filling the roles of deacon and subdeacon.
Other priests present were in cassocks and surplices, including Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who preached a congratulatory homily noting the long history of the Carmelites in Philadelphia.
Although the Mass is also offered in the ordinary form at the Monastery, at times that too is in Latin. Most Masses, now that Father Allen is the chaplain, will be in the extraordinary form because “the nuns prefer it that way,” the Prioress said.
Music at the pre-Mass Concert and during the Mass was beautifully provided mostly in Latin by Constantia, a small group from Holy Angels, the nearby Korean Catholic parish.
“They are really good,” the Prioress said. “They are all professionals, all men except one female one who is our dentist. They practice every week and they love to come here. The acoustics are excellent and the chapel is beautiful.”
The chapel was filled to overflowing for the Mass and spilled over to an outdoor seating area where it was followed via a large television screen.
Some of the faithful are regulars. Bob Nemo of St. Cecilia Parish in Philadelphia often serves as an usher. “I’ve been helping here for years,” he said. “It’s wonderful they are bringing in 10 more nuns.”
Elizabeth Feeney, a young adult member of Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Philadelphia, said, “I saw this on Facebook and brought my mom. We came in honor of our aunt who passed away. I’ve only been to one Solemn High Mass before. The ritual is beautiful.”
Jeanine Haines of St. Jude Parish in Chalfont, who attended with her son, his wife and their four little children, knows one of the sisters from Elysburg. “It’s wonderful for the Carmel to have new life,” Haines said.
While the number of worshipers was larger than normal for the special Mass last Wednesday, large numbers also attend at other times especially on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and for devotions surrounding St. Therese of Lisieux, the most famous modern Carmelite saint.
The monastery also has custody of first class relics of St. Therese and her parents, Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, which are on loan by the Magnifcat Foundation, although at times they travel to other dioceses.
Whether it is for special occasions, Masses or devotions to the Carmelite saints, Philadelphians do come year-round and are always welcome. The makeup of the visitors has changed over the years, according to the Prioress.
“Once it was predominantly Irish,” she said. “Now they are Haitians, Filipinos, all kind of people.”
Wherever they come from, they are welcome to this quiet gem of prayer in Philadelphia where day after day, year after year this small band of religious women live out the hidden life, all for the greater honor and glory of God.
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Is sister Pia….that knew Padre Pio still at the Carmel?
Can i visit and request prayers from the sisters?
This is tremendous news. Very happy to hear about this.
Praise the Lord! The Carmel is blessed and so are the women who will find their Divine Spouse there waiting. They are very lucky ladies indeed. God bless.
My aunt Sr. Bernadette spent 67 years of her life with the Carmelites after arriving from Ireland. 64 of those years was spent in Philadelphia. She died in 1983 and is buried on the grounds. I remember my father delivering bales of straw behind the walls for the nuns bedding, which they slept on in the early days. The small visitation room has wooden bars that separate visitors from the nuns. There is a small door beneath the bars to slide packages through to the nuns. They would sneak me through that door so that I could see my aunt inside the bars. Wonderful memories of old times. The Prioress has been there for a long time. She cared for my aunt in her latter years, so I am happy to see that 10 nuns have arrived to help in the monastery. Carmel will always have a special place in my heart.
Margaret the nuns at the Philadelphia Carmel offer many types of Brown Scapulars in their gift shop and I’m told at one time they made them from old habits. Possibly they still do?
The first night of the Triduum to St Therese is always on Michaelmas. Hopefully the TLM at the Cathedral is being offered earlier in the day though I guess that might not be practical on a weekday. I would not want to miss either Mass.
I am glad there are more Nuns coming in. I wish I was younger again I would like to be a Nun. That was my dream. That didn’t happen. My faith in God will always be strong. As those young ladies become Nuns they are committed to God. as in my Heart I am with God. God Bless them all.
I remember going to the monastery as a child and bringing groceries to the Carmelites. A corner grocery store owned by Tony Rozsar in the Olney section of Philadelphia had a donation can and people would donate money and he would take food to them. He was a very generous man and provided a lot of the food to the sisters from his own pockets. I would go with him and his daughter Linda.
Is there a particular significance to the English translation being 16th century English instead of modern English?
The Douay-Rheims Bible is practically a word-for-word translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible.
When I was in my senior year in college (in the last millennium ), a non-Catholic girl and I compared Bible translations – the New American, New Jerusalem and the Douay-Rheims version of the Our Father in Matthew 6.
This is the Douay-Rheims version (footnotes included):
 Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.  For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences.  But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.
 “Supersubstantial bread”: In St. Luke the same word is rendered daily bread. It is understood of the bread of life, which we receive in the Blessed Sacrament.
 “Lead us not into temptation”: That is, suffer us not to be overcome by temptation.
“Supersubstantial”? We never heard the word! However, it’s a literal translation of the Greek word “epiousios”. “Epi” is “over” or “super” and “ousios” means “substance”. So it literally means “supersubstantial”.
To make a long story short, soon after she started taking RCIA classes, and near the end of the school year became a Catholic.
The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter uses the Douay Rheims bible from the 16th-17th century, as do all traditional Catholics. It’s a beautiful translation.
This is wonderful news. I knew some of the nuns at the Elysburg, PA, Carmel for many years before they had to close it due to old age. I was thrilled to see that nuns came from one bursting at the seams in Nebraska to the Elysburg Carmel and reinstalled the enclosure with the turn and the grills and grates and their hidden life. It always bothered me that when I went to visit my friend in Elysburg that she would always come out to eat breakfast with me. I am so happy seeing all these young women desiring Carmel the way it should be.
They make the same wool scapulars at Carmel Monastery in Morristown, NJ.
THANKS BE TO GOD!!!
AMEN! We need good and holy religious.
First, as a Ukrainian Greek Catholic I prefer the old Latin liturgy to the new one. It’s much closer to our Eastern Catholic Tradition (even some of the propers are the same!).
Second, the Carmelites in the Coopersburg area used to make plain Brown Scapulars out of 100% *brown* wool (not felt). They don’t make them anymore. Does this Carmelite community in Philadelphia make Brown Scapulars? If so, how can I contact them?
Finally, there’s a group of Byzantine Carmelites in Sugarloaf, PA. :-)
St. Joseph and St. Anne – Pray for us.
Thanks for writing this article! I was out of town for the occasion, but I’m sure it was a splendid Mass. Please allow me to make a minor comment to this portion:
“it was a Solemn High Mass — something none of the attendees under 50 had ever seen when the Tridentine Mass was the norm in the church — Father Allen was assisted by two other priests filling the roles of deacon and subdeacon.”
We do actually have Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form several times a year here at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul, which is attended by many young people. Our most recent was for Corpus Christi last June. There will be another solemn Mass at the Cathedral for Michaelmas on September 29. Something that will truly be a first time for most attendees, however, will be the pontifical EF Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Perry at the Cathedral Basilica on Thursday, September 14 at 7pm for the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum.
Give yourself and your family Beauty! Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church will celebrate its17th Annual Traditional Latin Choral High Mass for the Feast of the Assumption on Tues., Aug. 15, 7 p.m. at The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Come experience the Church’s great treasury of Sacred Music and Liturgy, an especially beautiful polyphonic Mass