History of the Province

The Discalced Carmelite Friars of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was established by German friars. The Germans after an abortive attempt in New Jersey during the 1870s, they returned to America again and located in Wisconsin in 1906. Two friars from the monastery at Regensburg in the Bavarian province, Eliseus of the Sacred Heart (John Mekina) and Kilian of the Mother of God (Franz Gutmann), traveled through the midwestern and northwestern parts of the United States in 1905 seeking a suitable site for a foundation, particularly in the areas settled by German immigrants. Archbishop Messmer of Milwaukee offered them a property called Holy Hill, a well-known Marian pilgrimage site about thirty miles northwest of Milwaukee. Holy Hill had an interesting history even before the arrival of the Carmelites: it was originally Indian property owned by the Menominees, who lost their property rights in Wisconsin after the Black Hawk War and were cruelly expelled from the state in 1838 and forced to seek new homes beyond the Mississippi. European immigration into the area was rapid, and the new Catholic population of southern Wisconsin was composed largely of people from the Rhineland and Bavaria. In 1855, twelve years after the establishment of a bishopric in Wisconsin, Father Francis Paulhuber purchased the property at Holy Hill from the government and erected a large white oak cross on the summit of the hill, the highest elevation in southern Wisconsin. A log cabin chapel was built on the hill in 1862, and Holy Hill became a pilgrimage site over the years, especially after a wooden, hand-carved statue, made in Germany and exhibited at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1875, was carried to the hill and installed there in 1878.

The Carmelites took formal possession of Holy Hill in 1906 with a small community of four friars: Eliseus, who was appointed first superior, Kilian, and two lay brothers who had been sent from Bavaria. They used a renovated farm house as the first monastery. Eliseus, a native of Holland who had joined the Bavarian province, had previously spent fourteen years on the Carmelite missions in India, where he wrote five books in English about Christianity and language on the Malabar Coast. He eventually returned to Europe, dying in the monastery at Geleen in 1941 at the age of seventy-eight. Kilian, from Grafenrheinfeld, Bavaria, succeeded him as superior at Holy Hill, and remained for the rest of his life in America, where he acquired a reputation as an astute moral theologian. He died in Milwaukee in 1942 at the age of seventy-nine. Other friars were sent from Germany to staff Holy Hill, and in 1912 they also accepted a parish for German-speaking people in the city of Milwaukee, where they built a church and monastery dedicated to St. Florian. A brick monastery was constructed on Holy Hill in 1920, and in the following year a novitiate was established and American vocations began to apply for admission to the Order. A large shrine church was built on Holy Hill and it was formally dedicated by Archbishop Stritch of Milwaukee in 1931; and in 1938 a massive, six-story monastery was constructed adjacent to the church. Finally, in 1956 a new wing was added to the church to serve as a shrine for the original statue of Our Lady of Holy Hill, which had been brought to Wisconsin in 1878. Each year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit the shrine on Holy Hill, which celebrated its first centenary in 1962.

Another group of friars located in the state of Arizona in 1912: Spaniards from the Catalonia province founded houses at Tucson, Phoenix, Sonora, and a number of mission stations to care for the Spanish speaking residents of the state. In 1916 the friars from Arizona established a monastery in Washington, D.C. Joseph Mary of Jesus (Isasi), a former missionary in Cuba, led a group of friars from Tucson to the nation’s capital, and on October 15, 1916, a monastery was formally established in the area near the Catholic University.

In 1940 the monasteries in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., were detached from their European provinces and combined into the Washington semi-province. After the war in 1947, this union was canonically elevated to the status of a province under the title of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and further foundations were made in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, and New York.

The Washigton Province made their contribution to overseas expansion. In 1947 six friars from the province established a mission on the island of Luzon in the Philippine Islands. Other friars from the province followed, and three years later the mission territory was separated from the Lipa diocese Lipa and established as the prelature of Infanta, a three-hundred mile strip along the east coast of Luzon and the entire island of Polillo. On April 25, 1950, the Holy See entrusted the prelature of Infanta and its almost seventy thousand inhabitants to the Washington Province. Fr. Patrick Shanley, one of the original friars who went to the Philippines in 1947, was consecrated the first bishop of Infanta in 1953. In 1966 Fr. Julio Labayan, O.C.D. succeeded Bishop Shanley as bishop of Infanta. In 1980 the Carmelite presence in the Philippines was reorganized into a Commissariat under the General administration, bringing the involvement of the Washington Province in the Philippines to an end. Although some of the Washington Province’s friars continue to work in the Philippines.

The Province officially established a “Desert” community at Hinton, WV on June 24, 1968.  The new community was called “Christ on the Mountain.” In the tradition of the Order the ‘deserts’ are hermitages, dedicated to prayer, silence and solitude.

On February 2, 1992 the Order officially inaugurated the house in Nairobi, Kenya for the express purpose of being a formation center for the English-speaking students of philosophy and theology, coming from Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi and Tanzania. The house remained under the General administration of the Order until June 1995 when responsiblity for it pass to the Washington Province.

In 1995 the Province opened a house of studies in Chicago, under the patronage of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). In 2007 the house in Chicago was closed.


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