Nun too soon

Carmelite Sis­ters set to mark 100th an­niver­sary in Ok­la­homa City

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY CARLA HINTON Re­li­gion Ed­i­tor chin­ton@ok­la­homan.com

When the last box had been packed and the nuns could linger no longer, they moved away from the his­toric Villa Teresa Con­vent that had been their home for 83 years.

They had closed the beloved Villa Teresa School in 2014 un­der the watch­ing — and tear­ful — eyes of peo­ple across Ok­la­homa.

It might have seemed that the nuns dis­ap­peared, but they just re­lo­cated, Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Ann Miller said re­cently.

Miller, the re­li­gious or­der’s gen­eral su­pe­rior, said the re­li­gious sis­ters hope to re­unite with their friends and sup­port­ers on Sun­day. She said an open house will be held at the sis­ters’ new con­vent at St. Ann Re­tire­ment Cen­ter, 7501 W Brit­ton Road.

It will be a day of cel­e­bra­tion be­cause the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus are cel­e­brat­ing their re­li­gious or­der’s 100th an­niver­sary.

With a twin­kle in her eye, Miller said the come-and-go event is be­ing held, in part, to let their friends know the sis­ters haven’t “walked off the edge of the Earth.”

Sis­ter Veron­ica Hig­gins, the mu­si­cal nun who was the long­time prin­ci­pal of Villa Teresa, said she can’t wait to see the ex­pected vis­i­tors from the com­mu­nity on Sun­day.

“I think peo­ple grieved the loss of the school and pos­si­bly the pres­ence of the sis­ters in the Mid­town area. I’m ex­cited and I think they will be ex­cited as well,” Hig­gins said.

A busy 100 years

Miller, 67, said the Carmelite Sis­ters came to Ok­la­homa in 1917 to teach mem­bers of the Choctaw tribe in a lit­tle town near Atoka.

The sis­ters got their name from the Rev. Ed­ward Soler, the Carmelite priest who founded the or­der for the Ok­la­homa Prov­ince of St. Therese. Soler was pas­tor of a parish in Hartshorne and he found a woman named Marie Loretta Ca­vanaugh from Rhode Is­land plus three other women from the Eastern part of U.S. to be­come the first Carmelite Sis­ters.

Th­ese first sis­ters set up a school in Gowen and even­tu­ally took over a school in Hartshorne from the In­car­nate Word Sis­ters.

In 1928, Ok­la­homa Bishop Fran­cis Kel­ley canon­i­cally es­tab­lished the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese as a re­li­gious or­der be­cause the sis­ters com­mu­nity had grown to 12. Marie Ca­vanaugh was elected their su­pe­rior and she took the re­li­gious name of Mother Agnes Teresa.

Hig­gins said the re­li­gious or­der has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the only one formed by the Ok­la­homa Ro­man Catholic en­tity that even­tu­ally evolved into the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City.

Re­cently, Miller and seven of the other Carmelite Sis­ters dis­cussed the re­li­gious or­der’s long and sto­ried his­tory in Ok­la­homa. There are cur­rently 12 sis­ters liv­ing in the new con­vent that was com­pleted at St. Ann Re­tire­ment Cen­ter in 2016. One of the sis­ters, Sis­ter Gertrude Marie Kot­thoff, lives in the St. Ann nurs­ing home.

They said at one time, there were as many as 30 re­li­gious sis­ters help­ing to run Villa Teresa School.

Each of the cur­rent sis­ters said they felt called to be a part of the re­li­gious or­der be­cause of their love for the Lord and their de­sire to serve Him and the peo­ple through­out Ok­la­homa ci­ties and towns. Many of the Carmelite Sis­ters said they also felt led to teach, an at­tribute shared with their ear­ly­day coun­ter­parts.

Miller said the sis­ters may be best known for Villa Teresa School in Ok­la­homa City, but they op­er­ated schools and served in parishes in more than 60 other cit- ies around the state. Sis­ter Sylvia Ne­grete said they of­ten con­ducted va­ca­tion Bible schools in re­mote ar­eas where the youths did not have such op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Ev­ery­where we went, we touched peo­ple. You know that song ‘Reach Out and Touch (Some­body’s Hand)’? Well, we did,” Ne­grete said.

Miller said three of the Carmelite Sis­ters served in Latin Amer­ica for 12 years and oth­ers also served at Bishop McGuin­ness High School and Lit­tle Flower parish in south Ok­la­homa City for many years. And cur­rently, Hig­gins serves as a case man­ager at the Cen­ter of Fam­ily Love in Okarche and Sis­ter Bar­bara Joseph Fo­ley serves at a home­less food pantry that she founded in down­town Ok­la­homa City.

“A lot of what we did was when there was a need, we filled a gap,” Miller said.

Dif­fer­ent paths con­verged

The re­li­gious sis­ters said they think women aren’t en­ter­ing the con­vent as they did in pre­vi­ous years be­cause there are many more ways for women to be­come in­volved in the Church th­ese days.

Most of the cur­rent Carmelite Sis­ters said they knew early in their lives that they would travel the path to the vo­ca­tional min­istry.

Ne­grete, 74, said she met the Carmelite Sis­ters who served in Cal­i­for­nia for a time when she was at­tend­ing one of their schools in River­side. She said she and her sis­ter helped the nuns set­tle into their new home at her own home parish and she was im­me­di­ately cap­ti­vated by their de­vo­tion to the Lord and the peo­ple in the com­mu­nity. The parish priests also in­flu­enced her de­ci­sion to pur­sue her vo­ca­tion af­ter high school.

“What caught me was their prayer life and their min­istry so I started ask­ing ques­tions,” Ne­grete said.

Sis­ter Su­san Clark said she was raised in a de­vout Catholic home in Pomona, Cal­i­for­nia. She said she knew nuns from three dif­fer­ent re­li­gious or­ders and she knew she wanted to be a re­li­gious sis­ter through­out her school ca­reer.

Her fa­ther ini­tially balked at the idea and told her some­one else’s daugh­ter could join the re­li­gious or­der in­stead.

Eigh­teen and ex­cited to pur­sue the path she saw for her­self, Clark said she persisted, which was un­usual for her.

“I told him if it had to be some­one else’s daugh­ter ev­ery time, then who would ever go?” Clark said.

She said her fa­ther even­tu­ally changed his mind but told her that she would be wel­comed home if she de­cided she didn’t like her new life and wanted to re­turn.

Clark said she headed to join the Carmelite Sis­ters liv­ing at Villa Teresa Con­vent and never looked back.

Miller was ex­cep­tion.

While the other Carmelite Sis­ters joined the or­der rel­a­tively young in their late teens or early 20s, Miller was close to mid­dle age when she de­cided to pur­sue her spir­i­tual call­ing.

She said she was 48 in 1998 when she be­came the one the last re­li­gious sis­ter to join the or­der.

She said she is orig­i­nally from Texas but lived in Colorado for 22 years be­fore join­ing the Carmelite Sis­ters in Ok­la­homa.

Miller said she had been seek­ing a faith com­mu­nity but she wanted more than just a church and the Carmelite or­ders filled that need for her.

“I took the scenic route,” she said, smil­ing.

[PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN] [PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Sev­eral of the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus pose for a photo at that Ok­la­homa City con­vent. They are: front, from left, Sis­ter Joseph Marie Gib­bons, Sis­ter Teresa Mar­garet Lay­man, and Sis­ter Maria Francesca Forst; back row, from left, Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Ann Miller, Sis­ter Mary Frances Coker, Sis­ter Im­mac­u­lata Com­met, Sis­ter Su­san Clark and Sis­ter Sylvia Ne­grete.

[PHOTO PRO­VIDED]

This is a 1928 photo of mem­bers of the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus re­li­gious or­der in Ok­la­homa City.

[PHOTO PRO­VIDED]

This photo taken in the early 1960’s shows sev­eral mem­bers of the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus re­li­gious or­der with a car that was do­nated to them in Her­mosa Beach, Cal­i­for­nia.

[PHOTO PRO­VIDED]

A vin­tage photo shows a mem­ber of the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus giv­ing a mu­sic les­son to chil­dren in Ok­la­homa City.

[PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Ann Miller, gen­eral su­pe­rior with the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus, talks dur­ing an in­ter­view at the re­li­gious or­der’s con­vent in Ok­la­homa City.

Sis­ter Su­san Clark, mid­dle, of the Carmelite Sis­ters of St. Therese of the In­fant Je­sus, talks with Sis­ter Sylvia Ne­grete, at left, dur­ing an in­ter­view at the re­li­gious sis­ters’ con­vent at St. Ann Re­tire­ment Cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City.

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