“All of us who wear this holy habit of Carmel are called to prayer and contemplation.
This call explains our origin; we are the descendants of men who felt this call,
of those holy fathers on Mount Carmel who in such great solitude
and contempt for the world sought this treasure.”
St Teresa of Jesus
The Carmelite Order traces its origin to a group of 13th century hermits who lived on Mt Carmel in the Holy Land. Taking the Blessed Virgin Mary as their Mother and Patroness, they dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and contemplation in solitude and silence. The Order later spread to Europe and the first monasteries of nuns were founded in the 15th century.
St Teresa of Jesus
In 1562, St Teresa of Avila adapted the Carmelite Rule for the renewed form of Carmelite life which she began at St Joseph's, Avila.Carmelite nuns today regard St Teresa as their spiritual mother and foundress and, like the early hermits, strive to live in complete dedication to God, with Mary as their model in the ways of prayer.
From Spain to France to Australia
The Carmels founded by St Teresa soon spread beyond Spain after her death. It was from one of these, the Carmel of Angoulême in France, that a group of French Carmelites were invited to begin a monastery at Dulwich Hill in Sydney in 1885. After difficult beginnings, they began to flourish in the early 1900's, and began a series of new foundations of their own, beginning with Melbourne in 1922, followed by Brisbane in 1927.
First New Zealand Carmel
At the request of Bishop Matthew Brodie, seven Sisters of the Dulwich Hill Carmel in Sydney crossed the Tasman Sea in February, 1933 to establish a monastery in Christchurch. Thus was fulfilled Bishop Brodie’s desire for a community of contemplatives to support the apostolic works of his diocese by their life of prayer and penance.
Three days after the Sisters arrival in New Zealand, the new Carmel was officially founded on February 21, 1933. After a brief stay with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Mt Magdala, the Carmelite Nuns moved into their newly purchased homestead on 52 Halswell Rd, located three miles from the centre of Christchurch city. The site was ideal for the contemplative community with six acres of land surrounded by paddocks on all sides, the River Heathcote running along the back boundary and the sight of the Southern Alps mountain range in the distance.
Building a Monastery
Many-a-story has come down to us of the early days and the clearing and transformation of the land. This was achieved mostly by the Sisters, but they were grateful for the assistance of volunteers for some of the heavier work of felling trees and leveling ground. The first wing of the Monastery was completed in 1937 beside the existing homestead. It was followed in 1950 by the addition of the novitiate wing, to accommodate the growing community.
As young women entered in steady succession over the 1940’s and 50’s, the community began preparations for a foundation of their own. At the request of Bishop George Pierce, seven Sisters departed Christchurch Carmel in 1959 to found Carmel in Samoa. Samoa Carmel in its turn has founded the Carmels of Wallis-Futuna and Tonga, both in the South Pacific.
Christchurch Carmel Today
Over the years our community has been blessed with the closeness and generosity of many friends who have supported us in a great variety of ways, making possible the contemplative life that has been lived here for over 85 years.
Although Christchurch city has grown out around us, we remain an oasis of peace in the heart of the city, just as St Teresa wished her Carmels to be.
The spirit of the early hermits on Mt Carmel lives on today with our life of unceasing prayer and the arrival of new vocations. Not to mention the simple joys of community life which marked the first beginnings of our Carmel.
For the many ways in which we have been blessed, we give thanks to God.