History of Concord Carmel
In the early 1940’s, vocations were plentiful and many young women were being turned away from the Carmel of Roxbury (Boston), Massachusetts, because the quota of twenty-two nuns had been reached. With the permission of the prioress, Sister Margaret Mary wrote to her father, Mr. Alfred Champney in Concord, New Hampshire, telling him of the circumstances. His response was immediate, and he showed intense interest and eagerness to explore the possibility of a foundation. For many trying months he set to work getting the necessary ecclesiastical permissions and seeing to the preparation of the house that had been his family homestead. The recently appointed bishop of Manchester, Most Reverend Matthew F. Brady, cordially approved of the foundation and the Most Reverend Richard J. Cushing, later Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, gave permission to the Carmel of Roxbury to send five religious on the new venture. The official rescript came through the Carmelite father general, Very Reverend Peter Thomas, OCD, from the Sacred Congregation and was dated June 7, 1945, feast of Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew.
Mother Aloysius of the Blessed Sacrament was chosen to be the foundress of the new community, and with four companions left the beautiful monastery in Boston to travel the seventy-two miles to Concord on June 19, 1946, vigil of the feast of Corpus Christi. The first Mass was celebrated the following day by Bishop Brady. For the next three days, the little house and garden were visited by many of the public, and on June 22, the bishop established enclosure. Shortly afterward on July 12, the community had an unexpected visit from Father General Peter Thomas who was making a visitation of the Carmelite fathers in the United States. The foundresses were overjoyed to have his blessing on their little monastery. Its completeness pleased him, but he was amused by its smallness.
The site of the original Carmel was on Bridge Street (now Airport Road), on the east side of the Merrimack River which divides the city of Concord. In 1950, the growing community - now eighteen sisters - thought it necessary to expand and to look for another location, and so, regretfully, to sell the present property. A beautiful site was found on the other side of the city in a rural area with an expanse of forty-two acres. It seemed ideal. Ground was broken in September, 1950, and the community was able to move into the unfinished building in March 1952, just two weeks after they had taken their solemn vows as a group.
On the 20th of November, 1952, the ceremony of the blessing of the bells took place. The two large bells were dedicated, one to Mary, Mother of God, and the other to the Holy Angels. The first is inscribed: Remember Virgin Mary when you stand in the sight of God to speak good things for us. The second: Praise the Lord, all you His angels. These bells still resound joyfully over the countryside.
It was indeed a joyful occasion. The transferral was made on the feast of St. Joseph, and this saint, so dear to the heart of our Holy Mother, has always been a special friend of Carmel in Concord.
An open house for the public was held on May 23, 24, and 25, (the 25th being the feast of Pentecost), before the sealing of the enclosure.
In November, 1953, permission was received from the city officials to build a crypt under our chapel as a burial place for the deceased religious. On the 12th of January following, the work begun in December was completed giving nine vaults with space to build further as needed. The crypt is under the main altar of the chapel and is accessible to the nuns within the cloister. There are four religious buried there, among them our beloved foundress, Mother Aloysius, the preliminaries for whose cause of beatification have been initiated.
Our chapel is of moderate size and seats about one hundred fifty persons. The walls are faced with marble from Italy, and behind the main altar is an exquisite mosaic of liturgical symbols. Ten large stained glass windows with themes from the Gospels exemplified in the lives of some of our Carmelite saints make the chapel a glorious burst of color in the sunlight.
The consecration of the chapel took place on September 8, 1963, eleven years after the relocation. The ceremony was a memorable event and a crowning point for the community which had worked so hard to reach this goal.
In more recent history we have come through a major challenge. In 1993, on the cold day of January 11, a fire broke out and raged in our monastery. Before it could be contained, the fire had destroyed much of the roof above the cell wing and much of the second floor. The whole building was full of soot, ashes, and water. Monsignor James Watson, pastor of Saint John, invited us to moved in with the sisters who were living at the convent of St. John’s Parish. In the wake of this disaster, as we made plans to repair, restore, and clean our damaged monastery, we decided that the monastery should also be renovated and updated. The total restoration and renovation took six months and much hard work. We could not have managed without all the financial and practical help we received from our friends. Out of our pain came new relationships and renewed faith in the Lord who leads and guides us. On that wonderful day in late June when we moved back home, we saw that we had learned from the whole experience a new depth of trust in God.