History of Concord Carmel
On June 19, 1946, Mother Aloysius Rogers and four other sisters left Boston Carmel to make a new foundation in Concord, New Hampshire. They started out with one house, the home of Sister Margaret MaryChampney’s grandparents, on Bridge Street. Their first novice, Sister Emmanuel Sache, came to Concord from Boston after the community was settled, on July 6. A couple of years later the sisters were able to purchase the former home and barn of ‘Aunt Lil’ next door and convert them into community rooms and cells. They built a passageway between the two houses, acquired a dog, received several novices, and grew together as a Carmelite community on Bridge Street for six years. The forebears of the founding sisters went back to the eighteenth century and before. St. Teresa of Avila had founded the first Discalced Carmelite monastery in 1562, a small community committed to the 1247 Rule of St. Albert of Jerusalem without the mitigations that had later been made. In 1604 St. Teresa’s close companions, Anne of Jesus and Anne of Saint Bartholomew and four others left Spain to spread Teresa’s way of life to France and later to Belgium. After Henry VIII’s reformation, English women took refuge from religious persecution in Belgium. There they were received by the companions of Saint Teresa and established English-speaking communities. Meanwhile, in the American colonies, Catholic women crossed the ocean to join them because there were as yet no Carmels or even religious women’s communities in the Colonies. During the 1780’s Catholics in Maryland began to petition for the institution of a Carmel in Maryland, preferably near Port Tobacco. In April, 1790, the arrangements were complete. From the English-speaking communities in Antwerp and Hoogstraeten, three Americans and one English sister set sail from Texel, an island in Northern Holland, for the United States of America. Mother Bernadina Matthews, originally from Maryland, served as their superior. For two months, from May to July, they endured a rough voyage, a detour down the coast of Africa, and a stingy captain who refused to stock the vessel with decent food and water. But they made it. They became the first community of religious women in the thirteen original states. In 1890, their direct descendants, the sisters of Baltimore Carmel, founded the Carmel of Boston. So as they began their venture in 1946, Mother Aloysius and her sisters could take inspiration from a long tradition of courageous foundresses.
As vocations multiplied, the sisters of Concord needed a larger, more permanent building. With the encouragement of Bishop Brady and the support of many friends, the sisters bought a new property on Pleasant Street which had great charm because it had been an apple orchard. They broke ground for the present monastery in September, 1950. On the Feast of St. Joseph in 1952, the sisters could move in, but it took eleven more years for the monastery and the chapel to be completed. At last, in September, 1963, the chapel was consecrated by the then Bishop Primeau. Mother Aloysius did not live to see that glorious day, having died in April, 1961. Yet, her spirit continues to animate the community she so loved, the sisters whom she guided with wisdom and gentleness and all the sisters who came later.
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.
These are only some of the highlights of the history of Concord Carmel. History takes place in the joy and sorrow, the nitty-gritty of everyday life and prayer. Our relationships with each other and with the world around us are central to our history. We invite you to become part of our history by writing, calling, or coming to visit us.