I wasn’t on vacation; I was at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada to attend our Provincial Council Meeting. Our retreat house on Stanley Avenue is on a bluff, which is a short distance from a truly awe-inspiring view of the falls. People travel from all around the world to visit this site but, for the Carmelites of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, Niagara Falls holds a special place not only in our history but also in our plans for the future.
The location has had a continuous Carmelite presence for nearly 140 years. In 1875, our province arrived on the Niagara frontier, and built a house on Portage Road called Our Lady of Peace Monastery. In June 1899, a hospice, a 19th century version of a retreat house, was built and still stands today. In 1920, this building became Mount Carmel College, our Carmelite seminary, and served our province until a fire destroyed part of the building in 1967. Since that time, the building has returned to its roots as a retreat house where a Carmelite community continues to live and pray.
Our council meets six times a year, often in different places around the Province so that we can pray and visit with our men, as well as discuss necessary affairs such as personnel decisions, ministry sites, finances, and our missions. At this particular gathering we were deeply involved in strategic planning that will help us know where our community stands today, where we want to go in the future, and how we will get there.
Just as the 1967 fire changed how we use this property, the changing times call us to continue looking inward. It is work that requires taking a hard look at ourselves and making difficult decisions. As the City of Niagara Falls has redefined itself once again into a Canadian tourist attraction—our property has become prime real estate within walking distance of a casino—some argue that we should sell the land to the highest bidder. While that might make short-term economic sense, we believe there are other values at stake here as well.As Carmelites, our history and mission over eight centuries is deeply connected to the belief that nature calls us to transformation. Our very name “Carmel” is derived from the Hebrew, meaning God’s Garden. The original Carmelites found refuge in a green oasis surrounded by desert along the Mediterranean in Israel. We believe our hearts are still in need of transformation as we address our earth’s challenges in the 21st century. How do we continue to address the importance of finding God in nature? What can we do to discover our living God in the natural terrain of our lives? Is it possible to refocus ourselves away from our technological devices and stand before nature in all its wonder?
Informed by our history as well as Catholic social teaching that calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation, we have decided to reinvest in this stunning Carmelite oasis amidst the noise and commercialism of Niagara Falls. As such we have designated part of our land to be vineyards that will eventually produce grapes for wine. We are also establishing a green initiative by placing solar panels on the roofs of our building there to eliminate our dependence on non-renewable energy sources.
Whether it was the parting of the Red Sea, the woman at the well, Jesus’ baptism, or washing His disciple’s feet, water has always had a transforming effect in our scriptures. It has the power to renew, refresh, and transform. We are called to allow this power to change us and bring us life.
Seven years before his death at Dachau in 1942, Blessed Titus Brandsma, O.Carm., visited our province and specifically this house. He wrote in his diary, “I am contemplating the imposing Niagara Falls; I see them rushing down ceaselessly. What is surprising is the marvelous and complex possibility of the waters…I see God in the work of his hands and the marks of his love in every visible thing. I am seized by a supreme joy which is above all other joys.”
Blessed Titus had a wonderful insight to this stunning natural wonder that must be seen to be believed. If you are ever in the area, we invite you to experience it for yourself by stopping by the Monastery of Mount Carmel Retreat Center and visiting the beautiful chapel and gift shop. May you continue to be blessed in discovering God in the natural wonder of creation!