2008 marks the 175th anniversary of the Sisters of Mount Carmel’s arrival in Louisiana. The manifesto of the ship Olympia, lists Therese Chevrel and Augustin Clerc arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana, November 2, 1833. Mother Therese led the congregation until 1885 and died in 1888. Mother Augustin, her assistant, died in 1870.
The theme of the 175th is “We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe” from Marty Haugen’s song, We Remember. A liturgy and reception was celebrated at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, in Lafayette, Louisiana, on March 22, 2009. Most Reverend Michael Jarrell, D.D., Bishop of the Lafayette Diocese, served as celebrant; Father Hampton Davis, III, delivered the homily. Music was provided by Steven Landry, Raphael Henry, Deborah Gay and the Cathedral-Carmel Liturgical and Hand Bell Choirs. The Installation of the new congregation leadership took place after the closing remarks. Sister Elizabeth Fitzpatrick was installed as President and Sisters Andrée Bindewald, Donna Girard, Janet LeBanc and Barbara Nell Laperouse were installed as Executive Councilors. A reception followed in the Cathedral-Carmel Gymnasium.
Sisters of Mount Carmel had their beginnings in Tours, France, in 1824 with a small number of young ladies, tertiarie’s of Mount Carmel, who engaged in works of mercy and teaching. In 1833 Mother Therese of the Cross Chevrel and Augustin Clerc came to New Orleans at the invitation of Bishop de Neckere. The bishop
died before their arrival and Father Anthony Blanc (who later became Bishop Blanc), Vicar General, received the sisters at the old Ursuline Convent and assigned them to Platten-ville, Louisiana, until 1838 when they were recalled to assume the administration of the school for girls of free color; this school had previously been conducted by the Ursuline sisters. In 1897 the Sisters of the Holy Family accepted the few remaining students from this school into Saint Mary’s Academy in the Vieux Carré (also known as the French Quarter). The Sisters of Mount Carmel’s Mother-house and Girls’ Academy remained in Saint Augustine Parish until 1926 when they both moved to Lakeview. Mount Carmel Academy remains in operation today, closing only for the four months following Hurricane Katrina. The Sisters continued to operate the Saint Augustine Elementary School until 1963.
Father Abbe Antoine Megret, pastor of the Catholic Chapel in Vermilionville (original name of Lafayette), invited religious teachers for the children of the parish. Four Sisters of Mount Carmel answered that invitation and in 1846 the All Grace Convent, later known as Mount Carmel Convent, was opened for the girls of the parish. Eight students enrolled in the school initially. The sisters withstood a scarlet fever epidemic, a yellow fever epidemic as well as the hardships of the Civil War. Cathedral School for boys opened with the Christian Brothers September 15, 1919. Both schools received accreditation by the State Board of Education in 1925 and continued to provide quality education in Lafayette. In 1967 Mount Carmel High School consolidated with Cathedral High School and opened for the 1967-68 school year as Cathedral-Carmel.
Father Isenberg, Pastor of Saint John’s Cathedral stated in the Sisters of Mount Carmel’s 100 Years in Louisiana publication, “What Catholic Lafayette is today is largely the work of these good and pious Sisters. The part they took in the up-building of our city can be easily pictured; their heroic, unselfish work in the various yellow fever epidemics as well as in other vicissitudes befalling a pioneer community are gratefully remembered; but particularly, the intimate connection established by their calling as Catholic teachers with the families in this part of Louisiana has made their name a household word with our people.”
In 1870 the Sisters of Mount Carmel opened a day and boarding school in New Iberia and in 1877, a second Carmelite school New Iberia Colored School was opened. The sisters remained in New Iberia until 1988.
In 1885 Father Alexander Mehalt requested sisters for Abbeville, Louisiana. Mount Carmel was the last of Mother Therese Chevrel’s foundations. Father Joseph Chauvin, a former student of Mount Carmel Abbeville spoke for the people of Abbeville when he wrote, “For, is not every Carmel a garden of God where lovely blossoms of virtue bloom?” The Sisters of Mount Carmel continue to serve the people of Abbeville at Mount Carmel Elementary for these 123 years.
With the opening of the Southern Pacific Railroad the Sisters arrived in Rayne, Louisiana, (Rayne, was formerly known as Poupouville) in1891. The sisters continued to serve the people of Rayne until 2001.
Throughout their 175 year history, the Sisters of Mount Carmel established many foundations: Lafayette, Louisiana, (1846-present); Thibodaux, Louisiana, (1855-present); Algiers, Louisiana, (1857-1888); Paincourtville (1867-1986); Mount Carmel Orphanage in New Orleans (1869-1919); New Iberia, Louisiana, (1870-1988); Saint Charles Day School, Thibodaux, Louisiana, (1874-1912); Saint John’s Day School, Thibodaux, Louisiana, (1876-1940); New Iberia School for Colored (1877-1904); Washington, Louisiana, (1879-1913); Abbeville, Louisiana, (1885-present); Plattenville, Louisiana, (1890-1917); Rayne, Louisiana, (1891-2001); Carencro, Louisiana (1897-1964); British Honduras (1899-1900); Tulsa and Vinita, Oklahoma, (1899-1904); Ville Platte, Louisiana, (1913-1923); Saint James Major in New Orleans (1923-1991); Westwego, Louisiana, (1923-1973); Rest Home in Abita Springs, Louisiana, (1923-1925); Bay Saint Louis, Missouri, (1925-present); Saint Dominic School in New Orleans (1924-1993); Saint Augustine in New Orleans (1926-1963); Saint Joseph Hospital in Thibodaux, Louisiana, (1953-1995); Saint Louis King of France in Metairie, Louisiana, (1955-1997); Notre Dame in Crowley, Louisiana, (1969-1972); Marrero, Louisiana, (1953-1976); Cub Corner Pre-School (1975- present); Missions in the Philippines (1962-present); Lacombe, Louisiana, (1964-present).
The Sisters of Mount Carmel are religious women dedicated to a life of contemplative prayer through their lives of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are in active ministries of pre-school, education, health care, parish ministries, peace, justice and social service initiatives, retreats, spiritual direction and service to the congregation.
The congregation was accepted into the Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) and is currently in application for Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations. The Carmelite NGO is a structure for the Carmelite family to facilitate justice in the 21st century.