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Birth of Discalced Carmelites

TERESA OF JESUS…pilgrim, dreamer, reformer, mystic, lover…
Teresa looms larger than life on the stage of the 16th century!

But who is this woman who has so captivated people through the centuries?  And could a woman of the 16th century have any relevance for those of us living in the 21st century?


Saint Teresa of Jesus, born in Avila, Spain, in March of 1515, affectionately known as “La Madre” was the driving force behind a reform of the ancient Carmelite Order.  Having entered the local Carmelite Monastery at the age of 20, Teresa spent the intervening years striving to become a woman of prayer. 


Teresa had great desires but for many years, she struggled to develop a deep prayer life. A sudden realization of how much God meant to her – and how much she meant to God! – helped turn her heart and will more fully to the God she loved and from then on, her path was a direct one. 

While talking with some of her sisters, the conversation turned toward helping others realize and live the beauties of a life of prayer in Carmel.  The desire grew in Teresa and her companions to found a community that would revive the ancient tradition of the Order.  After much difficulty Teresa realized her dream and in August 1562 she established a small community – the Carmel of St Joseph, also in Avila.  In the years that followed, Teresa founded 16 more communities and, with St John of the Cross, also initiated the reform of the men in the Order.

“Carmel exists so that extravagant love for Christ will always be present in the Church."
 Kevin Culligan OCD


The young Carmelite friar, Juan de Yepes, visiting his hometown of Medina del Campo in Spain, met Mother Teresa of Jesus while she was in process of founding the second community of her reform.  At the time (1567) Friar Juan, a fervent young man, was considering a transfer to the Carthusians in hopes of living a deeper life of prayer. 

Teresa recognized in John, the same desire that had fired her heart and she urged him to remain in Carmel and assist her in reforming the male branch of the Carmelite Order.  This he did, becoming one of the first friars in the Teresian reform.  He held many influential positions among  friars and also became a friend, mentor and beloved father to the women as well as to the men of the order.  During his life, he was known by religious and the laity alike for his spirituality, gentleness and the profound beauty of his poetry.


That poetry, soaring to the heights of mystical experience, was the basis for John’s four great commentaries – The Ascent of Mt Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love. 


In 1926 due to the widespread influence of these commentaries, which were written for those who relished his poetry, Pope Pius XI declared John a Doctor of the Church with the title of Doctor of Mysticism.

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