Visit to Holy Name Carmel in Denmark, WI

I am discerning a vocation to the Discalced Carmelites. I thought it might be helpful to other discernees if I posted my experiences at the two Carmelite monasteries I’ve visited these past two years.

About my trip to Holy Name Carmel:

A man named John was waiting for me when I arrived, and helped me bring in my bag. I stayed in a comfortable, lovely room (complete with bathroom) which was in the same building as the Chapel and the room where I met with Mother Elizabeth. The cupboards and fridge were generously filled. I had 24/7 access to the Chapel without ever stepping outside. The room had a Crucifix, a large Our Lady of Guadalupe picture, and a small monstrance with a relic of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. I was so pleased to have Therese with me!!!

The entire building is designed with the Eucharist at its center - everything flows in and out from it. The curved front of the monastery subtly symbolizes the fruitfulness of their life - like a pregnant womb. The Mystery of the Transfiguration was central to the design of the Monastery. It reflects the three tents Peter offers to build - the center “Tent” being Christ, the right, Moses (i.e. Church teachings and the law), and the left, Carmel (Elijah). I went into the chapel to pray shortly after arriving. Over the tabernacle are three Transfiguration windows. The altar is square with three gates on each side to show that the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of in Revelations is here, at Mass. The altar faces the nuns, and we are to the left of the nuns facing the altar. I’m happy to say that we cannot see the nuns. Down the hill from the monastery is a retreat house for priests, and I believe the priests have the key to enter the chapel from the right side of the nuns - but I am not sure. The chapel is small and intimate.

The Liturgy of the Hours was at 2. It was chanted - sung beautifully in a mixture of Latin and English. I returned to my room and then met with Mother through the single grille at 3. She is young, joyful and warm. She lent me a breviary, instructions, several encyclicals and a collection of writings by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (very beautiful!) through the turnstile. The Encyclicals were Verbi Sponsa (which I recommend reading for anyone seriously considering contemplative life and their families), Vita Consecrata and *Redemptoris Donum. *

Mother said that on Saturday nights, as they exit after the Liturgy of the Hours, the nuns wear their mantles and light candles and process out singing Salve Regina in honor of Mary. She said usually they chant one note when they sing. This one pure note is an echo of their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I asked a lot about the Constitutions - they follow the '91 Constitutions for Discalced Carmelites. Both Constitutions have been declared a means of perfect charity as long as they are followed. I’ll write about that conversation in a reply to this post so that those with questions about the Constitutions can read it, and those who don’t, don’t have to.

There is so much love of God and Mary in this convent. This is a place where Jesus Christ is loved. It is so evident and beautiful at the Liturgy of the Hours. The nuns pause after each psalm to digest, and fairly cry out with sadness as they pray the Confiteor. They sound young, too.

I had a copy of their schedule, which I tried to follow to the best of my ability while I stayed there. I stayed for 3 days and I met with Mother at 3pm every day. At meal times, one of the sisters would call my room and I would go to "St. Joseph’s room) - a little room in between - to pick up my meal. Meals were delicious, and although I was supposed to fend for myself for breakfast (hardly a problem with the stocked fridge and cupboards), they always put a little plate with something on my supper tray “For breakfast.”

This convent is so beautiful, and it was. . . almost- perfect for me. While I was there, I asked Mary and Jesus to help me discern. At the foot of the Crucifix in my room, I asked for strength to do what God wills and what pleases God unendingly - to say yes always - and it seemed that He responded - “Yes! With love!” I kissed His feet and He seemed to gaze down lovingly at me. I know He will put me where He wants, as long as I continue to submit.

I do not think I am called to this Carmel. But if I were called to a '91 Constitution Carmel, I think this would be it. You can read more about the Monastery here - this is basically an online version of the pamphlet they send when you request information.

“All day long let us surrender ourselves to love, by doing the will of God, under His gaze, with Him, in Him, for Him alone.” - Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

What is the difference between Carmels that follow the '91 constitutions and those that do not?

Also, did the Prioress happen to mention what Carmel Holy Name Carmel was founded from? It must be a newer Carmel because it did not exist back in 1982 when I was discerning a vocation to Carmel myself.

Seemingly a lot.

The 1990 Constitutions are stricter, and forbid the nuns to have contact with the Carmelite Friars. There are probably enough 1990 Carmels to create a separate order entirely, but I won’t go there. St. Maravallas (sp?) wrote those constitutions, and Pope St. John Paul the Great approved of them, against advice. St. Maravallas and her followers cut off the friars completely because they (the 1990s) contended that the friars were becoming heterodox.

The 1991 Constitutions were actually written by Rome, but the nuns lived them, then approved of their use. These constitutions are more flexible.

When I was discerning Carmel, I simply went where I felt more at home, which, at the time was the Detroit Carmel (now Clinton Township). They are 1991. There was a Carmel 40 miles from my home, but they were 1990, and I could feel the difference. I didn’t know what that difference was, but I could sense it.


Ah, St. Maravillas! I know her well and it doesn’t surprise me that she would have had something to do with that.

I, too, felt called to Carmel and wound up in Flemington. But that was over thirty years ago. I wasn’t interested in any modern Carmel, and there weren’t Carmels around back then like we have today (Valparaiso being one).

What a beautiful post! I wish I had been called to Carmel but God wants me in the world and He knows what is best.

I look forward to hearing more about your discernment process.
Blessings and prayers to you.

1991 doesn’t refer to the year, does it?

Yes, 1991 refers to the year in which that set of constitutions was promulgated. If you read ‘The Fractured face of Carmel’ on the Baltimore Carmel’s website, it gives something of the hi
story of the ‘split.’


Thank you very much, Cloisters. May God bless you abundantly.

What an uplifting story

Also, did the Prioress happen to mention what Carmel Holy Name Carmel was founded from? It must be a newer Carmel because it did not exist back in 1982 when I was discerning a vocation to Carmel myself.

Lormar - Mother said that they came from a Carmelite Monastery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1992 the Bishop in Green Bay invited them to build a Monastery up there. Now, in Denmark, they are close to the Carmelite Monks of Holy Hill and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

Concerning the '90 and '91 Constitutions - there are other threads and an article called “The Fractured Face of Carmel” that explain the differences more in depth - but as Mother Mary Elizabeth said, both are Vatican approved means of perfect charity, so both are good.

According to Mother Mary Elizabeth at the Denmark Carmel, (long and short), Religious Orders (I think starting in 1965) were called to renew and incorporate Church documents into their Constitutions. A group of experts and Carmelite monks was assembled to guide the Discalced Carmelites in doing so, but the 100 or so “Spanish Carmels” didn’t accept the changes as made by this group, among them the now St. Maria Maravillas. They drafted their own version under the guidance of priests and bishops. In this version, they added the Church documents and renewed the Constitution more through footnotes than incorporation. This group stresses how important it was to St. Teresa that the Rule of Life that she had set out for her nuns would not be changed, and the '90 Constitution seems more rigid.

Both were submitted for approval, and both were approved and declared a means to perfect charity. Both are very, very good. Discalced Carmelite Monasteries could choose whichever Constitution they decided on, and they can at any time vote to change to the other Constitution.

St. Teresa wrote so freely, Mother said - she was so free. Her rules were written for 16th century Spain. The nuns under the '91 Constitutions (entrenched in Teresa’s writings and guided by the Holy Spirit) incorporate the newer Church Documents and modify the older rules to make them acceptable and livable worldwide. They can understand and implement what is desired and needed and make needed modifications. Things like modified habits for the nuns in the heat of Africa, and a single grille instead of a double grille. The nuns in Denmark have a single grille - they tried a double grille, but it made difficulties in the meetings with the Carmelite monks from Holy Hill. The double grille was used originally because in 16th century Spain, the nuns were local girls and people knew them, so they needed that extra grille and the veil down for separation. Now the locals do not know them, so it isn’t needed.

According to Mother Mary Elizabeth, Teresa wanted the Carmelite nuns to be close with the Carmelite monks, but these '90 constitutions are not. Instead of being monitored by monks, they are monitored by priests and bishops and authorities who often don’t have the full understanding of and tools of Carmel as the monks do. They do not report to the Carmelite Superior General, but the Pope. She said that each Carmel is autonomous. I asked about the perceived “looseness” of the '91 Constitutions and the possibility of joining a Carmel under a “good” prioress, only to have a “bad” one later who can change things. She said - but why would you be in Carmel looking for loopholes? Why would you want to after you give your life to Christ? Even if you did, changes have to approved by a 2/3rds chapter vote. So we do not need the extra rigidness. She was very genuine and very. . .almost shocked that anyone would try to look for loopholes. Like I said, these sisters are filled with love of Christ. Mother did say that as each Carmel is autonomous, each Carmel is different - and she knew at least 2 '90 Carmels who are online more than the Denmark Monastery would allow.

I think I put her a little on the defense, and I’d really hoped not to. I asked her about it because an understanding of the difference in the two Constitutions is important to me in my discernment, and I thought it would be best to get the story from her. When I caught myself finding fault or not feeling receptive, I quickly mentally asked Mary and Jesus to open my heart.

I want to emphasize something, because all too often I see a sort of negative division portrayed between these two Constitutions. Christ allowed the forming of both Constitutions to draw His nuns to Him through a path of perfect charity. Our vocation (90, 91, or whatever He wills) is not our choice - it is God’s. A nun who has given her life to God is a woman who has completely sacrificed herself in love for Christ and followed where He led her. There should no negative division felt there, only great love and discernment.

The 1990 Constitutions were not written by St. Maria Maravilhas. The 1990 Constitutions are the the Original Constitutions of Alcala drawn up by the Frairs in 1581. During the 1980s, they were updated by Nuns from Carmels founded by St. Maria in accord w/the Liturgical & other changes of Vatican 2. Up until Vatican 2, the Alcala Constitutions were followed by all OCD Nuns. St. Teresa of Avila herself followed the the Alcala Constitutions & they were the ones she told her Nuns to obey when she was on her deathbed…She told them they were the only way to holiness for her daughters. However, each Carmel always had & still does have its own internal “house rules” that govern the local monastery. The Primitive Constitutions
written by St. Teresa when she founded the first OCD Monastery (San Jose) were no longer followed once the Alcala Constitutions were approved by the early Friars & St. Teresa herself.


While the 1990 communities are no longer “dependent” on the friars, or under their authority in any way, there is no requirement, or prohibition, in the 1990 Constitutions, regarding interaction with the friars. Nuns in a given monastery may have no interaction with the friars but that’s up to them.

In my former life, as a lowly temporary professed OCD friar, a community of “1990” nuns graciously extended an opportunity to me to give some brief reflections to them on some Scriptural topics (basically the readings for upcoming Sunday Mass). I did this a number of times, never quite feeling as though I was “worthy” to do it…well, I knew I wasn’t. But, I wanted to do it, anyway.

Also, as a point of information, St. Maravillas died in 1974.



The most obvious difference is that some 1991 communities have no recognizable habit. Other external discrepancies are also apparent and these external aspects can reflect internal differences as well (in terms of theological, spiritual, liturgical, cultural preferences and practices).

But, if you walk into the monastery which is the subject of this thread (1991 community) and then go up the highway to Iron Mountain, MI, or down the highway to Des Plaines, IL, (two 1990 monasteries) you will not notice much difference.

At least, I did not. The point is, there is not always much difference between the two in how they live out their vocation.


I may very easily be mistaken in my understanding of the formation of the Constitutions as it was told to me. . . I went to visit in October, and after each visit with Mother I went back to my room and tried to record what she told me faithfully - but I could very easily have misunderstood something. My intent in posting this was to recount my experience at the Monastery, especially for potential fellow discerners . . . I included this discussion because the choice between Constitutions was important in my discernment, and this was the difference between them as told to me by nun in a 1991 Constitution Carmel. However, there are other threads that deal specifically with the differences in the Constitutions for those who want to look into it further.

Grand Rapids always had an excellent reputation of being a good Carmel. It doesn’t surprise me that the Denmark Carmel is from there.

Dear Ecce Ancilla, I envy you, and you have resurrected within me what I have long buried deep inside of my soul. It is my sincere prayer that if Carmel is indeed your vocation, you enter and persevere. Should you happen to enter, please remember to pray for us here at CAF.

Lovely to hear from you, Dan. I pray your life outside of Carmel is at peace.

Here is paragraph 133 of the 1990 Constitutions, which a 1991 Prioress and I discussed in depth:

133: The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel constitutes in the Church a spiritual family to which belong equally the Carmelite Friars and the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. Between them there ought to exist a unity of spirit and of doctrine, but not necessarily a dependence of government and jurisdiction.

As regard their juridical condition, our monasteries, preserving spiritual unity with the entire Order, have no other major superior above the Prioress, except the Holy See, nor are they associated with the Discalced Brothers in such wise that the Superior General should have any power over them whatsoever. Consequently, they are entrusted to the vigilance of the diocesan Bishop according to the norm of law (Cf. can. 615)


I do think we need to keep the discussion on-topic for the sake of this discerner, who has very generously shared her experiences with us. If she is drawn to a 1991 Carmel, then she is encouraged to follow that attraction.

Pardon us old folks, EA25. Please continue if you have any further sharing.


Thank you, HOLYHEARTS, I stand corrected.


Getting a bit more back on topic, (:)) I am glad the sisters there in Denmark are doing well. It has been a while since I visited (although I drove past the monastery last summer), and only went there once or twice, but I still think of them every now and then… It is certainly a solid community, even though they are still quite new.


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