November 4, 2022

2022 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Terre Haute Discalced Carmelite nuns have been witnesses of prayer for 75 years

Discalced Carmelite nuns of the Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute sing on Oct. 8 during a Mass to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of their community. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Discalced Carmelite nuns of the Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute sing on Oct. 8 during a Mass to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of their community. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

TERRE HAUTE—In 1947, a small group of Discalced Carmelite nuns from the then-Monastery of the Resurrection in Indianapolis founded a new monastic community on the southern outskirts of Terre Haute.

Their goal was simple: to live out faithfully each day a life of communal and personal contemplative prayer in the Carmelite tradition.

It’s a vocation that emerged in the Church about 1,000 years ago and underwent a significant reform about 500 years ago that was led by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

On Oct. 8, 11 of the 13 members of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute fittingly celebrated the 75th anniversary of their community’s founding through prayer—a festive Mass in the monastery chapel. Two nuns did not take part because of illness. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was the principal celebrant of the liturgy. Many friends and benefactors of the monastery also came to pray with the nuns.

In the Discalced Carmelite tradition, monastic communities are small by design, with no more than 21 members. They also don’t have ministries outside their monasteries, such as teaching in schools or serving in hospitals. Their vocation is to daily pray for the Church and the world within their cloistered community.

In his homily during the Mass, Archbishop Thompson praised the life of prayer in the Monastery of St. Joseph.

“Through the witness of prayer, penances and contemplative life, barriers are being torn down,” he said. “Today’s world—so polarized by radical individualism, ideologies, opposing agendas, preference for the subjective over objective truth and disregard for the sanctity of human life as well as creation itself—is in need of such witness.”

Archbishop Thompson praised the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Terre Haute, calling them “saintly women of God … who continue to listen to the voice of the Lord, call upon the Holy Spirit, draw from the well of prayer and lead others to the living water of Jesus Christ.”

Prior to the celebration, Discalced Carmelite Mother Mary Joseph Nguyen, the monastery’s prioress, and Discalced Carmelite Sister Anne Brackman, who entered the community in 1959 and is one of its former prioresses, spoke with The Criterion about the anniversary and their Carmelite vocation.

“Even in the midst of the busyness of preparing for this anniversary, the Mass and mental prayer have remained our priority,” said Mother Mary Joseph. “Everything is centered around prayer and liturgy. That gives us the energy to go out and do the extra work and activity for the celebration.”

As the senior member of the community, Sister Anne has seen a lot of changes in the life of the monastery through the 62 years since she arrived in Terre Haute. A new monastery and chapel were built. Land was added to the monastery campus. New members have joined it. Older ones have died.

She said none of those changes touches at the heart of the Discalced Carmelite vocation and how it affects the rest of the Church and the world.

“You can’t put that into words or pictures,” Sister Anne said. “It’s nothing tangible. Our life is intangible. Only God knows what is going on in the heart of every Carmelite, the love and the spiritual energy that is being generated in the soul of every Carmelite. It is only God who takes the effects of this and spreads them out to the rest of the world.”

The spiritual energy that flows from the Monastery of St. Joseph has remained the same through the decades, even if the nuns who have lived, prayed and died there come from countries around the world.

Today, its nuns are from Great Britain, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and the U.S.

This development of an intercultural community began in the early 2000s when Sister Anne was serving as prioress.

She said that the nuns there at the time approached this change with “serious discernment.”

“If the community hadn’t been prepared to accept people and engage in a deeper study of what it means to be an intercultural community, it could have ended in a disaster,” said Sister Anne.

But through their discernment, the community prepared itself to open its doors to women called to contemplative prayer from many cultures. It’s a process that continues today.

“A great part of it is listening to the stories of the different cultures,” Sister Anne said. “Listening is so important. If you think that you know everything and you know this person, you really don’t.”

The success of the internationalization of the community is seen in the fact that it is now led by Mother Mary Joseph, who was born in Vietnam and moved as a young adult with her family to the U.S. in the early 1990s.

She entered the monastery—which members of the order call a “Carmel”—in 2004 when she was in her early 30s.

“When something is right for you, you just feel happy and a deep joy,” she said. “When I entered the Carmel of Terre Haute, I just felt that I was at home. I felt like I had been planted in the right soil. The whole life seemed to me to be what God created me for.”

Mother Mary Joseph said the community’s anniversary is a moment for its members to look to the past in gratitude and to the future in hope.

“God has carried us on the wings of his divine love,” she said. “He will continue to carry us into the future. We don’t know what the future will look like. But we know who we believe in and who we have placed our hope in.

“Our hope is that we’ll continued to live our Carmelite vocation passionately, faithfully and joyfully. That will be a witness to the world through the way that God wants to use us.”

(For more information about the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute, visit

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