ORDER OF DISCALCED CARMELITES
The Carmelite Order, a Roman Catholic institution, dates from the thirteenth century, taking its name from the monks and hermits who had long dwelled on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. The term discalced, meaning shoeless, refers to the fact that this branch of the order customarily went barefoot or wore sandals.
Three Carmelite priests, originally from Valencia, Spain, but then staffing a mission at Torreon, Mexico, were forced to flee Mexico during the persecution of Catholics during the Carranza government. In the summer of 1914, Fathers Luis Benages, Bernard Brotons, and Cyril Corbato, arrived in Oklahoma. Bishop Theophile Meerschaert gave them permission to establish themselves in the state if they would undertake the care of the Mexican Catholics. In October 1914 they took charge of St. Edward's Church at Pittsburg, in Pittsburg County . Two years later they took on responsibility for Holy Rosary parish at Hartshorne, where they built a monastery. Other early missions were at Gowen and at Bentley. The Carmelites continued at Hartshorne until 1973.
In 1921 another Carmelite, Father Edward Soler, moved to Oklahoma City to begin a new mission. The next year he and three other priests took possession of a house in the 1100 block of South Walker Avenue. This was the beginning of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. The present church and monastery were constructed in 1926.
On January 1, 1936, the Carmelites in Oklahoma were formally erected into the first North American vice-province, under the patronage of St. Thésèse of the Child Jesus. This became a province in May 1947, with Father Soler as provincial. Three more Carmelite provinces have since been established in the United States.
From 1941 to 1948 the Carmelites were owners of the famous Ernest W. Marland mansion in Ponca City, which they used as a novitiate for aspiring members of the order. In 1917 Father Soler recruited three young women from the East Coast to teach in the school he was establishing for a Choctaw parish at Bentley, in Coal County. This grew into the Congregation of Carmelite Sisters of St. Thésèse of the Infant Jesus, which received full canonical recognition in 1926. Its present motherhouse is at Villa Teresa, 1300 Classen Drive, in Oklahoma City.
Another Carmelite convent is the Carmel of St. Joseph. Seven cloistered nuns from a Carmel in The Bronx, New York, came in Oklahoma City in 1939 at the invitation of Bishop Francis Clement Kelley. The Carmel of St. Joseph was located at Eighteenth and Ollie for ten years before moving to 4200 North Meridian. On October 28, 1985, it moved to a location on North County Line Road in Piedmont, where it remained at the end of the twentieth century.
A small group of Calced Carmelites (shoe-wearing), originally from the German-Dutch Province, came to Antlers in 1903 to minister to Catholic Choctaws from Mississippi who had been forced by federal pressure to move to the Indian Territory. By 1905, however, complications with the Choctaws and the local bishop caused them to abandon their mission in Oklahoma.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Archives of the Carmelite Province of St. Thésèse, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. James D. White, The Souls of the Just: A Necrology of the Catholic Church in Oklahoma (Tulsa, Okla.: The Sarto Press, 1983).
James D. White
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