To tell Carmel's history one must have recourse to mystery, myth, and mysticism, for the Carmelite Order begins something like the book of Genesis in the Bible: "In the beginning..." There is no precise date.
In the beginning... a group of anonymous hermits from Europe either at the end of the 12th or the beginning of the 13th century journeyed to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land to follow Christ by dwelling in solitary caves to live out the Gospel call to pray always. The mystery of how the Order started speaks of the humility and self-forgetfulness of its founders.
Mount Carmel linked them very specially to the contemplative prophet Elijah. Some Carmelites have even claimed that the Order's origins could be traced in an unbroken line to the Old Testament prophet. Although not historically true, it is mythically true. Carmelites look to Elijah to help describe the truth of who they are. The hermits addressed Elijah as their "father". They sought to imitate him in the way he lived his prophetic vocation. In this spiritual and mythical sense, Elijah is called the "founder" of the Carmelite Order. Imitating his prophetic vocation means, primarily, living in the presence of God and bearing witness to God. The words of Elijah: "The Lord God lives, before whose face I stand" and "with zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts" express the spirit of Carmelite contemplation and apostolic zeal.
Moved by intense devotion to Christ, the hermits of Mount Carmel looked to the Virgin Mary as the model who lived out this devotion to the fullest. They placed themselves under her protection and built a chapel in her honor. Soon they became known as the "hermits of St. Mary of Mount Carmel." Later, they petitioned St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to formulate into a rule the way of life that they were already living. Around 1209, they received a short and very biblical rule that continues to inspire all Carmelites today to be faithful to their mystical tradition of prayer in the Church.
Later, persecution against Christians in the Holy Land forced the Order to Europe. The hermits who migrated to Europe established communities that were modeled after the one on Mount Carmel. However, problems arose in this new environment that necessitated the introduction of some of the cenobitic (communal) form into the hermits' lifestyle. While the eremitical (solitary) spirit was kept, the adaptations were not always so successful.
In the beginning... Carmel's history continues to be written by its members today because, as St. Teresa encouragingly reminds her followers in every era, you are the beginning now.
Boston Carmel was founded in 1890 from Baltimore Carmel, one hundred years after Baltimore Carmel's establishment as the first foundation of religious women in the United States.
In November 1889, Archbishop John J. Williams of Boston was in Baltimore to preside at the opening Mass of the Catholic Congress celebrating the Centennial of the Catholic Hierarchy. While there, he visited the Baltimore Carmelite Monastery where he learned that their community had its full complement of sisters (21 is the maximum) and were having to turn away young women, many of whom were from New England. It was then that the nuns expressed their desire to found a monastery in Boston, an idea greatly welcomed by the Archbishop.
At the formal invitation of Archbishop Williams, five Carmelite nuns set sail from Baltimore for the new foundation in Boston on August 23, 1890:Mother Beatrix of the Holy Spirit (Camilla Magers) - Prioress
The nuns arrived on August 27, 1890, and became the first contemplative order to be established in Boston. They celebrated their first Holy Mass in the new convent the following day.
The Reverend Charles W. Currier, CSsR presided at the Mass. The Redemptorists of Mission Hill in Roxbury have served faithfully as chaplains of the Carmelite Roxbury community since that first Mass up to the present day.
The founders stayed in their first location on Cedar Street for four years. On September 25, 1894, they moved to their permanent location on Mount Pleasant Avenue, just a short distance away. This monastery still stands today and is the oldest extant Carmelite monastery building in the United States.
Several monasteries were founded from Boston Carmel. These monasteries are located in Philadelphia, PA, Santa Clara, CA, Concord, NH, and Danvers, MA.