Part II: Agricultural Life of Carmelite Nuns
[Editor’s note: This is Part II of a two-part story on the Carmelite Nuns project in rural Fairfield, PA. Read Part I here.]
This isn’t the first time Bill Oyler and his family have played a part in building up religious life in the diocese of Harrisburg. For several years, beginning in 2013, the Oyler Family Farm collaborated with the Harrisburg Vocations Director on a unique program of human formation for the diocesan seminarians – the “St. Joseph Program”. The Program recognized the value of daily work on the farm to prepare the ground in seminarians’ souls as they strove to become dedicated priests. Similarly, the Carmelite Nuns find that simple manual labor and rejection of modern electronic luxuries form an integral part of their pursuit of holiness.
“This farming tradition stretches back to the very beginnings of Carmel,” said Mother Thérèse of Merciful Love, OCD, Sub-prioress of the current Elysburg Community. “Our Primitive Rule, written in 1247 which we still strive to follow faithfully, speaks to the original hermits on Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land about ‘keeping some livestock and poultry for food.’ The agricultural tradition continues right through to one of the most recently canonized Carmelite Saints, Mother Maravillas of Jesus, who founded many Carmels in Spain during the 20th Century. She believed that she hadn’t finished founding a Carmel until the Nuns had their cow and chickens! The simple, agrarian lifestyle is so harmonious with our rule of ‘praying always’. God has many lessons to teach us through His creation, and the closer we are to the realities God sets up, the more humbly we collaborate with what He provides, and the easier it is for us to understand the Sacred.”
“Our daily lives of prayer and manual work are entirely centered on the Sacred – we spend at least six hours ‘in Choir’ everyday, both praying in silence and chanting the Divine Office in Latin, that sacred language of the Church. We primarily use the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, celebrated in Latin, which fits so well with our contemplative spirit. Young women are drawn to our Carmelite Monasteries because they are disillusioned with the shallowness of the technological world today. They are looking for something deeper, a peace, silence, and ultimately unity with their Divine Spouse, which the world can’t offer them. It is expressed so well by Our Holy Father Francis in his 2015 Encyclical, Laudato Si’:
‘the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life… the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this…’ (Laudato Si’, 113)
“We’re finding that the young women of today are indeed refusing to resign themselves to this! So many excellent vocations have come knocking on our enclosure door in the past five years, that we are now faced with the joyful decision of making a new foundation. Saint Joseph is leading us down a unique path. We’ve been praying to him daily for years and now we see that he is really guiding the building process to something special. We had hoped to build real stone walls, and just last month we made the extraordinary discovery of building-stone during excavations at the property. Combined with the Oylers’ generous gift, and hoping that perhaps other locals with old stone or timber structures will follow their kind example, we are certain that our Monastery is going to rise up from the ground as a building harmonious with those solid walls of our American forefathers that can be seen all around the local Gettysburg region.”
On July 25, Bishop Ronald Gainer celebrated the Clothing Ceremony, followed by a Solemn High Pontifical Mass in the temporary chapel at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph Fairfield. Over 200 faithful gathered to celebrate the occasion with the sisters. After Mass, Bishop Gainer celebrated the Enclosure Ceremony. Nine nuns now live into the monestary, papally enclosed, and will continue to oversee the building project until its completion in the next several years.
A farmer, who was dismantling his stone barn and farmhouse, recently contacted them. The sisters became the grateful recipients of 75 truck loads of stones! This was an answered prayer. They are still looking for more. If anyone has stone to donate or would like to learn more about the project, please contact Mother Therese.