The Catholic Church has many great Religious Orders. Though they share the mission of helping the Church through prayer, service, and contemplation, their histories–and habits–vary.
When you say “I saw a nun” or “I saw a monk,” can you name which Order they belonged to? Benedictines, Jesuits, and Dominicans have different habits and ways of serving the Church. Some choose the cloistered life; others are missionaries, serving the poor.
Despite having been Catholic for over a decade, I had never paid much attention to these different Orders. I am only learning now. I want to learn about the Saints each Order produced; as I do, I’ll share my findings with you.
The Carmelites are one of the most famous Religious Orders. Here are six great Saints who came from this community. There are more, but I tried to keep this post short. I will write more extensively on each of these Saints in the future!
St. Teresa of Avila
St. Teresa of Avila is a Doctor of the Church, meaning that she contributed greatly to the study of teaching and doctrine. She is famous for her spiritual work The Interior Castle.
Born in Avila, Spain, she lived during a time when those who entered religious life were far from humble and devout. Many nuns would enter the convent with jewelry and other vanities. St. Teresa decided to form her own convents, in which they would practice poverty and humility. She called her her branch of the Order the Discalced Carmelites.
She overcame many obstacles. Church authorities thought of her as a rebel for having strayed, often threatening her with the Inquisition. God was by her side, though, because many women flocked to join her Discalced Carmelites–and men, too, prompting her to build monasteries as well.
What many don’t know is that St. Teresa was not always interested in being a nun. As a young girl, she spent much time dressing well and flirting. Because of this, her father sent her to a Carmelite convent, hoping that it would teach her a virtuous life.
Not only did it change her attitude towards life, it helped shape the Church into what it is today.
St. Simon Stock
St. Simon Stock was blessed with a visitation from Our Lady. She appeared in a vision and told him to spread devotion to the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel. It is a sacramental, a sign of faith that reminds us to follow God’s will in all that we do; it is also a sign of devotion to Our Lady. Thousands wear it today.
Mary’s words words to Saint Simon were: “Receive, my beloved son, this scapular of thy Order; it is the special sign of my favor, which I have obtained for thee and for thy children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.”
Not much is known of his early life, only that he lived as a hermit under a tree from his twelfth year on. Some believe that this is the origin of his his surname, Stock, which means tree trunk. He remained a hermit until he saw some Carmelites and decided to join them.
St. Edith Stein
St. Edith Stein’s story is tragic but inspiring. She was born into a Polish Jewish family in 1891. In university she was an excellent student with a firm grasp on Philosophy. Her studies led her to take an interest in the Catholic Church. She was baptized in 1922, and eleven years later joined the Carmelite order in Cologne.
When Germany’s politics began to see upheaval, St. Edith was sent to another convent in Echt, Holland. However, the Nazis conquered Holland; Edith and her sister Rose were sent to Auschwitz. She lost her life in the gas chambers in 1942 at the age of fifty-one.
St. John Paul II canonized St. Edith Stein in 1987. The ceremony took place in a soccer stadium filled with devoted faithful. Though she died tragically, her life reminds us that there were grand souls unafraid of living their faiths in such evil times as the Holocaust.
St. John of the Cross
St. John of the Cross also lived in the city of Avila. He was born in 1542 and named Juan de Yepes y Alvarez. Because his family was of the lower class, his life was a struggle from the beginning. Malnutrition caused the deaths of his father and his older brother.
John was sent to a boarding school for poor and orphaned children. In this school he was given a religious education and grew in holiness, despite his devastating losses. He was only a child when he decided to pursue a religious life. He was able to join the Carmelite order in 1953, taking the name “John of St. Mattias.”
He began his religious life quietly, obeying his superiors–until he met St. Teresa of Avila. He was attracted to the strict routine that she imposed on her Discalced Carmelites. When Teresa of Avila founded a monastery in 1568, John joined the friars in this new Order, changing his name to John of the Cross.
He’d found his home, but it did not make his former superiors happy. They sent for him and ordered him to return to his old monastery. When he refused, he was kidnapped and punished with imprisonment. After nine months sealed into a room where he was allowed only a candle and a prayer book, John managed to pry the door open and return to the Discalced Carmelites.
St. John of the Cross lived a remarkable life of poverty and persecution, but he never lost his faith. He is often venerated alongside St. Teresa of Avila.
St. Therese of Lisieux
I wrote a blog post on the life of St. Therese. Nonetheless, it would be wrong not to include her in this list; not only is she one of my spiritual friends, she is another Doctor of the Church!
Born in Lisieux, France, to Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, Therese was the youngest of five sisters, all of whom went on to become nuns. Her spirituality was simple but powerful. She did small things with great love, made sacrifices, and longed above all things to become a Saint.
St. Therese was impatient to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux. When she was turned away because of her youth, she went to the Pope and broke protocol to beg for his blessing to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen.
Her determination to become a Bride of Christ shows a love for Him that we should all copy, regardless of our vocations.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
When St. Elizabeth was seventeen years old, she visited the Carmelite monastery in Dijon, France. The Mother Superior gave her a manuscript about the death of Thérèse of Lisieux. For some reason, she thought Elizabeth needed to read it.
It was not just any manuscript; Elizabeth was blessed, for this was the first edition of St. Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul. Elizabeth went on to become one of St. Thérèse’s first disciples, following her example by doing small favors with great love.
Elizabeth was told that she could not enter Carmel until she was 21. She spent her waiting time ministering to troubled children and teaching them about Jesus. Her works were a great help to the community, which recognized her piety. She was 26 when she entered Carmel, and there she spent the rest of her life.
Like St. Thérèse, Elizabeth wrote great spiritual pieces. The most famous of her writings is a prayer called “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” It begins with a powerful line:
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.
This does not cover all of the Carmelite Saints. Am I missing someone you think should be on this list? Comment with your thoughts, and teach me about your favorite Carmelites!