OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
Sister Mary Muriel Ludden, OCD
Mrs. Camille Clemens, inspired by a recent foundation of a Carmelite monastery in the neighboring diocese of Mobile, Alabama, approached Bishop Richard O. Gerow of the Natchez Diocese in 1949 with an appeal for a Carmelite monastery in Jackson, Mississippi. Simultaneously, Mrs. Mary Lyons, a friend of the Carmel of St. Louis and familiar with the overflow of vocations at the St. Louis Carmel, approached Bishop Gerow and asked him to request the St. Louis community to make a foundation at Jackson. Those requests led to a long series of correspondence between Bishop Gerow and Bishop Helmsing of St. Louis. Later, the Natchez Diocese became the Jackson See. The archives of the Diocese of Jackson are replete with voluminous letters and reports of meetings between the two men and the community at St. Louis.
Early in Lent of 1951, Bishop Helmsing approached the St. Louis community and requested each nun to think and pray over whether she should volunteer to go on a new foundation. From the list of volunteers, seven individuals were chosen to leave St. Louis and found a Carmel in Jackson. Scrutiny of photograph albums from Jackson's archives show two nuns, Mother Daniel and Mother M. Teresa, arriving in Jackson on October 3, 1951, to look at property. The Catholic Press headlines read: CARMELITES TO SETTLE IN JACKSON, Acquire Jackson Home to Serve as Monastery for Cloistered Nuns. Between Lent and August of 1951, therefore, much work had gone into the foundation. On November 1, 1951, the five remaining Carmelite nuns chosen to go on the foundation joined Mother Daniel Aloysius Coffey and Mother Teresa Mewes. They were: Sisters Helen Stephanie Connelly, Frances Zahn, Mercedes Savage, Mary Jane Flynn, and Margaret Mary Flynn. The house chosen for the monastery was still undergoing repairs. Meanwhile the nuns lodged with the Ursuline Sisters at St. Mary's parish in Jackson. "With the completion of the structural renovation, the formal enclosure was established by Bishop Gerow on February 3, 1952."
This house was built in 1836 by John Mayrant, remodeled to meet the needs of the Carmelite Nuns.
Seven Carmelite Sisters arrived in Jackson Nov 1, 1951, (Back Row L-R) Helen Stephanie Connelly, Frances Zahn, Teresa Mewes, Mercedes Savage, Mary Jane Flynn, (Front Row) Mother Daniel Coffey and Margaret Mary Flynn.
A major personality in the development of the Jackson Carmel was Rev. Daniel A. Lord, SJ. Fr. Lord wrote news columns on behalf of the Carmelites. Through his syndicated column "Along the Way" in the Catholic press around the country, he drew support and financial backing for the Carmel. Fr. Lord was tireless in his efforts to bring the new foundation to the consciousness of American Catholics. It was in appreciation for his mighty help that the nuns dedicated their new chapel to Fr Lord. He died in 1954, the same year the permanent dormitory was completed. In 1957, the choir and chapel were completed, and the latter was dedicated to Fr. Daniel Lord. A bust of Fr Lord was erected in front of the main entrance to the monastery. Without Fr. Lord's help, one wonders what would have become of the infant Carmel.
Hope and Dreams for the Future
The healthy common sense approach to the spiritual life of Carmel that marks the Jackson foundation can be seen in its willingness to embrace the challenges the future may hold. By maintaining an effective focus for a dynamic future in association with other Carmelite nuns, this community will remain in the forefront of whatever interchange is possible in important areas of consecrated life. This Carmel will be willing to look, listen, consider, pray over, and decide with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 1, Article 1, of the 1991 constitutions contains a statement that well defines the Jackson Carmel.
“This religious family is a renewed form of the Carmelite Order. As such, it joins fidelity to the spirit and traditions of the order with the will for constant renewal, in compliance with the words of our Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus: "We are beginning now; but let those who come after us strive always to make new start and to better themselves.”
The Jackson Carmel is vital and dynamic in its outlook. The energy that the Jackson nuns place in any endeavor relating to their Jackson Diocese, Carmelite fathers, brothers, nuns, and lay associates give testimony to their future hopes for continuance in Jackson, and for a dynamic future in support of the needs of the entire Order.
The historical essay has attempted to give a view into the Jackson Carmel's founding, development, stance in view of change, and eagerness to be part of a dynamic post-modern Church community. We like to think that should Holy Mother pay a visit, she would see in her Jackson daughters a group of strong level headed individuals striving to maintain the Carmelite contemplative prayer-life for the Church and the world.