Secular Carmelites have friends in high places

July 18, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

A new religious group in Hagerstown offers the opportunity to strengthen spiritual ties through contemplation and neighborly love - the guiding principles of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order.

Bill and Kitty Hudson recently started the Tri-State area's newest Carmelite community, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, to give Catholic laypeople ages 18 and older a structured venue for spiritual growth. Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament includes about 15 members who meet the fourth Sunday of each month in the parish center at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hagers-town.

"You find there's a lot of people out there really starved for spirituality," said Bill Hudson, 73, of Hagers-town. The Discalced Carmelite Secular Order "is a contemplative spirituality. Mainly it's silence and prayer."


The Discalced Carmelite Secular Order is dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus, who "kept the words of the Lord and pondered them in her heart" in the midst of her daily life, according to the book "Finding the Mystic Within You" by Carmelite Peggy Wilkinson, who started the Sacred Heart Discalced Carmelite community in Frederick, Md.

Seventeenth-century Spanish Carmelites St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross founded the Discalced Carmelite Order to return to the original 13th-century Carmelite hermit-founders' more contemplative expression of spirituality.

Their writings guide all Carmelites through the various stages of their spiritual journey, Wilkinson wrote.

Discalced, which literally means "without shoes," was a term commonly used in St. Teresa's time to indicate an order that had reformed itself and adapted a more dedicated form of contemplative living.

The Pope and prayer

The three branches of the Carmelite Order include: First Order, priests and brothers; Second Order, nuns; and Third (now called Secular) Order, single or married laypeople, secular priests and deacons and nuns of more active religious orders - including Pope John Paul II.

The basic rule of the Secular Order is 30 minutes per day of contemplative prayer and recitation of the Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayer of the Catholic Church), according to "Finding the Mystic Within You."

While the number of men entering the Catholic priesthood has declined steadily, the number of Catholic laypeople joining Carmelite communities worldwide continues to increase, said the Hudsons, who became Carmelites "to further our spirituality and think more of God than of the material world." As of 1996, there were more than 26,000 secular Carmelites in at least 44 countries, according to information on the Rome-based Discalced Carmelite Secular Order Web site at

"Secular Carmelites have grown by leaps and bounds," said Kitty Hudson, 70. "I think God's calling people."

When the Frederick Carmelite community mushroomed to about 100 members - up from the 20 individuals in the group when the Hudsons joined in the early 1990s - community leaders felt it was time to launch a branch in Hagers-town. The Hudsons answered the call to start a new Carmelite community in Hagerstown despite fears that they weren't qualified to do so. They trusted God; they prayed for guidance; and they turned to their mentors in the church and the Frederick Carmelite community for help, they said.

"I know they're praying for us or we wouldn't have gotten this far," Kitty Hudson said.

A common bond

Josef and Romula Ott of Hagerstown transferred to the Hagerstown Carmelite community after spending about 10 years with the Sacred Heart group in Frederick. No matter where they meet, Carmelites share a common bond through their faith, Romula Ott said.

"We're just connected like spiritual brothers and sisters," she said.

A fan of meditation, Romula Ott said she finds the group's devotion to silent prayer appealing. The love of God that wells up in secular Carmelites during prayer is meant to overflow into neighborly love - permeating and influencing every aspect of daily life, according to Wilkinson's writings.

"When you start praying, you want to do more. You want to reach out to help people," Kitty Hudson said.

In addition to their Carmelite commitments, the Hudsons make weekly visits to area nursing homes and monthly treks to local hospitals to share their Catholic faith. They pray and take communion with residents and patients.

"I think this is a wonderful opportunity for people in this area to get in touch with their spirituality, to pray, to reach out to the community," said Lelia Boudreaux of Hagerstown, a fledging member of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.

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