This month we mark the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of the Carmelite Community in the Archdiocese of Melbourne from Sydney. To celebrate the centenary, a thanksgiving Mass was held in the Monastery chapel in Kew on Thursday 22 September. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli led the Mass, with a number of priests from across Victoria concelebrating.

Addressing the large gathering, Archbishop Peter thanked the Carmelite community for the mission of prayer and service given ‘to this city, this country, this world’.

Thank you for one hundred years of faithfully turning towards God, so that we might share in his abiding presence.

Archbishop Comensoli also acknowledged the recent death of Mother Ellen-Marie of Jesus OCDM (Ellen-Marie Quinn). Though in frail health, Mother Ellen-Marie had been re-elected Prioress General of the community early last year, for a further six years. Elections for the new Prioress General are likely to be held in coming months.

In his homily, Archbishop Comensoli reflected on the contribution of the Carmelite Community, saying, ‘To celebrate this centenary of the Carmelite Community of Kew is to enter upon the Holy Mountain where generations of women from all walks of life have turned away, so as to turn to the Lord, whose presence has brought them life.

Here is where the hidden life of Christ has been revealed to his children, where the burdens of the world have been lifted, where the gentle and humble of heart have found rest. For most of us present here today, this Holy Mountain seems beyond what we can traverse; but for you who have taken this path, and your sisters before you, it is the path into communion with God.

He continued, ‘Our Mass today marks the conclusion of the centenary year of the Carmel at Kew, and the presence of the Carmelite community here in Melbourne. It has been a year in which the life of the community has shifted, with the return of the Florence community and the death of Mother Ellen-Marie. Yet a conclusion does not need to mean an end. The grace of this mission has been embedded deep within us all; may the seeds of this contemplative communion continue to grow in new and blessed ways. May Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who herself received and welcomed the Lord in his fulness, continue to form you in her Son’s image, entrust you to the love of the Father, and guide you to live by the transforming Spirit.’

Following Mass, refreshments were served in the monastery gardens for guests to enjoy.

Origins of the Carmelite Monastery in Melbourne

In 1922, nuns of the Carmelite Monastery of Dulwich Hill, Sydney, obtained permission from the late Archbishop of Melbourne Daniel Mannix DD to establish a foundation in Melbourne. Two nuns from the Sydney Monastery, Mother Mary of the Holy Spirit and Mother St John of the Cross (Foley), visited Melbourne and purchased ‘Carrieal’, a property in Mason Street, Hawthorn. Ten nuns formed the basis for the Melbourne foundation, and Mother St John of the Cross became the founding prioress. They left Sydney and travelled on the train to Melbourne, arriving 22 September. The estate agent, Mr Ernest Williams, and his family met them at Spencer Street Station and drove them to their future home in Mason Street.

When postulants started entering the community, the Hawthorn property became inadequate. So, during the years of the Great Depression, a new monastery was built in the nearby suburb of Kew, on Stevenson Street. The community moved there on 29 April 1929, while construction continued. It was built in the traditional Carmelite manner to include an internal cloister enclosed on three sides by living and working areas, and on the fourth side by a chapel, which was later erected as the Australian National Shrine to St Thérèse of Lisieux, who was canonised on 19 May 1925.

There is much to see when visiting the chapel. Inside, the two shrines (or side chapels) on either side of the nave are devoted to Our Lady of Mt Carmel and St Therese of Lisieux. The interior decorations in the chapel, with the exception of the stations of the cross, were completed for the consecration, which took place on 12 November 1931. Ten days later, the opening High Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Mannix, with Mary of the Holy Spirit of the Dulwich Hill Carmel—who had helped with the plans for the Melbourne foundation—travelling to Melbourne for the opening and encloistering ceremony.

On the baldachino (the canopy over the high altar) are the words Ecce tabernaculum Dei cum homnibus (Revelation 21:2–12), which mean, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God with mankind.’ Paintings of the symbols of the four evangelists adorn the vaulting of the ceiling of the baldachino. The high altar, altar rails, sanctuary steps and floor, and skirtings and cappings around the chapel are made of Australian Cudgegong marble, which is a rich cream colour tinged with pink and threaded with golden yellow veins.

The chapel is open to the public, and all are welcome to join the community for weekly morning and Sunday Masses. A group of lay men and women have also formed the Friends of the Carmelite Nuns of Kew under the Patronage of St Joseph. This group supports the community so that the nuns can fulfil their vocation of prayer for the Church and the world, and of bringing God’s peace, love and encouragement into people’s lives.

As the nuns continue their life of contemplation and prayer in the spirit of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, we give thanks for the Carmelite community and for their continued prayers and witness of Christ’s love in the world.

Prayer and contemplation: this is what we were founded for.
—St Teresa of Avila.

It should be known that if anyone is seeking God, the Beloved is seeking that person much more.
—St John of the Cross

The Carmelite Monastery is located at 94 Stevenson Street, Kew, and is open to the public during ordinary Mass times: Sundays at 8am; weekdays at 7.30am; public holidays at 9am. All are welcome.

For enquiries about the Friends of the Carmelite Nuns of Kew, please email Jacinta Lyons.

Photos by Fiona Basile (unless otherwise indicated).