Secular Carmelites in Denver? A vocation you probably weren’t aware of

How the Secular Carmelites in Denver are a path to heaven for one another

Therese Bussen

There are plenty of religious orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Salesians, Jesuits, Carmelites — but did you know about secular orders?

Secular orders, or third orders, are branches of religious orders for lay men and women who are either single or married who adopt the charisms and characteristics of the order into their daily lives and have a community that’s part of the order. And in Denver, the secular Carmelite order is alive and well

The community here began over 25 years ago, and when current director of formation, Marian Gilmore, met them, there were only six people who met in the house of one of the members.

“I was completely in love with the whole idea of meditation, contemplation and poverty of spirit,” Gilmore said. “It was everything I had been looking for. I had always felt there was a side of God that I couldn’t get close enough to.”

Gilmore joined the community as an aspirant, the first step of the process, and the community continued to grow over the years until it spread into different branches, in addition to the near 70-member Denver base, which is known as the “Community of the Holy Spirit”: Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Cheyenne, Wyo. The Denver community is also canonically approved.

It was this thriving Denver community that now-president, Ida Rubin, discovered when she moved to Denver in 2004.

“I have been a secular Carmelite since 1964. I wanted a home that was a clear path to the Catholic Church,” Rubin said. “[The Carmelites] are an extended family with each other. I’ve been in five communities: Washington, California, and Denver. We speak a language to each other which is fraternal, and we have provincial guidelines, constitutions and formation, so it’s the same no matter where you go. I’ve always been welcomed into the community as a member of the family.”

What does it look like?

If you’re not living in a religious order, what does living the secular order look like for lay members?

Members of the community meet once monthly for formation and Mass together. Those just joining do so as aspirants. According to Gilmore, aspirants begin studying the Way of Perfection after acceptance. If free of impediments (i.e., not baptized, not married in the Church, etc.) and after completing the first year, they have an interview with the council and are accepted to the second year, where they study the Living Flame of Love. After completing that year, they make temporary vows.

Members of the secular order of Carmelites pose for a photograph following Mass at the Carmelite Monastery on October 3, 2017, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Following the temporary vows, their formation continues by studying various saints and works and is split into various stages. In formation two, year one, they start studying Carmelite saints, beginning with St. Therese of Lisieux; formation two, year two studies St. Teresa of Avila; formation two, year three studies St. John of the Cross. After completing these introductory years for six years, then the definitive vows are made.

Daily life also looks more intentional for a secular Carmelite, and they ascribe to it as much as their state in life allows: They pray the Liturgy of the Hours every morning and evening, attend daily Mass as much as they’re able, pray a daily rosary, and try to make space for one hour of meditation a day.

“It is the backbone of my spiritual life,” Rubin said. “When I came to Carmel, I had three kids under five… I needed a clear path and I signed up. I didn’t know very much about Carmel, but…I need structure in my life, and it’s given me that. There have been many blessings. All through my life, Carmel has been there for me.”

What does a vocation look like?

It looks different for everyone, Rubin said, but there are always similar traits.

“The people that come to us express that they were looking for something in their spiritual life, and they were missing something but they didn’t know what it was,” Rubin explained. “And sometimes someone in the parish invited them, or someone in their life is a Carmelite priest or nun. It’s through an action of the Holy Spirit, or an encounter with another Carmelite.”

For council member David Stratman, he knew God was calling him to something, but he wasn’t sure what it was. On his own, he had felt called to pray more and attend daily Mass; eventually, he started praying Liturgy of the Hours. But he was still struggling with making progress in prayer.

“The intensity of the call became even more intense the past seven years or so. Every day, I asked God where he was leading me,” Stratman said.

…the idea of becoming involved in a vocation is something only a minority of people think about. I wish everyone spent time thinking about, ‘How can I get closer to my creator?’”

Eventually, he found a flyer in the back of his church about the secular Carmelites, which described the daily practices they incorporate into their lives to grow closer to God — some of the very same things he had been doing for years.

“I dropped to my knees and thanked God. It is absolutely amazing how all of the things for which I was being called were the things of Carmel,” Stratman said. “I called the number and the rest is history. I have been in Carmel about four years. I cannot possibly explain how fast those years have gone by and how much my prayer life has improved.”

Stratman added that there are many secular vocations and Carmel is not necessarily for everyone. If several hours of prayer in silence and solitude doesn’t sound appealing, it probably isn’t a good fit, he said. But, if it is a good fit, don’t be afraid and “do not doubt how much our Blessed Mother will help” you accomplish what’s required by the community.

It will change you

The members of Denver’s secular Carmelite order are a family, Rubin and Gilmore said, and practicing the communal way of life along with the daily spiritual practices are the backbone of their relationship with God.

“The community is so loving, so wonderful, so pure,” Gilmore said. “If I needed something right now, I could name 20 people I could call. They know you, they love you and have the same outlook, the same values.”

But the opportunity to be a part of an order, or to even ask the question, “What does God want me to do with my life?” is something far too many people miss, Gilmore said.

“So many people don’t think about their responsibility to know their creator. That doesn’t mean they have to be Carmelite,” she said. “I feel like the idea of becoming involved in a vocation is something only a minority of people think about. I wish everyone spent time thinking about, ‘How can I get closer to my creator?’

“Carmel for me was a path to figuring that out, what am I doing here?” she added.

The Community of the Holy Spirit is always welcoming visitors, but November is the perfect time to look into it as they’ll start an aspirant class. The community meets at St. Thomas More every second Saturday of the month from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with lunch and Mass. If interested, call Ida Rubin at 303-805-4853 or Marian Gilmore at 303-661-7338.

COMING UP: Mexican nuns of new order open first U.S. convent in Denver

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Mexican nuns of new order open first U.S. convent in Denver

Six Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity to serve archdiocesan center

Roxanne King

It seems providential that a new order of Discalced Carmelite nuns, whose charism is to know and to make known the glory of the Holy Trinity, has arrived to Denver to care for the archdiocese’s Holy Trinity Center.

The six Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity are the first nuns of their order, which was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to open a convent in the United States.

“It is by the grace of God,” Mother Martha Patricia Malacara, superior of the community, told the Denver Catholic. “He is making history (here).

“We want to thank Archbishop Samuel Aquila for welcoming us,” she added, “we are very grateful.”

Founded by Sister Martha Maria Ramirez-Mora on July 16, 1986, the order has 200-plus nuns serving in various apostolates—ranging from assisting at nursing homes to retreat centers—in Mexico, Italy, Rome, Argentina and Chile.

The semi-cloistered nuns are active contemplatives.

“We have the Carmelite essence of contemplative prayer but we also have an apostolate,” Mother Malacara said.

Residing in the convent at the St. John Paul II Center campus, which includes the chancery offices and the archdiocese’s two seminaries, the nuns will help run the day-to-day functions of the Holy Trinity Center, which includes the archbishop’s residence and rooms for large-scale meetings, conferences and events. The nuns will also help maintain the various sacristies on the campus.

The nuns’ primary task, however, is prayer—particularly the Divine Office and daily Eucharistic adoration. They pray especially for the sanctification of priests and seminarians, for the conversion of sinners and for the needs of the Church. They also welcome prayer requests.

“We want to let people know that we are praying for them,” Mother Malacara said. “Prayer is our main charism.”

Ranging in age from 35 to 46, the nuns are all Spanish-speaking natives of Mexico. They arrived to Denver March 14. Serving under Mother Malacara are Sister Imelda Cardona, Sister Lidia Cortez, Sister Elvira Esparza, Sister Maria Patricia Mireles and Sister Laura Martinez-Silvestre.

Clad in sandals, black veils and brown habits, the nuns’ habits are emblazoned with a triangular emblem that represents the Holy Trinity: one God comprised of three persons—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Inside the triangle a cloud signifies the Father’s providence, which floats over his son Jesus’ cross, upon which the Holy Spirit, as a dove, issues tongues of fire for the Spirit’s seven gifts, which descend on a globe.

The nuns’ first impressions of their new land have been of warm hospitality.

“The United States is very beautiful,” Mother Malacara said. “People have welcomed us well. We do not speak English but people have tried to speak to us in Spanish.”

The nuns are learning English, but when language fails, the nuns said laughing, those involved have resorted to friendly gesturing.

“From the first moment we stepped on the land of the United States, very friendly people have helped us and guided us,” said Sister Mireles.

Not only do the nuns welcome prayer requests but women interested in their order are invited to contact them.

“If you feel that call, answer it!” Sister Cardona said, adding that there is no need to be afraid. “God loves you, so you should answer.”

Prayer requests may be emailed to Carmelites@archden.org or mailed to Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO 80210.