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

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

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.

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.