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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Ashes to Masses

Ashes to Masses

GRHC - July 13th, 2011

In 1916, Mother Mary Elias and her Carmelite Sisters, were forced to flee the bloody Civil War happening in Mexico. After living in Havana, Cuba; New Orleans, Louisiana; and St. Louis, Missouri; Bishop Henry Joseph Richter invited Mother Mary Elias and her sisters to live in Grand Rapids. The Nuns enjoyed a simple life, spending most of the day in silence. 



In 1910, Francisco Madero, a Mexican revolutionary, declared war on Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. By 1916 authorities routinely arrested, imprisoned, tortured, taxed, and murdered members of the Church. Mother Mary Elias was ordered to dissolve her Carmelite monastery in San Jose and flee the bloody civil war. After finding temporary solace in Havana, Cuba, New Orleans and St. Louis, the Carmelite sisters were invited by Bishop Henry Joseph Richter to establish their community in Grand Rapids.

The Carmelites live an austere life that originated with the founding of the order in the twelfth century by former Crusaders who became hermits on Mount Carmel in modern-day Israel. The nuns of Grand Rapids enjoy simple lives of prayer and contemplation. They are cloistered, meaning that visitors are only allowed inside the doors of the monastery when a nun dies, or when a new postulant enters the order. From September to Easter, the sisters eat only one full meal per day and the majority of the day is spent in silence. Family members may occasionally visit with a nun, through a metal grate, and a few nuns are allowed outside the walls of the cloister to do essential tasks like grocery shopping.

Visitors were granted a one-time visit inside the cloister when the Carmelites built their new monastery on Walker Avenue in 1941. They now reside in Ada Township, where they continue to voluntarily live under these strict regulations today, as do all other Carmelite orders around the world.



Full Details

TitleAshes to Masses
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, Mother Mary Elias, Bishop Henry Joseph Richter, Carmelites, Nuns, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, radio, Podcast
Pubdate StringJuly 13th, 2011

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