On Oct. 21, 1912, a brief but significant conversation took place on a streetcar as Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer of Milwaukee was on his way to catch a train. Before reaching the station, he granted Mother Mary Teresa of St. Joseph permission to establish a new house of the community she had founded in 1891: The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. The sisters’ new convent — which would be located on South Pierce Street — became the community’s first American foundation.
The woman Archbishop Messmer met that day had been born in 1855 in Sandow, Germany, and was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Her baptismal name was Anna Maria Tauscher. Inspired by the Imitation of Christ and supported by her own habits of prayer and spiritual reading, Anna eventually entered the Catholic Church. Her love of the Blessed Sacrament became the hallmark of her spirituality and she continually prayed to know God’s will for her life.
After reading an account of the life of St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Carmelite mystic and reformer, Anna’s understanding of her vocation began to take shape. Responding to the needs of the homeless and neglected children of Berlin, she began to gather like-minded women who desired to share in her mission of service, sustained by the spirituality of the ancient Carmelite Order. Dedicating the new community to the Divine Heart of Jesus, Anna took the religious name “Mary Teresa of St. Joseph” in honor of St. Teresa when she made religious vows in 1893. After working tirelessly to support the growth of her community, Mother Mary Teresa of St. Joseph died Sept. 20, 1938. Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, she is now honored as “Blessed Mary Teresa of St. Joseph.”
In October 1916, Mother Mary Teresa of St. Joseph returned to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and purchased property at Kavanagh Place in Wauwatosa. This convent would eventually be designated as the Provincial Motherhouse of the sisters’ “Northern Province” in the United States. It was to this convent that a young Milwaukee woman came in 1920, becoming the community’s first American postulant; she was known in religious life as Sr. Mary Rita.
Blessed Mary Teresa would also establish communities in West Allis (the former St. Joseph’s Home of St. Raphael) and Kenosha (known today as St. Joseph’s Home and Rehabilitation Center). In the decades that followed, the sisters opened other houses throughout the United States. Today, Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus serve in 16 countries.
The spirit of their foundress continues to draw women to life as Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, including Sister Faustina Marie of the Blessed Sacrament and Sister M. Rose Thèrése of the Good Shepherd who pronounced perpetual vows in the Wauwatosa Motherhouse chapel July 2.
During the same celebration, four other sisters celebrated their jubilee of profession, including Sr. M. Annunciata of the Holy Spirit and Sr. Helena Marie of St. Paul (25 years), Sr. M. Juliana of the Blessed Sacrament (60 years), and Sr. Mary Augustine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (65 years).
Sr. M. Annunciata, a native of Wauwatosa, currently serves as a hospice chaplain at St. Ann’s Home, an assisted living, skilled nursing, and hospice center in Grand Rapids, Michigan; she also serves as superior of her local community.
“I love the fact that our sisters provide homes for the elderly or children,” Sr. M. Annunciata said, “that they have devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and that they’re Carmelite — we’re very devoted to prayer.”
Sr. M. Annunciata sees this blend of prayer and service as a fundamental part of the sisters’ witness to the world.
“If there are people that don’t know and love God, the sisters are there and by their witness and help, they give an example of God’s presence in the world.”
While the sisters are wholeheartedly committed to their ministries, prayer and community remains their primary commitment.
“Prayer is what makes our life worth living. Anybody can do the work, but to bring prayer and Christ into our ministry, our mission, is what’s important.”
To learn more about the life, prayer and service of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, visit: www.caremelitedcjnorth.org.