The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus in Wauwatosa have an apostolate to care for independent women with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  A formation and enrichment program are also in the works for IDD women.

For 100 years, the sisters had a boys home, but as the boys began going into foster care instead, the sisters were not getting any new boys from the court system. The focus changed to helping IDD ladies, said Sr. Gabriela Hilke, who recently moved to Wauwatosa from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she served as a nurse in her order’s hospice program.

She and four other sisters live in the motherhouse and care for these independent women while most also work at jobs outside the community.

“The ladies are private pay, but we are working diligently to get a state license so we can accommodate families who are unable to afford to have them live here,” said Sr. Hilke. “We have been working very hard for it. Our building is only three years old, and we are already doing reconstruction to meet the fire codes. So, we are in a process for getting all that done and have received a grant to do much of that work.”

The ladies who reside in the home on the sisters’ property also have jobs during the day. One young lady works at Walgreens. They also work on arts and crafts, use a computer, and learn Spanish and how to cook.

“They need to be independent and take their own baths, dress themselves and live in their fully furnished apartments,” said Sr. Hilke. “Their meals are furnished, their laundry is done, but they can take care of themselves. We have a chapel here and they can come to Mass if they wish. They don’t have to be Catholic, just have an IDD diagnosis to live here.”

The residents are free to visit their parents any time and they frequently participate in activities adapted for disabled people, such as bowling and arts and crafts. There is an activity center in West Allis that offers programs for disabled people that some of them visit.

“Once a month, we open up a party for IDD people, which is designed for boys and girls and their families,” said Sr. Hilke. “We have a dance party and serve a free meal. Last month, we had a Halloween party, and they came with their costumes on. They love to dance. We always have a giveaway. That night they received blankets; one time they were gifted keychains. They love being loved.”

Also from Grand Rapids is Sr. Mary Magdalene Lindgren. The 28-year-old is a junior sister who is working as a certified nursing assistant and medication technician at The Legacy at St. Joseph’s assisted living and nursing home in Kenosha.

“I work directly with the residents at our assisted living home in providing basic care and administering medications,” Sr. Lindgren said. “I also sometimes work in our kitchen and with the outdoor groundskeeping.”

Sr. Lindgren said she chose the Carmelite Sisters because it was in this order that she recognized the relationship of love that was inherent in a religious vocation.

“I didn’t want to keep ‘shopping around’ once I knew that I had been called,” she said. “I had been open to a religious vocation for most of my life without much serious discernment, but after a particular vocation retreat with the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, I realized that God was indeed calling me to a greater love of him and that I wanted to and had to respond.”

Sr. Lindgren made her first vows July 2, 2021, and renews them each year until five years after her first profession. After that time, she will be able to make her final vows.

“The best part of my vocation is my spousal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s the kind of love that so many people dream of but don’t really understand or think is possible,” Sr. Lindgren said. “Because of our Carmelite contemplative spirit, I have many opportunities to ponder this love of God for me and try to respond as a bride should. His love is the one thing that is solid in this passing world, and no matter what I have done or how I feel, he is always calling me to return to him, to be one with him. He uses everything to show his love for me.”

As a contemplative order, the Carmelite Sisters combine prayer with active service, which draws them closer to union with God, as their foundress Blessed Maria Teresa of St. Joseph expressed when she said, “to see God in all, to serve God in all, to love God in all.”

For a young lady contemplating a religious vocation, Sr. Lindgren encourages her to pray and deliberately discern her calling.

“If you feel that God is or might be calling you, do something about it and see where God leads you from there. Any vocation is a gift from him, and if this is what he is calling you to, he will provide all the graces you need,” she said. “Do try to find a religious order whose charism and life appeal to you, but this attraction should not outweigh or replace that initial call from God which is necessary for a religious vocation.”

Women ages 18-35 who are discerning a religious vocation are encouraged to contact Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus to attend a weekend retreat. They can be reached at or 414-453-4040.

The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus in Wauwatosa provide housing for IDD women on their property. (Submitted photo)