Nearly a hundred years later, Blessed Maria Teresa of St. Joseph might be surprised to see the dark walnut staircase still standing in the foyer of the Carmelite Home for Boys at 1230 Kavanaugh Place in Wauwatosa.
With its original finish, the staircase is testimony to the endurance of German born, Anna Maria Tauscher, when, after converting to Catholicism on Oct. 30, 1888, was shunned by her family and became homeless.
Offered shelter in a convent in Cologne, Germany, Tauscher sought to enter Carmel and become a Carmelite Sister, but was advised to wait and pray. A couple of years after her conversion, she dreamt of the crucified Jesus covered in thorns, with a crown of thorns encircling his heart. Afterward, she said, “I shall not die before the Servants of the Divine Heart are spread all over the world.”
She went on to found the order of the Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, dedicating her life to providing shelter for the homeless. She opened a home for the homeless in Berlin and later a novitiate with 14 novices in the Netherlands.
Brings ministry to America
Blessed Maria Teresa wanted to bring her ministry to the United States and in 1912, came to America to establish an apostolate in Cleveland. However, the bishop of Cleveland, who invited her, was in Rome when they arrived. To make matters worse, he had a strong dislike for Germans. Despite obstacles, she and four other sisters came to Milwaukee, where Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer granted them permission to establish a home in the city.
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100th Anniversary of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus (in Milwaukee and America)
To honor their foundress and their order, the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus are celebrating 100 years in America on Nov. 21, with an open house, rosary and Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Jerome Listecki, followed by a reception. The celebration, sponsored by the sisters and the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate in Oak Creek, is a tribute to the service the sisters have provided to homeless, poor and disenfranchised.
Stating that they are an important part of the ministry of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Archbishop Listecki is looking forward to celebrating Mass and visiting with the sisters. “The importance of their presence in the diocese is the heart of living out the Christian life, both in their prayer life and in the community,” he said. “Whether it is generated in their response to help those in need and especially the disenfranchised, the Carmelite sisters have taken that responsibility upon themselves as an extension of the presence of Christ in our church.”
The current boys’ home and provincial motherhouse was the second Milwaukee area home founded by the 57-year-old nun. The first, named the St. Joseph Boys’ Home, located on South Pierce Street, opened on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, Nov. 21, 1912. The home was dedicated for the care of orphaned children.
Since then, the Northern Province of the Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus in the United States consists of five ministries:
- The provincial motherhouse in Wauwatosa
- St. Joseph Home for the Aged in Kenosha and Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Residential treatment center for boys in Wauwatosa
- Residential treatment center for girls in East Chicago, Ind.
- Emergency shelter care for infants and small children in East Chicago, Ind.
As director for the provincial motherhouse, Sr. M. Immaculata teaches and guides the novices and newly professed. Applicants range in age from 18 to 30, and possess good health, common sense and a cheerful disposition, she said. Those who present a submissive will to serve God in whatever capacity the superiors judge best are admitted to postulancy.
Women given time to adjust
When a woman arrives at the motherhouse, she is given time to adjust to life in the community. For next six to nine months, she learns about the order’s spiritual life and is initiated into the works of the congregation.
After postulancy, the novitiate consists of two years. The first year is one of an intense introduction into Carmelite spirituality. The novice resides in the provincialhouse, but does not participate in any of the apostolic ministries of the congregation.
The second-year novice will spend time away from the provincial house in one of the local homes. She will participate in the apostolic mission of the respective home and will be under the direction of a sister who will provide continuity in the course of studies already undertaken.
At the conclusion of the novitiate, the novice pronounces her first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. She is considered a junior sister, and will be given an assignment in one of the homes of the province according to her readiness and general inclination.
Educational opportunities are available and training will be given in connection with her work.
Following five years as a junior sister, a sister enters a tertiate period, where she may remain in a house other than the provincial house for six months.
A thorough review of the vows, the Carmelite rule, directory, and constitutions are pursued. The sister is encouraged to spend additional time in prayer and study in preparation for pronouncing her final vows.
Study, recreation, even roller blading, part of life
Recently professed, junior sisters, Sr. Faustina Marie and Sr. Mary Rose Therese are studying the Carmelite spiritual life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the rule of the order and their vows. Both are happy with their call to serve God as religious sisters.
“When I am not studying, I take care of the refectory and housework,” said Sr. Faustina, who also enjoys participating in her native Hawaiian dancing in her spare time. “Dance is one way I worship God.”
Serving as the sacristan, assistant cook and baker, Sr. Rose Therese is the designated computer expert and gardener.
“I love my vocation,” she said. “My life is a gift from him, and I want to return it back to him as my gift, and to follow his ways.”
Rising at 5:30 a.m., the sisters begin each day with 6 a.m. prayer, followed by a half hour of meditation, and Mass celebrated with the Pallottine Fathers.
“We also participate in spiritual reading in common, have our meals together, celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours and work in our various ministries, and we have weekly eucharistic adoration,” said Sr. Immaculata. “We are a contemplative and active order and follow the rule and spirit of St. Teresa of Avila who said that it is important to pray and also to recreate.”
There are eight sisters residing in the motherhouse and on Oct. 30, the feast day of Blessed Mary Teresa, nine sisters, including the provincial superior, Sr. Maria Giuseppe, joined the sisters at the motherhouse for prayer and celebration.
“We came to pray and have them give us a free lunch and then run,” laughed Sr. Maria Giuseppe, adding, “They are very good cooks.”
Serious about prayer, service, recreation
The sisters make rosaries and scapulars and donate them where most needed, explained Sr. Maria Giuseppe. While they are serious about prayer and service, they are also serious about recreation, and insist it is integral to a healthy vocation.
“We need to rejuvenate through dance, singing and playing,” she said. “If we are mopey, it is not a good vocation. We are active and enjoy all sorts of activities and hobbies.”
The atmosphere in the motherhouse is anything but mopey. The sisters in the Northern Province, who range in age from 26 to 92, are ebullient; and emanating from their prayer life is a joyful and playful demeanor.
The head cook, Sr. Mary Zachary, has lived in the convent for 40 years and enjoys shopping for groceries as much as she does cooking and enduring gentle teasing from the other sisters.
“She cooks and we eat,” laughed Sr. M. Carmelita.
For 77-year-old Sr. Mary Petra, bookkeeper of the boys’ home, her penchant is baseball.
“I like to watch it as often as I can,” she said. “I am a big fan.”
Work with delinquent boys
The sisters serve in the motherhouse, or in another of the Northern Province ministries, such as the attached Carmelite Home for Boys. The home is a private non-profit residential treatment center licensed by the State of Wisconsin, Department of Health and Family Services, as a child caring agency.
“The boys’ home is for delinquent boys who are sent to us by the juvenile court, as well as those who are neglected or emotionally disturbed,” said Sr. Immaculata. “We currently have a dozen boys between the ages of 11 through 17 who stay here. Our goal is to bring troubled children to a level of functioning to return them to the community as productive and law-abiding citizens.”
The program provides comprehensive care for these youth, which includes psychiatric, mental health, spiritual, academic, daily living and recreational opportunities.
Funds generated by prayer, annuities
The funds to maintain the motherhouse are a result of intense prayer, benefactors, former boys who lived in the orphanage, as well as annuities from the other homes.
“This is a formation house, so each of the other homes helps to support our work here,” said Sr. Immaculata. “The postulants and novices live at the motherhouse and many choose to stay on and help at the boys home.”
An increased interest in religious life has drawn weekly interest to the Carmelite order, and for Sr. Maria Giuseppe, it is very encouraging.
“We usually hear from young women by email first, expressing interest in the order,” she said. “Not a week goes by that we don’t hear from someone. We invite them to visit the East Chicago children’s home and then they can go back home and decide where God is leading them. They look at other congregations and are required to pay off their student loans before they can enter the order. The commitment is hard, but some do decide to enter. We also invite them to come to the motherhouse for a weekend to see how it is, living and praying and participating in meals with the sisters.”
Among the guests at the 100th anniversary celebration will be the mother general from Europe, and sisters from St. Louis, Canada, and Nicaragua. Mass will be celebrated in the gymnasium in the Boys home and a tour of the facility will be offered in the afternoon.
“We are so proud that our Mother Foundress opened this home personally,” said Sr. Immaculata. “She started this house, walked the grounds, saw the staircase that was in her dream, and because they had no money, the sisters all worked together to build a high cloister fence that surrounded the entire property.”