By: Mother Gloria Therese, Superior General, Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
HISTORY OF OUR CONGREGATION and COMMUNITY MISSION, PHILOSOPHY, VISION
We exist to stand in the Presence of the Living God and, with Mary, make known to the world the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This charism and prophetic mission that we have received as Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles resonates in each of our hearts and permeates all our apostolic service.
Our Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Mother Luisita), and her first five companions dedicated their lives to God as Religious on December 24, 1904, in Atotonilco el Alto, Mexico. Together they set out to dedicate their lives to God and to serve Him through caring for the sick, the poor, and orphans, and educating children. They laid humble foundations for the future Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.
Mother Luisita was born Maria Luisa de la Peña into an affluent family of landowners who had a vibrant Catholic faith. She was married at age fifteen to Doctor Pascual Rojas, a prominent physician, in an arranged marriage customary at that time in Mexico. God did not bless their marriage with children, and so they decided that the poor would be their children. They began by building a small Hospital of the Sacred Heart in Atotonilco, where there were no provisions for the health care needs of the poor.
After fourteen years of happy marriage, Maria Luisa was left a widow. Maria Luisa and a group of like-minded women continued to care for the sick poor as well as orphans and children in need of education. Yet, she felt a drawing to Carmelite religious life, and eight years later entered the Carmelite cloister in Guadalajara. Even in the cloister, she continued to feel a call to continue her apostolic works. With the approval of the Archbishop and her superiors, she returned to Atotonilco to serve the poor. Mother Luisita’s journey with the women who continued to gather with her in prayer and service led to the founding of the Carmelite Sisters of the Third Order of Guadalajara. Her greatest ideal was “to unite the spirit of Carmel to the active apostolate.”
The times in Mexico were difficult for the Church, with alternating periods of toleration of the presence of the Church, revolution, political unrest, hatred of religion, and fierce religious persecution. Mother Luisita feared for the safety of the many young sisters who continued to join the community. In 1927, she and two sister companions dressed in disguise, left their homeland, and came to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to seek refuge for the Congregation. Archbishop Cantwell warmly welcomed the sisters, and they learned firsthand the hospitality and generosity of the American people.
In 1929, Mother Luisita returned to Mexico to continue the work she had begun there while groups of sisters continued to live in the United States, inaugurating apostolates of health care and education among the poor. In 1941, they were able to begin a retreat house in California which had also been a great desire of our foundress. In God’s design, the persecution which was intended to destroy her works served as the catalyst to bring it to another country where it became firmly established. Mother Luisita continued to direct her sisters in both countries and spent the remainder of her life in hiding, moving from one place to another, living in extreme poverty.
On February 11, 1937, God called her home to Himself. Through her life of heroic virtue and trust in God’s will, she has become a model of holiness for those in many states of life: single, married, widowed, and women religious. Today she is recognized by the Church as “Venerable” and is a candidate for sainthood. She no longer belongs only to us Carmelites, but to the whole Church.
In all our apostolates, we continue the legacy of our Foundress. Each sister, in her own personality and area of service, finds that as she lives our charism authentically, there is a joyful, trusting flow of grace from the Heart of Jesus that helps create a strong family spirit among those we accompany in our apostolates through all stages of life – in education, retreat work, and health care. To live our vocation fully, we not only act as individuals, but we intentionally create a communal presence that allows us to accompany others at all stages of life through the healing and transformative encounter with Christ.
OUR CONGREGATION’S INVOLVEMENT IN CATHOLIC EDUCATION
Catholic education has been an integral part of the various apostolates of our Community from its inception. When the Carmelite Sisters arrived in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, our first education apostolate was teaching catechism to other Mexican refugees and serving orphans in Los Angeles. In 1950, we began teaching in parochial schools and have continued serving in elementary and high schools since that time. Today, we teach in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of San Bernardino, the Archdiocese of Miami, and the Archdiocese of Denver.
Within our education apostolate, we form our students to encounter the joy, love, and truth of Jesus Christ. We create a joyful family atmosphere in our schools which fosters a genuine love for learning. Through formation in the “Catholic Intellectual Tradition” in collaboration with families, we form students with a truly Catholic worldview that fosters a love for truth, virtue, and respect for the dignity of every person. Emphasizing the formation of the whole person, we promote excellence through a rich liberal arts education. Students personally encounter Christ through prayer, academics, and relationships, thus learning to vibrantly live their Catholic faith, cultivating virtue and habits of mind that will last a lifetime.
During the years of 2019 – 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, our community studied the prophetic charism of our foundress, Mother Luisita. We also engaged in a study of how we serve in our education, retreat, and health care apostolates, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance on how to best serve the people of God in the 21st Century.
For our Carmelite Education Apostolate, we brought together a team of sisters to create clarity on the best means of forming our sisters serving in the education apostolate.
We also created a shared vision on our strategic anchors that guide every one of the schools in which we serve:
- Joyful Family Atmosphere
- Personal Encounter with Christ
- Formation in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
We saw Formation in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition as an essential anchor that includes two millennia of rich educational practices, including the trivium, quadrivium, Socratic discussion, and more. We believe this Catholic liberal arts tradition is indispensable to every Catholic school experience. We want our students to encounter Christ as the ultimate truth that unites all subjects into an integrated whole; to see Christ in every person, treating them with dignity; and to form right judgments about the world around them.
In this way, students learn the subject matter AND are formed to cultivate an appreciation of the truth, beauty, and goodness that God has placed within all creation and within every human heart, made available to us in Christ and His Church. They are made capable of becoming all that they are created to be in a loving relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[Originally published March 7, 2023]