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The foundation of the Carmel of Lisieux

 

   There once was…

There once was an abbot who had nothing “savage” about him except his name. Vicar at a parish in Lisieux, he had a reputation for zeal and goodness that reached the Carmel of Pont-Audemer, where were lodged the Misses Gosselin—Athalie and Desiree, biological and spiritual sisters, then, respectively 25 and 27 years old. They happened to share a dream: to establish a Carmel in Lisieux. On a beautiful day in the summer of 1835, these three met and decided to launch this project, most unlikely to succeed if it had not been the design of God.

How can one not see, in effect, the hand of Providence in the accomplishment of the enterprise that is chronicled in the following incredible adventure, truly worthy of being compared to the foundations made by Teresa of Avila? For a start, it was necessary to find a generous Carmel that would lend experienced Carmelites to assist in the foundation. Otherwise, the Gosselin sisters would have had to reinvent a Carmel all on their own. No fewer than six Carmels were consulted: a few firmly declined (it seems that the crisis of vocations was already then being experienced!), others equally furnished procrastination and hope to our small group of founders, whom, nevertheless, never became discouraged.

At last, thanks to the help of Bishop de Beauregard of Orleans who must be remembered for the efficacy of his service as much as for his jovial goodness, the Carmel of Poitiers finally opened its great doors and heart to the sisters Gosselin in order to form them, and then send them to back Lisieux, accompanied by a “shock troop” of seasoned Carmelites: Mother Elizabeth, who would serve as prioress; and Mother Genevieve, who is remembered as “the founder” because her role in the founding and long life in the Carmel of Lisieux (including that of Therese), was comparatively the greater one of the two.

While our sisters were being formed as Carmelites, Fr. Sauvage searched for a “stone” upon which the Community would be able to lay its head. Because not every “stone” was suitable for the Carmelite form of life, he decided upon a provisional location and, following a journey that can only be described as amazing, the founders and their provisions arrived on a beautiful morning, March 15, 1838. The neighborhood was known as “Nouveau Monde” (New World), but the house there was one unlikely to inspire dreams for our apprentice Carmelite who had learned quickly to imitate their new Mothers in religion in maintaining faith under all circumstances. After all, Jesus was well content with a stable.

Soon, other young women felt the call to join the small group, making it necessary to purchase a more suitable house. Accordingly, on September 5, 1838, the Carmelites of Lisieux invested in a monastery that less than a hundred years later would become famous throughout the world. On the 16th of the same month, the sisters Gosselin made their final vows before a large gathering of the citizens of Lisieux, far from suspecting the great adventure upon which the Carmel of Lisieux had embarked.

Read the narrative of the foundation written by one of the founders.