The Carmel of Maria Regina
IntroductionThe Carmel of Maria ReginaThe Foundress, Sister Miriam of JesusSister Therese in MemoriamSister Maureen in MemoriamInterviews with the SistersInterviews with PriestsLife at CarmelVisiting the CarmelPhoto GalleryGift and Book ShopPrayer Intentions of the CarmelThe Aquero Foundation and Contact Information
Interview with Sr. Teresa

March 4, 2009

“I’m a member of Carmel of Maria Regina and we are a monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns.  We are cloistered contemplative religious.  Our main mission is prayer for the Church and for the world and that is lived out practically by daily celebration of the Eucharist, celebrating and praying the liturgy of the hours throughout the day, and two hours of private prayer, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  This is also supported by what I would call an atmosphere of prayer which is supported by structures as it were.  And those basic structures would be enclosure, solitude, self-denial, strong community life, and simplicity of life.” 

“Enclosure means that we live here at the monastery.  We don’t ordinarily go out to other places except for very necessary things like doctor or dental appointments or shopping that can’t be handled in some other way or basic maintenance of our grounds and buildings.  We remain in our part of the monastery as it were 24/7 which means that we do everything here; we live here, we make our living here, we go to church here, we have our entertainment here.  So, we basically just stay right here.” 

“With regard to solitude, the enclosure itself limits our contact with other people.  It limits our use of communications media.  We are pretty selective about what we watch or listen to or read and basically we do not watch television unless it’s a national disaster or something like 911 where we really need to know what’s going on.  We do watch some videos or DVDs, both instructional and recreational, but again we’re very selective about what we watch.  We don’t use the phone all the time.  We don’t have individual cell phones that we are using.  We use our phones for business and for keeping in contact with our families if that’s necessary and also as a means for people to make known to us their prayer needs.  So we’re limited in that way.  We also maintain silence throughout the day in that we don’t talk a lot to each other.  We talk about necessary things if we’re working together, but our time to talk with one another is our recreation times which are twice a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.  And then we all gather together and we talk and we work on handicrafts or something like that.  That’s our time to share.  And then in the evening, after we have our final prayers together in the evening, we have what we call strict silence and we don’t talk at all unless it’s absolutely necessary.  And we use no noisy equipment; we don’t use typewriters or vacuum cleaners or sewing machines or anything like that.  It’s a time for real silence in the house...in order to focus.”

“With self-denial…that ties in pretty much with simplicity of life.  We don’t acquire things for the sake of having them.  We try to live in a very modest sort of way; to use things in a respectful way I guess is what I want to say.  We’re not just simply consuming things; we use them as we need and for the glory of God but not just for the sake of using them.”

“We do try to earn our own living as much as possible.  We have an altar bread business and that is our main means of support.  We also do a lot of craft work which we sell through our gift shop.  Periodically, we have a craft sale here at the monastery which has been very well supported.  That’s been a big help to us.  And free will offerings from people…But as much as possible, we try to earn our own living.” 

“Community Life…We live with the same people all the time, 24/7.  And we get very, very close bonds.  We share the same ideals, we share the same life and there’s a real support in our life for one another.  It’s a very big plus.  Especially with the way our society is disintegrating now, it’s very supportive and helpful to have people with you that share your ideals, that want to live like you want to live.  Is there anything you want to ask?”

What does Discalced mean? 

“Discalced literally means barefoot.  And it was at the time of St. Teresa when she made her reform within the order.  That was the trademark of the reform was that they started going without shoes.  They wore sandals and bare feet.  We were not the only ones:  there were discalced Franciscans [and other orders] at that time.  There was a whole move for reform in the church and that was kind of the trademark of it.  We still pretty much wear sandals.  And we wear stockings up here because it’s so cold.  But in warmer climates, they usually just wear their bare feet and sandals.”

Sister Teresa’s Vocation Story

“I was born in Ashland [Oregon].  I have one sister, 3 ½ years older and both my parents are deceased.  I was not raised as a Catholic.  My parents were extremely good people but they did not have any particular religious affiliation.  From a young age, I would say like maybe 7 or 8, I wanted to know about God; I wanted to know more about God.  We didn’t have formal prayer in our family except for meals.  We always read the Bible and we always celebrated Christmas; that was a very special feast day for us.  But as far as any formal religious education at home, I didn’t have any.  And as I grew a little older, I was aware of a lack of peace and tranquility within me.  I think that was a real grace from God because it spurred me to search.  I knew there was something there that was incomplete, I guess is the way to describe it.  So, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, I started going to Sunday school with any of my girlfriends who would ask me.  As I was growing up through my teen years, I was involved a lot with basic fundamentalist protestant groups.  I didn’t really feel spiritually nourished there, but it was a nice crowd of kids to be with and we had a lot of fun.  I mean, it was a good atmosphere for me to grow up in, but it didn’t really nourish me spiritually.  As I got older, into my later teens, I started working…I just didn’t have any formal religious practice at all but that hunger was still there.  And in my early twenties, I started working as a bookkeeper in a retail store.”

“Oh, I should add, when I was sixteen, my sister became Catholic.  It was really difficult for my parents; they had a lot of prejudice and it was genuine prejudice, it was misconceptions.  What they objected to was not reality; it was their conceptions of it.  But, anyway, they were not the kind of people that would impose their will on us. So she went and became Catholic and I thought, that’s fine, she’s got some roots for her life.”

“When I was in my early twenties, I went to work in a retail store as a bookkeeper and the manager of the store where I worked was an exemplary Catholic, a wonderful man, and the woman I worked with in the office was likewise.  They did not push their faith on me at all.  There was no proselytizing.  But I saw that they had something that I didn’t have and I wanted it.  So I took instruction and I came into the church when I was around 21.  And it was like coming home.  It was just the most wonderful thing in my life.  It’s funny because I was raised in such a vacuum of anything Catholic-it’s amazing to go through public school and never hear about these great Catholic intellectuals like St Augustine.  You know, there’s just a total vacuum there.  And when I came into the church it was like walking into a candy store.  It was just full.  I thought, ‘Where do I go first?’  It was just wonderful!”

“Well, I really think that our Lord gave me my religious vocation when He gave me the gift of faith but it took me a while to work through that because I had no concept of religious life.  I knew nothing about it.  I didn’t know what it was, but I just felt this drawing that our Lord wanted something more for me, that He had something more to give me.  So, I started writing to different active congregations that I would find in the Catholic papers or wherever and I got back some very lovely letters, but it just didn’t fit, it wasn’t right.  So, I just kind of kept searching.  And at that time, I was growing a lot spiritually too because I was doing a lot of spiritual reading and I was going to daily Mass and just growing a lot in my faith.  My godmother was wonderful- she was the woman I worked with in the store there.  She would have me over to her house a lot so that I kind of imbibed a Catholic culture, which was totally lacking in my life.”

“Eventually, I saw an article on the Carmel here in the local Catholic paper.  And when I read that, I thought, ‘That’s where I’m supposed to be. That’s it.’  So, I made an appointment and came up for an interview and I felt at home immediately here.  It was like a homecoming for me.  But I had really serious health problems at the time and I saw the community doctor and he did not advise me to enter.  So, I was heartbroken about that but he did set me up with a series of medications through my local doctor.  And, I was on medication for a year and off medication for a year and I was doing really well so I wrote to the Carmel again and I asked if they would reconsider and they did.  And that was in February of ’69 and I entered in April of that year.”

“That time that I had to wait was very difficult for me because I wanted to be here and I was really having to struggle to hold onto my spiritual life.  I don’t know why because my life wasn’t that complicated, but it was just really difficult.  But as I look back on it later, I think there were two things.  I think, first of all, the Lord wanted me to have to fight for my spiritual life to really hang on and gain some strength.  And also it was for my family, because they would have found it extremely difficult at that point after I had come right into the church, if I had had come here to a cloistered community where I couldn’t go home and visit family…very, very difficult.  It was difficult as it was, but they were very good about it.  They would come every month to see me and visit.  And, by the time I made my solemn profession, they were very much at peace with my life here and very proud of my vocation, especially after my solemn profession because they came for that Mass and the reception afterwards and the place was just jammed with our friends and people from around here and they were just glowing about their daughter being here.  Afterwards, they realized how very special it was.  They never really understood but they came to accept it and see how happy I was here.  Like all parents that’s what they want for their children.  So, here I am.”

How did you go from searching for your faith to wanting to dedicate yourself completely to God?

“I think the best way to describe it is a hunger, a sense of incompleteness, a realization that there was something else there that our Lord wanted to give me I needed to search for that…and then the realization that when I came here, that this was home.  This was home.  It’s strange because during my novitiate, I started having health problems again, really serious.  It was a big issue whether the community was going to let me stay because you have to have a certain degree of health to live this life.  It was really agonizing for me.  But they accepted me for first profession.  So once I was accepted for first profession they were obligated, they couldn’t send me away because of health reasons after that.  But as I came to my solemn profession, I questioned whether I should stay because I was having a lot of trouble at that time and I thought, 'Is the Lord trying to tell me that I’m not supposed to be here, that I’m going to be a burden to the community?'  So, I finally came to the conclusion that-I remember it was the novena of our Lady of Mount Carmel and I just asked her to let me know what I should do.  And I finally realized if the community accepted me then I was supposed to be here and I was at peace that way.  The votation wasn’t until that fall and they accepted me.  The community has to vote whether they will accept you for your solemn profession.  And they did so here I am.” 

Was it difficult for you to adjust to the life here?

“It was but not like it is nowadays.  As I mentioned, I did a lot of riding [horses] and I had a lot of silence and solitude in my life already.  I did a lot of praying, it was simple prayer.  That’s what I was doing when I was riding.   I was praising God.  So, I had that in my life already and so that wasn’t a big adjustment for me.  The austerity of the life was difficult because of my health problems, but eventually you kind of get yourself into that and you can handle it.  And also, the separation from my family mostly for their sake, because it was a real separation.  I just had to live my life here and let them live their life there.  But to come in nowadays…they’re so bombarded by noise and sensory images, it’s really hard for them just to be quiet.  I did not have that problem.”

Regarding prayer; how should one pray, what is prayer?

“Well, that’s a big one.  I would like to say a little about that.  Prayer is not necessarily just saying prayers.  We do that as a community and that’s part of prayer.  When we pray the liturgy of the hours, we are praying the psalms together, that’s a vocal prayer.  There’s hymns and scripture readings. And the rosary is a vocal prayer and that’s very much a part of our life.  But that’s not all that prayer means.  It’s about relationship, the relationship with God.  It’s like married couples or very close friends.  They don’t talk all the time but they have a relationship.  And that’s the same way with our prayer.  St Teresa defined prayer as ‘an intimate sharing between friends.  It means taking time frequently to be alone with Him, who we know loves us.’  I think that’s the important thing.  The other thing I like to say about prayer…I don’t know if you do a lot of reading or not, but have you ever read Thomas Hardy’s book Far from the Madding Crowd?  OK, it’s one of my favorite books.  He’s a very good writer, but anyway there’s a section in there where this shepherd, Gabriel Oates, proposes to Bathsheba Everdene, who is the owner of this property.  And he says to her, “whenever you look up there shall I be and whenever I look up there shall you be.”  And, to me that’s what prayer is about.  You’re not always thinking about God.  You can’t.  We’re not built that way.  But, when you look up there He is.  And, He’s looking at you.  So, that’s what I would say about prayer.” 

What is the liturgy of the hours?

“It is the official prayer of the Church.  It’s what the priests pray everyday and cloistered contemplatives pray each day and even active religious pray part of it.  Most of them don’t pray the whole thing because they have a big apostolate like teaching or nursing or something like that that’s very time consuming.  But we are dedicated to praying that each day.  And it’s broken up so you pray it throughout the day.  So, we start at 7:00 in the morning and pray Lauds; it’s a hymn and psalms and then there’s a short scripture reading and then a prayer and there’s also intercessory prayers where we pray for the needs of various things:  peace or the needs of hungry people or whatever the most urgent needs of the world are.  And we also have silent time in there where we make any private intentions that we want to make for instance if a friend called and said they need prayers because of health reasons or a death in the family or whatever.  So, that is before us each day.  Then, we gather after Mass, we have another short section, shorter than Lauds.  Then we gather again at 11:30, again at 1:30; at 4:00 we have Vespers which is basically the same format as Lauds.  And then in the evening at the end of recreation we pray the Office of the Readings which is longer and it has two readings with it; it has a scriptural reading and it has a reading taken from a spiritual author oftentimes it’s the doctors of the Church like St Augustine or St John Chrysostom or someone like that.  And then, after that, we have Compline which is the final prayer of the day.  And at the end of that, we sing a short final antiphon to Our Lady.”

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being totally dedicated to God?

“I think, first of all, it’s the privilege to be able to make God the priority in your life, to make that the very center and focus of your life.  The second thing I would say is being able to live together with people who share your ideals and want to live that life with you who support you in that life.  The third thing is the joy which fills our life.”

What would you tell someone who is discerning a vocation how can one be happy and at peace with God’s will?

“I would say how can you be happy and at peace without it?  I mean, really!  That’s where the sorrows in our life come, when we try to write our own script.”

Did you ever have doubts in your life?

“The only doubts I had were before my solemn profession when I wondered if I should stay.  But as far as my initial formation and my drawing to Carmel, I never doubted that.  I just felt very certain about that.”

Is it difficult incorporating new members in the community?

“There’s definitely friction within a community.  It can’t be otherwise, it’s like a family.  And, with us, we can’t go out and go to the movie and forget about it.  We have to stay here and deal with it.  But that’s a blessing because it teaches you about yourself and that’s the way you grow.  When new people come, I think the most difficult thing is watching them try to adjust and pray that they’ll be able to do it because nowadays they just have such a hard time.  I guess because in many cases they don’t come from a very disciplined life to start out with.  I was fortunate in that I learned discipline at a very young age.  My parents expected me to be responsible and it was something that was just kind of built into me.  So that when I came in and took on this life it wasn’t so overwhelming to me.  I think a lot of young people nowadays have difficulty with that.”

“We have a very structured life and it’s been a godsend, because it’s kept us on track and it’s kept us doing what we’re supposed to be doing.  But it’s very difficult for them to pick that up and live it 24/7.  In the evening after strict silence, we have an hour and a half of free time and we’re free to do whatever we want at that time as long as there’s quiet so we’re not disturbing other people.  We don’t get weekends off, you don’t go off on vacation, we don’t go somewhere and visit our friends.  So it demands a lot of discipline and a lot of sacrifice.  But God is never lacking generosity.  Everything you give to Him, He gives back tenfold.”

Did faith come easy to you?

“When it came, it came easy.  But that long search was not easy.  The thing that really urged me on to search was a period of great suffering.  So it definitely was not easy in the search.  When I found it, I knew what I had.  It’s like the Pearl of Great Price in the gospel.  At last!  I was always searching and when I found it I knew I had it.  I think that was that grace that God gave me, that interior grace of feeling incomplete, a lack of tranquility, a lack of peace inside me.  I think that was grace from Him that made me search, that made me keep looking.” 

“It was kind of gradual as I was working with them [at the bookstore] and I saw their life and saw how they were living it.  It just made a deep impression on me and I thought, ‘I have to investigate this.’”

When you first came to church you felt like you had come home? 

“Oh I sure did, oh definitely.  And this sounds strange to say but when I started instruction, I didn’t know everything that they were presenting to me, it was a gradual process, but I knew as soon as I started instruction that that’s what I believed.  That sounds strange, but that was the way it was.  As soon as I began, I thought, ‘This is what I believe, this is it.’” 

How did you decide you wanted to join a convent?

“I wanted to find out where the Lord wanted me.  And so I just started searching.  I knew it was some form of total dedication whatever that might have been.  And, you know, it could have been a married life too.  Once I visited here and knew a little bit about the life, I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.  That was what I felt interiorly.”

So you felt not just drawn to the Carmels but also to this particular Carmel?

“Each Carmel has a different atmosphere.  Each one is very different and yet they’re the same.  We belong to an association of Carmels so that we meet every three years, usually the prioress and a delegate goes, and it’s fascinating when you get there to see how alike we are and how different we are.  It’s just very interesting.” 

“At that time, I had not visited other Carmels and they didn’t suggest that to me at that time.  And I also wanted to enter in Oregon if I could because I’m a native Oregonian and I feel like we need the presence here and we need the prayers here.” 

Was it hard for you to leave your horse?

“It was very hard; it was very, very hard.  And that’s when my parents knew I was really serious.  When the horse went, they thought this was big time!  That was really the hardest in a way because it wasn’t just the attachment to the horse, although that was there, it was an attachment to a form of life, a form of existence.  So that was something I had to give up.  Obviously, if I came here, I wasn’t going to be riding a horse.”

What is your schedule like on holidays like Christmas, for example?

“For big feast days, the office is more solemn and the Mass is more solemn.  We decorate, in the Chapel and in the chapter room.  And for special feast days, we put the tables together in the refectory.  Ordinarily, when we’re eating someone is reading while we eat.  On feast days, we put the tables together and talk and recreate while we’re eating.  On recreation days, which we have at different times throughout the year, then we talk throughout the day.  The silence is not so strict.  And, oftentimes, we’ll have a video in the evening or something like that.  It’s a celebration, it’s a real celebration.” 

When is it you get your new name?

“We receive our religious name when we receive the habit which is when we start the novitiate.  That’s when we officially become a member of the order.  We’re not a permanent member at that point but we are a member.  Previous to that time, we are what is called a postulant which means that we’re living here and observing the life but technically we’re not a member of the order and a person is free to leave at any time, the community is free to ask her to leave at any time.  The beginning of the novitiate, is the official entrance into the order and that’s when formal formation in the life begins.”

“I chose my name myself.  Now, we are asking them to choose three names and then the prioress selects from that what they will be given.  Almost all of us have some form of Mary in our names because we have a great devotion to Our Blessed Mother.  Technically I am Maria Teresa of the Trinity.  We take a name and a title.  My Teresa is for Teresa of Avila.  We have a Marie Therese of Jesus Crucified and she’s for Therese of Lisieux, France.  They are both saints of our order.  In some Carmels, some have taken a family name that meant a lot to them or a person that they greatly admire or something like that.  But you always end up with a patron saint.”

What is a patron saint?

“It’s based on what we call the Communion of Saints.  So that once people die they don’t forget about us.  They don’t stop caring about us.  Just like our parents, when our parents die, they have an immortal soul and they still care about us.  And it’s the same way with the saints.  They’re looking at the face of God and so we ask them for help.  And they’re in God’s presence and able to say, ‘She needs some help down there, Lord!’” 

Enter supporting content here