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There are hundreds of religious orders within the Catholic Church, each one inspired by its founders, many of whom were saints. The Carmelite Order began in the 12th century on Mount Carmel in what is now northern Israel. It was founded by a group of Europeans who chose this site because it was believed to be the home of Elijah.
Tradition says Jewish hermits had lived on Mount Carmel since Old Testament times, converted to Christianity at the time of Christ, and were later joined by the European Christians in the 1100s. The order was started by Saint Berthold and later spread throughout the world.
The spiritual focus, or charism, of Carmelites is one of contemplative prayer. The order is marked by Marian devotion and is believed to be protected by the Blessed Virgin. It is for this reason that many in the order adopt "Mary" as part of their name.
The Order of Carmelites is the original branch, but there are others such as the Discalced, or shoeless, Carmelites. The Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel represent a new branch, one that hopes to "re-establish the monastic expression of Carmel," says Father Daniel Mary, the Wyoming monastery's prior.
In the United States, the prior estimates there are 1,500 people living as Carmelites.
- Jessica Ravitz