Saint Joseph Secular Discalced Carmelites

San Francisco, California


The Carmelite Tradition and Saints



Unlike other Catholic religious orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, which trace their founding to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, the Carmelites do not claim a single founder. Rather, we point to a tradition of people and events that shaped our Order's identity and spirituality.  The following are some highlights of that tradition.


Early Carmelite Founding Tradition

As Carmelites, we trace our order's roots to a simple band of Christian soldiers and pilgrims, who settled "near the fountain of Elijah" on Mount Carmel in Palestine after the Crusades in the 13th century. They sought to live as hermits "in allegience to Jesus Christ" and to "meditate on the Lord day and night."  They eventually became a formal religious order when they requested and received a Rule of Life written about 1215 A.D., from St. Albert, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

These early Carmelites looked to two sources of inspiration.


The Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Mount Carmel

From the earliest time, Carmelites placed their Order under the special patronage of the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ. It was in her special honor that they named themselves the Order of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel.  To this day, Carmelites celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in honor of our Order's special patron.

The Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite

Saint ElijahThe early Carmelites were also inspired by the powerful and charismatic Old Testament prophet, Elijah, who has been linked to Mount Carmel since Old Testament times. His life of contemplation and apostolic zeal "for the Lord of Hosts" inspired the first Carmelites to recognize their own zeal in walking by prayer in God's presence.

As a prophet of God, Elijah challenged many powerful institutions of his time. Scripture depicts him fleeing for his life to Mount Horeb. It was there that he encountered God, not in the sound of thunder or the flash of lightening, but in the whisper of a breeze--then he understood God's ways. The Bible also depicts Elijah being carried to heaven in a fiery chariot, while he still lived. His name means "Yahweh is my God." Read about his colorful life in the Bible starting at 1 Kings:17 (in English) (Or read this passage in Latin. 3Kings in the Latin Vulgate.)

Top of page


Reform to the Present

The 16th century was a watershed age for the Carmelite Order. The activities of two great Spanish mystics, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, resulted in the Order's reform and in a written spiritual legacy of insight and instruction on the mystical life. The reform caused the Carmelite Order to split as evidenced today by the presence of two Carmelite orders: the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance (signified by O.Carm) and the Order of Discalced Carmelites (signfied by OCD). The split was based on differing views at that time of how to live the Rule of Life within the Order.

In this 3rd millenia of Christ's birth, we value our common spirit, the wisdom and example of all Carmelite saints, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with each other in the spirit of our common heritage.

St. Teresa of Jesus

Our Holy Mother St. Teresa of Jesus (March 28, 1515-October, 1582) is the Church's first proclaimed woman Doctor of the Church. She is known for reforming the Carmelite Order in order to return it to our earliest roots.  She used the word "discalced" which means "barefoot." By this, she meant traveling in the spirit of humility and spiritual poverty.

St. Teresa is particularly known for her mystical insights and teaching on contemplative prayer preserved for us in her writings. Read her spiritual autobiography by following this link.

Saint John of the CrossSt. John of the Cross

Our Holy Father, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), was St. Teresa's colleague in the reform and her confessor.  His mystical poetry and commentaries reveal a profound depth of spirituality, insight, and experience. His writings are available for downloading at the this link.

Top of page


Contemporary Saints


Saint Terese of Lisieux St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Therese was born in France on January 2, 1873. She entered the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, France at age 16, where she died on September 30, 1897. Though she died at the age of only 24 her spiritual autobiography, "The Story of A Soul," revealed her to be a soul mature in holiness and spiritual insight. Her doctrine of "the little way"  has influenced Popes and many other holy men and women. Canonized a saint on May 17, 1925, she was declared a Doctor of the Church on October 19, 1997, the centennial of her death.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Edith Stein (Saint Bendicta of the Cross) Edith Stein, of Jewish origin, was an intellectual in Germany during the first half of the 20th century. She later convertd to Catholicism and entered the Carmelite convent taking the name, Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. During World War II, Edith was imprisoned at Auschwitz where she died in 1942. She was beatified on May 1, 1987 and then canonized on October 11, 1998.

Top of page

c. 1998-2015. Joseph, OCDS. All rights reserved.