away behind an iron gate in La Plata is a beautiful place of peace. Mt.
Carmel Monastery, established in 1790, is situated at the top of a
gently rolling knoll surrounded by trees.
The monastery is home to 14 cloistered nuns. Occasionally, you may catch
a glimpse of a nun's traditional habit from behind the surrounding
fence, or hear some rustling through the leaves, but the Carmelite nuns
will not greet you in person upon your visit to the monastery. They have
separated themselves from society "in order to focus and concentrate on
God, praise, love and prayer" shares Mother Virginia Marie, a Carmelite
nun living at the monastery.
Separation from society in today's world may seem difficult for some to
understand. Perhaps a clearer understanding of this separation is found
in a quote from the Carmel of Port Tobacco website: "As the heart is
enclosed in the body and hidden from public view, so are contemplatives
within the Church. The heart performs a vital function-pumping blood to
the other parts, even though it is not seen. The hand and foot are
readily seen carrying out their works; but the heart works best when
left alone, enclosed and hidden from view to do its work. The life of
prayer and sacrifice is indeed the life-blood of the Church."
The nuns live in small hermitages and rise each morning around 5:30 a.m.
to begin their day with prayer. Before many people have risen from bed,
the nuns begin their daily Mass at 7:15 a.m., and then have breakfast
and a mid-morning prayer, an hour of spiritual reading and work.
Around 11:45 a.m., the nuns have a mid-day prayer, examination of
conscience, dinner, mid-afternoon prayer, and resume their work. Their
days continue as such until about 9 p.m. when they have their nightly
In addition to their devotion to prayer, the Sisters also work making
handmade items such as rose petal rosaries, baptism gowns and original
sculpture for the gift shop, which helps support the monastery. They
also maintain the monastery buildings and grounds with the help of
The grounds of the monastery still include the historic original
monastery buildings built in 1790. The monastery is not only a place
that offers prayer-it offers an extensive lesson in Southern Maryland
Mt. Carmel is the first convent of religious women established in the 13
original colonies. Four Carmelite nuns, under the guidance of Father
Charles Neale, a Jesuit priest, founded the monastery also known as
Carmel of Port Tobacco.
Prior to the Declaration of Independence, religious freedom had been
denied to Catholics. Women and men wishing to enter into a religious
vocation had to do so by leaving America and heading for Europe.
Convents in Belgium and France were devoted Americans likely
destinations as even England had anti-Catholic laws at the time.
Three of the founding nuns of Mt. Carmel, Mother Bernardina, Sister Mary
Aloysia and Sister Mary Eleanora along with Father Neale, were all
natives of Southern Maryland. Mother Bernardina was a descendant of one
of the first families in Maryland and Sisters Mary Aloysia and Mary
Eleanor were her nieces.
The founders had made the arduous trip to Europe and after the
Revolution ended, returned to Southern Maryland to enjoy religious
freedom and to bring Carmel to America and to their original home.
When Father Neale and the Sisters returned to Charles County, they
stayed originally at what was then Father Neale's family estate,
Chandler's Hope in Port Tobacco (Chandler's Hope is where both Father
Neale and Archbishop Neale were born). But the estate lacked the
seclusion needed for the Sisters and so Father Neale exchanged
Chandler's Hope for 860 acres about three miles north of Port Tobacco.
This is where the original monastery buildings were constructed.
After a very long history, and through many struggles for survival and
revival, today's monastery is on nearly 80 acres, bordering the Mt.
Carmel Estates neighborhood, less than a half-mile from the College of
Southern Maryland's La Plata campus.
Recently, with the help of two volunteer groups, the nuns have opened a
new building at the monastery. The 8,220-square-foot building includes a
larger gift shop, which in addition to the nun's handmade items carries
hard-to-find religious books and articles.
Among the old and the new at Mt. Carmel you will find solitude and
serenity. "We welcome people to come for a quiet moment of prayer," says
Mother Virginia Marie. In addition to several isolated spots for
reflection, an inviting brick chapel is open to the public for prayers,
meditation and Mass.
Through their prayer and hard work and with the help of many volunteers,
the Sisters of Mt. Carmel are able to maintain the monastery and share
this place of prayer, peace and quiet with the outside world.
The Mt. Carmel Monastery's gift shop is open Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-6
p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
The monastery's annual fundraiser, the "Pre-Christmas Sale," is
Saturday, Oct. 21, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Refreshments
will also be available for sale; the Sisters are known for their home
baked treats. All proceeds go directly to the nuns to help with the
expense of the new building.
You can find out more information by
visiting their website at
For another perspective of
the Carmel of Port Tobacco, see:
History in Charles County: Carmelite Nuns of the Carmel of Port Tobacco
We also have
more photos in our Multimedia Gallery.