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Carmelites celebrate 60 years in Jackson

By Elsa Baughman
        JACKSON — When the first Carmelite nuns arrived in Jackson in 1951, they stayed with the Ursulines Sisters at St. Mary Parish convent while the house which would house the Carmelite Monastery was being prepared for them.
        Bishop Richard Gerow had invited the Carmelite Sisters community in St. Louis, Mo., to start a foundation in the diocese. The Carmelites are a contemplative order of sisters who devote their life to prayer.
        Last week on Tuesday, Nov. 1, Bishop Joseph Latino celebrated a Mass honoring the sisters on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Carmelite Monastery. Two of the seven Carmelite Sisters that arrived in Jackson that Nov. 1 in 1951 are still alive. Sister Margaret Mary Flynn, prioress, is one of them. Helen Stephanie Connelly, who left years ago to care for her parents, left religious life and is now living in Kansas City, her hometown.
        Presently there are only five nuns living at the monastery. Nine of the Carmelites Sisters who lived at the monastery are buried in the Gluckstadt Cemetery.
        An early history of the family who owned the house that became the Carmelite Monastery, written by Vincent Venturini and Doug Shanks from south Jackson, says the monastery was originally a plantation house built by the John Mayrant family from South Carolina.
        “By the time of their arrival in Jackson they had a long tradition as Episcopalians . . . there is however a Catholic branch of the family introduced through marriage soon after the plantation house was built,” the story says.
        Sister Flynn said what she remembers about the house that became their monastery is that Bishop Charles Helmsing and a realtor, both from St. Louis, Mo., came to Jackson to look for a place to start the monastery.
        While they were looking at a house for sale across from the plantation house the realtor received a message saying there was a telephone call from him at the plantation house. They went there and in the meantime told the owners they were trying to find a house to establish a monastery.
        Sister Flynn said they told them if they were interested, they would sell the house to them. After considering for a while Bishop Helmsing decided to buy the house located on 2155 Terry Road.
        That first Christmas, after the sisters settled in the house, Jesuit Father Daniel Lord, who was a friend and spiritual director of Mother Daniel Coffey, the first prioress, came from St. Louis to visit. When he went back to St. Louis he wrote in his weekly column for Catholic newspapers, “Along the Way,” a story about the newly formed Carmelite Monastery in Jackson describing how poor they were.
        People from all over the country started sending donations to them. “This was the beginning of our main source of funding for many years,” Sister Flynn said, adding that is the reason why they dedicated the chapel to him and erected a statue of him in the front of the house.
        “We couldn’t have done it without his help,” she said.
        The house, built around 1834-36, has had several renovations since the community acquired it. Originally, the house had several 20’x20’ rooms with 24 feet ceilings which were dropped down several years later to install central cooling and heating systems.
        When they moved into the house, each of the seven nuns had a very small room. In 1954 they moved to a dormitory built next to the house and in 1957 they built a chapel.
        To help raise funds to run the monastery, the nuns had arts and crafts festivals throughout the early years. In 1973 they opened the gift shop and Sister Donna Marie Degnan has been running it since the beginning.
        Every year the sisters bake over 500 cakes and loaves during the Christmas holiday season and sell them all during the Christmas open house weekends. Rum cakes and raisin nut bread baked at the monastery each year in November are shipped to distant places to people who appreciate their efforts and the good quality of the cakes.
        The main source of funds to run the monastery comes from donations and proceeds from the sales of the gift shop and the bake sales at the end of the year.
        The Carmelite Secular (OCDS) Community of Jackson meets monthly at the Carmelite Monastery in Jackson on the fourth Saturday of the month, beginning with Mass at 9:30 a.m. In November and December the meeting is held on the third Saturday, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with Mass.
        For information about the Carmelite Seculars call Sandra Powell, 601-857-8910.


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