The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Fairfield, Pennsylvania

Recently, LAJ was sent a note by the Director of Development of the Fairfield Carmelites about their exciting project to raise a new monastery modelled after St. Teresa of Avila's own original plans for her Carmel. Central to the project is the use of traditional materials and building methods to construct the monastery. Beyond traditional materials and methods, the monastery is itself traditionally oriented in other ways, including utilizing the traditional Carmelite habit and celebrating Mass and the Divine Office primarily in the usus antiquior. Needless to say, this is, artistically as well as liturgically, hitting all the right notes for our interests here at LAJ. In view of that, we are happy to present the following information about the monastery and their project. We hope you will lend them your support. 
When nine nuns were sent from the overflowing Carmel in Valparaiso, Nebraska to make a new foundation in Elysburg, they had no idea their monastery would grow so quickly. In less than ten years, three new foundations have been made - Philadelphia, Australia, and Fairfield. With new aspirants coming almost every month, their numbers will again reach their limit. This growth is what inspired these nuns to consider a new build. Elysburg’s monastery was becoming fast over crowded with corridors being turned into work spaces, and work rooms being turned into cells. So, beginning in 2012, they began the process of researching, designing, and planning.

Originally they had planned on the conventional style of monastery - one large building, long corridors, and small, boxy rooms off those hallways. Steel beams and cinderblock would be the structural support, and they’d hire a conventional general contractor to oversee the whole project.

But after finding their land upon which to build, their landscape and their true Carmelite charism informed and inspired them to something more. All around them in this Fairfield area (15 minutes outside of Gettysburg) are houses constructed 200 years ago using stone and timber. It was this landscape which inspired the Nuns. Their monastery design is simple, sturdy, useful, and natural to its surrounding landscape. Once the it is finished, it will look as if it has been here all along. They are using structural stone, rough timber, brick, and lime mortar to fashion an eight-building complex, including a Chapel, that is in its essence a replicate of St. Teresa’s first monastery in Avila, Spain.

It is a farmhouse complex made up of several smaller buildings connected by “covered cloisters”. Like Saint Teresa envisioned, this monastery will be a “micro village” - a Church at the center, with living quarters and workshops surrounding it. The chapel facade is modeled after San Jose’s chapel in Avila. It is being built with large, rough cut heavy timbers, plain plastered walls washed with a milk and lime paint; there will be brick floors, open fireplaces, as well as wood stoves, candle and lamplight, hand pumps at the sink, and shutters on single-pane windows. This new monastery will more completely encapsulate the austere, laborious lifestyle of a Carmelite nun. There will be no central heating, A/C or electricity; the Nuns will cook with wood, and pump water from their wells. Surrounded by farm land, they will also raise livestock, tend gardens, grow their own vegetables, and till their own fields.

When the Nuns first proposed this style of building, they received a surprising amount of negative reactions and pushback. Six months of phone calls across the country, and across the world, reactions, both positive and negative, were primarily ones of disbelief. There were naysayers who said “why”? and “nobody likes that”. People who have been part of the whole movement towards traditional building couldn’t believe that this obscure group of nuns were so committed and willing to actually put their principles into practice.

But they did, and last summer, Neil Rippingale of Scotland - a master stone mason - headed up the building crew in erecting their first building. It was dedicated on June 27. Then into the fall and winter, the next building was completed: the guest cottage. Built by Brian Post from the Stone Trust, it is a small two-story building that will be used for visiting priests and aspirants.

Eleven Nuns now living on the property in their new barn and a temporary trailer as they oversee this project for the next ten years. There is no stopping them. This spring, work begins on their next building. The Recreation and Work Rooms (Vestry) building is 3750 sq. ft, and will be built in the same style as the guest cottage - using only reclaimed wood and structural stone masonry. It is the largest building so far and should take approximately 12 months to finish. The stone masonry will be headed up by master mason, Justin Money, of Irish Rock Art. Stone masonry begins in May, and excavation is already completed. With minimal plumbing and no electricity, the building will be heated by wood burning stoves and have a rain water system. The plastered walls will keep the building cool and in the summer, and warm in the winter. Once the stone work is finished, local craftsmen will hand make the windows and doors, while timber framers will do the roof, and the interior will be completed by Tom Bauer, resident Caretaker and Project Manager. Floors and fireplaces will be built using Old Carolina Brick - a company which specializes in hand making brick. Each brick is hand moulded using the beautiful and lasting traditions of colonial craftsmanship. The roof will be finished with authentic Virginia slate. Once it is finished, the Nuns will be able to move out of the barn and trailer and into something much more suitable for living. After this building is completed, plans for 2020 will commence.

With a little help from their friends, these Nuns will complete the largest project built in this style in this country in over 100 years. Like the monasteries and Churches of Europe, and the structural stone cottages of Colonial America, this new monastery is being built to last.

These Nuns live the rigorous life of their Holy Mother, chanting all the Hours of the Divine Office and spend two full hours of mental prayer in silence in the Choir. The Nuns are strictly enclosed behind grills, walls, and a turn, and within the monastery, each sister must work alone in her cell or an Office, and keep silence during the day. On the other hand, there is an intense family atmosphere with two full hours of recreation, one after dinner and one after supper. Very few religious house have this amount of time set aside each day. There are no games but work is done while one common conversation takes place. Their liturgy is primarily in Latin, using the Extraordinary Form, and they pray with the original Carmelite breviaries of St. Teresa of Avila, as opposed to the 1960’s Carmelite reform.

If you would like to help the Nuns achieve their dream, consider making donation either by mail or online. For more information, visit, write to Catherine Bauer, Director of Development, at [email protected], or to the Nuns directly: Carmel of JMJ, 327 Water St. Fairfield, PA. 17320. Visitors are always welcome to attend Daily Mass, and all our donors will be remembered in a special Novena of Masses this coming Easter Season.
Here are some renderings of the envisioned completed project (via Riccardo Vicenzino, architect).

Here are some views of the construction underway.

Finally, some photos of Cardinal Burke offering Mass for the sisters in their temporary chapel:

Photo credits: Jim Hale

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.