Carmel in Cebu

The Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns in the Philippines sprang from the prophetic vision of Bishop Dominic Lefebre, a missionary bishop in Hue, Vietnam.  While awaiting his execution in a prison cell during a fierce religious persecution at that time, Bishop Lefebre recounted how our Holy Mother St. Teresa appeared to him in a vision and requested him to establish her Order in Vietnam.

The Carmel of Hue eventually founded the first Carmel in the Philippines on November 9, 1923, almost 4 centuries after the Reform.

The first Carmel in the Philippines is the Jaro Carmel in Iloilo, founded by Bishop James McCloskey, Bishop of Iloilo at that time.  Bishop McCloskey, in a visit to the Carmel of Lisieux, the Carmel of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, shared a beautiful personal encounter with the then newly-beatified St. Therese, which led him to believe that St. Therese was interested in the newly-founded Carmel in the Philippines and that she will ensure its success through her “little way of love.”

In 1949, Cebu and the whole country were recovering from the effects of the war, and material reconstruction was the call of the moment.  But people with vision knew the real need of the post-war world – it was the need for GOD.  God-hungry and God-thirsty, the world would only fling itself into greater ruin if it did not find the authentic solution to its problem.

Catholic Cebu responded.  Cebu, the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines, received the gift of Carmel’s presence on May 13, 1949, through the efforts of Jose Ma. Cuenco, Bishop of Iloilo, and Gabriel Reyes, Bishop of Cebu.

Cebu Carmel, the fourth foundation of Jaro Carmel (the “Casa Madre”), was born in poverty and heroic trust in Divine Providence.  Five professed nuns and a novice from Jaro Carmel arrived in Cebu on May 10, 1949.  They were Mother Mary of Jesus (Jesusa Tinsay), foundress and first Prioress, Sr. Gertrude (Patria Montelibano), Sr. Mary Raphael (Rafaelita Fernando), St. Mary Teresita (Angeles Lazaro), St. Jeanne Mary (Ignacia Guanlao), and Sr. Margarita Maria (Corazon Regalado), the only Extern Sister in the group.

They temporarily stayed in a house in Jakosalem Street, provided by Mr. Antonio Borromeo and Miss Concepcion Borromeo.  In August 1950, they transferred to the partially-completed permanent monastery in Mabolo, whose 3-hectare land was donated by Doña Paz Corominas.

The new Carmel was dedicated to the Child Jesus and to Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces.  The choice of titulars indicated the spirit that was to flourish in Carmel – simplicity, childlikeness and dependence on the Mother of God.

Soon, postulants, attracted by the life of prayer of the nuns, came to fill the little dovecote (as our Holy Mother St. Teresa called her convents).  Through the years, the community took shape as the little “colegio de Cristo” envisioned by St. Teresa for her monasteries.  In fact, Cebu Carmel was able to contribute and has been contributing several Sisters for the foundation and growth of both local and foreign Carmels.  Its first missionary Sister was sent to Papua, New Guinea. Soon after, some Cebu Carmel Sisters joined the Zamboanga foundation and the Philippine Carmels’ first missionary foundation in Ghana, Africa. Subsequently and over the years, the Sisters in Carmel Cebu joined the Philippine Association of Carmels ingenerously offering themselves to help the Carmels in Vilvoorde, Belgium and in Cape Town, South Africa.

Today, the community consists of 26 nuns.  The Divine Gardener has, since then, gathered His first harvest, the Mother Foundress herself, Mother Mary of Jesus.

This is our little story… a story that continues to reveal God’s mercy and unfailing providence everyday.  As St. Therese says, “Many pages of it will only be read in heaven.”  And as we wait for the cloisters of Carmel to disappear into the cloisters of Heaven, we continue to be united with you in faith, in hope, in love.  When we will finally stand face to face before the throne of God, our song of praise, love and thanksgiving to Him will go on through all the lights and shadows of time until we sing it eternally with you all, in our Father’s home.