Lafayette, Louisiana ~ Carmel of Mary, Mother of Grace

In 1867 the beautiful Creole socialite, Louise Roman, niece of Governor A.B. Roman of Louisiana, entered the Carmel of St. Louis. On November 21, 1877, she led a group of four nuns back to her native state. In 1878 they located in a pre-Civil War cottage in the French Quarter in New Orleans. The permanent monastery dedicated to St. Joseph and St. Teresa was completed in 1895. It was this monastery which opened its doors to welcome Heloise Marie Caillouet (Mother Marie Dolores of the Passion) of Thibodeaux, Louisiana in 1919 and Lucy Mary Hermes (Mother Theresa Margaret of the Sacred Hearts) of Austin, Texas in 1934. They were to become the foundresses of the Lafayette Carmel.

When the young and enthusiastic Father Jules B. Jeanmard, a former chaplin to the Monastery, was named Bishop of Lafayette in 1918, he asked the nuns to bring Carmel to his budding diocese, the center of Acadiana culture. Seventeen years later (1935), negotiations for the monastery in Lafayette were begun. In May, 1936, four cloistered sisters and one extern sister left New Orleans and traveled the almost two-hundred miles to Lafayette (a five hour trip in those days). Mother Bernadine of St. Joseph, the Prioress in New Orleans, accompanied them.

The First Mass was scheduled for the feast of St. Simon Stock, May 16, but the chapel was far from ready. Workmen, priest-friends, and the nuns stayed up all night to complete the preparations. Despite wet paint on the newly remodeled altar, the loss and eventual recovery of the altar wine and various other disturbances, Bishop Jeanmard began the First Mass on time and with this Eucharistic celebration the new Carmel under the patronage of Mary, Mother of Grace, was officially inaugurated in the life of the diocese.

St. Teresa was confident that if her foundations began with the experience of difficulties and trials, they were bound to become a success. Certainly this proved true with the Lafayette Monastery. Chief among these trials was the decline in health of three of the Sisters, which eventually necessitated their return to the community in New Orleans. Mother Marie Dolores was left with the complex administrative duties of a new foundation while Mother Theresa Margaret was entrusted with the religious and spiritual formation of young aspirants. It is to this first Novice Mistress that many of the nuns of Lafayette Carmel owe their training in the basics of religious life and the ways of contemplative prayer.

As is usual with new foundations, applicants came and went, but eventually God blessed the community with growth, so much so that their miniature monastery became too small for its many occupants. In 1952 a new and larger monastery was proposed. Bishop Jeanmard received the idea enthusiastically and expressed his desire that the fund drive for the new building should be a diocesan affair.

After much searching for suitable property, ten acres were selected on Highway 94, now Carmel Drive. The land belonged to the diocese and was located just outside the city limits of the rapidly growing Lafayette of the 1950’s. Auxiliary Bishop Maurice Schexnayder persuaded the diocesan consulters to make it available for the monastery and one of them, Monsignor A. Francis Garneau of Gueydan, promptly offered the cost as his gift to the nuns.

Mother Theresa Margaret and Mother Dolores worked together to draw up floor plans suitable for cloistered Carmelite living and the architects Harold Lagroue and Hal Perkins managed to put a roof over the building by adding towers at strategic points. J.B. Mouton and Sons was the generous construction / contractor.

The dedicated efforts of the Lafayette Community enabled the ground breaking to take place on December 8, 1954, the Marian Year. By January 1956, the monastery was completed. After several days of Open House the nuns transferred from the old Monastery to their new home on January 22, amid crowds of onlookers and a traffic jam that required a police escort. The Mass of the Espousals of Mary and Joseph was celebrated the following morning. The Community was ready to begin a new phase of its cloistered, Carmelite life.

Because of insufficient funds, much of the interior of the building was unfinished. There were ceilings to be painted, “miles” of walls to be sanded, stained and varnished, the oak wood floors of choir and the chapter room to be sanded and stained, and, of course, windows, cupboards, offices and closets to be cleaned and arranged. The Monastery grounds, too, had to be planted with trees, shrubbery and flowers and an organic garden prepared. While the nuns did much of this work themselves, generous assistance was also given by the neighboring Christian Brothers and other devoted friends.

Once they were finally settled in their permanent Monastery, the Community prepared to make Solemn Vows. Because of historical circumstances, Solemn Vows had been suppressed in the Church since the time of the French Revolution. Pope Pius XII restored Solemn Vows to all nuns able to maintain Papal enclosure.

Under Mother Theresa Margaret’s leadership the Community grew in numbers and spirituality. Even before the Vatican Council she discerned the need for updating some aspects of Carmelite life. Minor changes to adapt better to the contemporary situation were introduced. Outdated customs were dropped, while the emphasis on solitude, silence and prayer remained uppermost. Continuing education was fostered by conferences, classes and instruction by Scripture scholars, spiritual masters and others on subject pertinent to the religious and spiritual life of the Sisters. Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, Carmelite Bishop of Infanta in the Philippines, who has been a friend and visitor to the Community since 1961, called Mother a future-oriented visionary: “the past did not constrain her. She moved into the future, one with her Mother, the Church, following the lead of the befriending Spirit of the Risen Lord. Her faith in Jesus Christ, intensely, responsibly and conscientiously lived, manifested itself in her free spirit. As a leader, she knew how to lead persons firmly along the way of truth and of the cross without depriving them of their consciousness of God’s mercy and compassion. . . .”With this spirit-filled, faith-filled leader were the members of the Lafayette Carmel enriched.

This brief history of Lafayette Carmel would not be complete without mention of those heroic and generous Sisters who were such strong columns in our Community, and who now lie at rest in the consecrated ground of our cemetery. Our Community has been built of this firm foundation. Our duty is to be faithful to it.

Contact Lafayette Carmel


Monastery of Mary, Mother of Grace

1250 Carmel Drive

Lafayette, LA 70501