Port Tobacco, Maryland ~ Carmel of St. Joseph

Through the providence of God, there are today Carmelite nuns living at the site of the first monastery in the United States, and the Saint Teresa Association had a critical role to play in this.

On Sunday morning, July 11, 1790, a sixty-year old American woman and her two nieces, along with their two companions, stepped off a sloop onto a pier at the bustling town of Port Tobacco, Maryland. She was coming home after many years in Europe. Her childhood home was just a mile away, and, after Sunday Mass and a dinner at the home of the relatives who owned the pier, the five travelers hastened there to begin planning something unique for the United States – a contemplative monastery.

This adventurous band consisted of Mother Bernardina Matthews, until a few weeks ago the Prioress of the Carmel of Hoogstraeten in Flanders, her two nieces, Sisters Mary Aloysia and Mary Eleanora, an English nun from the Carmel of Hopland, Antwerp, and the younger nuns’ cousin, Father Charles Neale, who would be their first chaplain. The Americans were coming home because they could. The new Bill of Rights made it possible at long last for Catholics to worship openly and to introduce religious life and institutions to the thirteen States.

In ten days a monastery was begun at Port Tobacco, and by October 15 moved to this site where we are presently located, a few miles north. Vocations were numerous. But after 40 years of living there the buildings were not holding up and various financial difficulties finally induced the Archbishop to ask the community to relocate to Baltimore in 1831 where they continue today.

This site was sold to the Sanders family and was still in their possession in 1933 (a Holy Year) when Mary Talbott and her daughter, Isabel Hagerty, came here to see how “The Monastery,” as it was still called after a century, was holding up. It wasn’t. Only two of the original buildings still stood and they were about to collapse. The women were inspired to save this Catholic shrine. They began the Restorers of Mount Carmel, raised funds, bought the property, and funded the restoration of the Old Monastery, today a National Historic Site. They also prayed a lot – that the nuns would come back.

About 40 years later, in May 1976 (the US Bicentennial), a community of nuns from various monasteries was finally able to return under the leadership of Mother Teresa of the Cross who had been secretary to Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle of Washington, DC, before she entered Carmel. The Old Monastery was not habitable so new buildings were erected and a large garden started. Vocations were numerous at first, but the primitive conditions and unusually hard labor eventually reduced the community to three Sisters. The experiment seemed doomed.
At this point the Saint Teresa Association was invited by Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Hickey to take on Port Tobacco Carmel as their special project. On December 2, 1982, Mother Mary Joseph of Divine Providence arrived from the Carmel of Terre Haute and was appointed Prioress. Sister Virginia Marie of the Transpierced Heart from the Carmel of Saint Louis accompanied her. Over the next months other member monasteries of the Saint Teresa Association provided temporary help. Funds were made available. Little by little the site of the first Carmel in the United States began to grow again and receive vocations. A novitiate building and other improvements were made. We try to support ourselves by various means and have many devoted and generous benefactors. The Secular Order of Carmel now boasts two groups here. In addition to our beloved Restorers of Mount Carmel, there is also the 100 Women of Carmel who raise funds for us. God willing, we will continue to bloom.

For more about us, our history, photos, quarterly newsletter and other information, we would be delighted if you would visit our website at www.CarmelOfPortTobacco.com.

Contact Port Tobacco Carmel


Carmel of St. Joseph

5678 Mount Carmel Road La Plata, MD 20646-3625