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RG 10: Biddle Street Monastery, 1873-1961 (BID)

 Record Group
Identifier: RG 10-GAMMS.9

Scope and Contents

On March 27, 1873, the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore relocated to their third monastery, located at 1429 E. Biddle Street, Baltimore, Maryland. For the first time built to suit the specific requirements of a monastic environment, this residence would be their home for the next eighty-eight years. There, many aspects of the customs and ceremonial of the ancient order to which they belonged were reviewed meticulously and made to conform as closely as possible to the European Carmelite traditions. There, not only were many aspects of their life regularized but new spiritual bonds of friendship and support among bishops, clergy, and others were forged. There, several of the most acclaimed preachers, such as Archbishop Patrick Ryan of Philadelphia or Charles Currier, CSSR, would enthrall congregations assembled to celebrate Carmelite jubilees, anniversaries and, most especially, the marking of their first American centenary of establishment. There, American missionaries, like the Paulist priest, William Elliott, or foreign missionary bishops, priests and sisters, like the founders of Maryknoll, Thomas Price and James A. Walsh, and the founder of the Medical Mission Sisters, Mother Anna Dengel, would present their apostolic dreams and ask to become covenanted in prayer. There as well, a missionary spirit that impelled the Sisters to consider the creation of new foundations and towards meeting the needs of the church in distant lands began to flourish.

Serving the sisters in the capacity of prioress during the Biddle Street years were the following: Ignatius (Bauduy), Louise (Peckocheck), Beatrix (Magers), Angela (Dyer), Raphael (Keating), Joanna (Snuringer), Seraphim (Byrnes), Patricia (Hagerty), Mary Magdalen (Brunck), and Celine (Arnold).

Working closely with the Archbishops of Baltimore they functioned in a variety of roles that more and more opened out to them the needs of fellow Americans; sometimes, in fact, they acted as spiritual lifelines during times of national crises. One indication of growing interest in understanding the world beyond Carmel is the scrapbook meticulously kept, probably by Sister Louise (Peckocheck), between the years 1892 and 1907. Drawing from a variety of Catholic sources, it records the most significant spiritual milestones of church history. Another is the copious correspondence that was initiated by Baltimore Carmelites during the years immediately following the declaration of war in 1939 and which culminated in donations, care packages and concrete proposals to make new foundations in the years to follow.

Several of the prioresses provided extraordinary witness regarding the Carmelite vocation to support the mission of the church. Under Mother Beatrix Magers, (1878-1881; 1884-1887) this took the form of establishing foundations: in 1890, she led the foundation of Boston Carmel, the first of several monasteries for which she would become directly responsible while the Baltimore community went on to make four new foundations between 1907 and 1913. Under Mother Seraphim Byrnes, another kind of missionary outreach was further developed. During her twenty-seven-year term of office, (1913-1940, Mother Seraphim promoted missionary endeavors both directly through the establishment of new foundations and indirectly through the encouragement and support of missionary endeavors begun by others. Members of a number of religious congregations, but especially of the Maryknoll and Jesuit communities, communicated consistently with the Baltimore Carmel in this regard. This collaboration and outreach became even more dramatic and widespread during the terms of office of Mother Mary Magdalen Brunck (1943-1949; 1955-1961; 1967-1970) and Mother Celine Arnold (1949-1955; 1961-1967; 1970-1973) when both were called upon to respond to the needs of a worldwide church enduring and recovering from the devastations of World War II. Finally, the desire to share in the development of foreign missions was actually realized when two members of the Baltimore Carmel were encouraged to help establish the Carmelite tradition in the post-war Philippines.

By the late 1950s, the Carmel at Biddle Street had become so engulfed by busy city life that it became apparent that another move was necessary. When the city of Baltimore decided to take over the property in order to build a public school, the Sisters prepared for their next move: to 1318 Dulaney Valley road. On August 31, 1961, they finally closed the door to their Biddle Street monastic existence.

Besides including materials that document the spiritual and business life of the Sisters themselves, therefore, the Biddle Street records provide an eye to the Catholic world beyond Carmel, especially regarding the developments in both American and foreign missions. Among the most precious holdings are the 93 letters written by Bishop William H. Gross who was bishop of Savannah, Georgia, from 1873 to 1885 and then bishop of Oregon City, Oregon until his death in 1898. Written to Sister Louise Peckocheck, these letters provide a graphic description of Gross' experience as missionary bishop; because of their detail and degree of warmth, they are an almost priceless view of the developing church in late 19th century America. Of equal significance are the letters written to Baltimore Carmel after 1947 by two members of the community who had chosen to become part of the development of Jaro, and later Naga, Carmel in the Philippines Islands.

Arranged in series, chronologically.

Dates

  • 1873-1961
  • Majority of material found in 1900-1960

Extent

7 linear feet

Organization of the Collection

This collection is organized into series:
  1. Series 1, Series 1: Historical Materials, Biddle Street
  2. Series 2, Series 2: Community and Devotional Life, Biddle Street
  3. Series 3, Series 3: Spiritual Topics, Biddle Street
  4. Series 4, Series 4: Retreats, Biddle Street
  5. Series 5, Series 5: Celebrations of Community
  6. Series 6, Series 6: Ceremonial and rubrics, Biddle Street
  7. Series 7, Series 7: Customs, Biddle Street
  8. Series 8, Series 8: House Records, Biddle Street
  9. Series 9, Series 9: Legal Records, Biddle Street
  10. Series 10, Series 10: Financial Records, Biddle Street
  11. Series 11, Series 11: Corresp:General, Mission, S.J., M.M., Biddle St
  12. Series 12, Series 12: Photos, misc., Biddle Street

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore Repository

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