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New pilgrimage center dedicated at Carmel of Port Tobacco

PORT TOBACCO, Md. (Catholic Standard) - The site of the first Carmelite monastery in the United States made some new history May 7, as Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick dedicated a new pilgrimage center for the Carmelite nuns at Port Tobacco.

"May this bridge of prayer that we have in this monastery (that stretches from) 1790 and today, be a bridge we cross all the time," Cardinal McCarrick said in a homily at a Mass before the dedication ceremony, praising the witness of the 13 nuns there, whose lives of prayer continue a legacy begun in Charles County in the early days of the United States. Nuns had transferred from the site in 1831, but a group of six nuns returned in 1976 to the location, which is located in the countryside, only a few miles from downtown La Plata. PRAYER PARTNERS Hundreds of people attended the Mass, open house and reception for the new pilgrimage center, which includes two large parlors for pilgrims, and for the nuns' family members and friends who visit the monastery. One parlor will also be used for the sisters as a classroom when they study theology, Scripture and related topics. The center also includes a new library space for the sisters, a room for them to store candles and other liturgical items, and a gift shop. The center cost nearly $2 million. The money was raised by many people, without any single large donations, said Mother Virginia Marie O'Connor, the prioress, in a later interview. "It was just ordinary people and their steadfast devotion to Carmel." After celebrating a Mass at the order's red brick chapel, Cardinal McCarrick sprinkled the new center and the assembled guests with holy water. The Carmelite nuns, wearing their brown habit, with three novices wearing white veils, led a procession to the center from the chapel. After the cardinal blessed the center, Mother Virginia Marie thanked the people there for their generosity and support. "Your help has made us prayer partners. You can be sure you will never be forgotten by us or future Carmelites," she said. A cornerstone on the new center read: "A.D. 2006 Carmel of St. Joseph. 'This is holy ground.' Exodus 3:5." 'PLACE OF WONDER' Cardinal McCarrick, in his homily, praised the nuns for their lives of prayer, for being Jesus's "spouses, beloved friends and coworkers in this awesome ministry of God's love." The cardinal called the historic monastery "a place of wonder." He said the nuns could face any "new challenge, cross or difficulty... because you count on His love, His presence in your life." Three lay groups provide key support to the Carmelite nuns at Port Tobacco, including the secular order Carmelites, who meet monthly to pray there; the Restorers of Mount Carmel, an organization that worked to bring the Carmelites back home to their historic roots in Southern Maryland; and the Helping Hands of Carmel, a group that sponsors sales and other fundraisers for the nuns. At the Carmel, the nuns being their days with morning prayer at 5:50 a.m. and conclude with an office of readings and night prayer at 9 p.m. The Carmelite Monastery, located at 5678 Mount Carmel Road in La Plata, is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Masses are celebrated there at 7:15 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Their website at offers more information.


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Catholic Standard (, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.



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