By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
On a hill in southwest Dallas sits the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Infant Jesus of Prague and St. Joseph, a two-story white convent constructed of cinder- block and a tiled roof.
On the north side of the seven-acre property is Jefferson Boulevard, lined with tire and auto mechanic and body shops. Dallas National Golf Club abuts the west and south ends of the property.
The monastery is home to seven professed nuns and one novice nun who are cloistered, separated from the world outside, rarely leaving except for medical appointments or otherwise approved travel. Not only are they separated from the outside world physically—wrought iron grates and wooden bars separate them from the public—they keep their faces hidden, symbolizing their “dying to themselves,” wanting the attention focused on Jesus Christ.
Like nuns in other contemplative Carmelite communities, the nuns spend most of their time in silence and prayer. Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, the prefect for the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and who was the seventh bishop of Dallas from 2007 to 2016, dubbed them the “Prayer Warriors” for their devotion to prayer for those on the outside.
Unlike nuns in other monasteries across the state or country, the cloistered Carmelites in Dallas do not have a business that supports them, relying on the generosity of others, not much different than more than 90 years ago when they first came to Dallas.
In 1928, with their community barely 11 years old, several Carmelite nuns were among countless Catholic clerics and women religious who found themselves in the throes of the Cristero War in Mexico.
It was a battle pitting Church and State, and soldiers were rounding up priests and nuns in the government’s effort to rid the church’s power and influence.
At the invitation of then- Bishop Joseph P. Lynch, the nuns traveled to Dallas, disguising their identities and traveling in separate groups to avoid attracting attention. They settled in a house in what was then known as Little Mexico and in front of the then- Church of Our Blessed Mother of Guadalupe, according to community’s archives.
In ensuing years, the community grew and moved several times: once to a former Catholic orphanage house in Oak Cliff; to a mansion along Turtle Creek; and finally in 1952, with the sale of their property and a gift from the Saner family, to the current location.
Part of the tree-dotted property that fronts Jefferson Boulevard is surrounded by a chain-link fence.
A stucco-ed sign calls attention to the monastery, and a Stations of the Cross pathway and other statues are located inside the fence.
Up the hill, two angels on top of a wall guard the main entrance. Inside the property sits the two-story monastery—a chapel in the middle, the dividing line upstairs that separates the novices’ cells (bedrooms) from those who have professed final vows.
Religious statues, many of them life-size or bigger, dot some of the hallways or landings of staircases.
Religious paintings or portraits, all donated from numerous benefactors or from closed hospitals or funeral homes, dot the walls of hallways and rooms, constant reminders of the Blessed Mother and Jesus in different stages of his life.
Sister Carmela Rose of the Holy Wounds, OCD, an external Carmelite in the community, came into the monastery after the death of her husband, Jerry Baldwin, who was the longtime handyman and caretaker at the monastery. She is the driver, schedules and takes the nuns to their appointments.
“Soon after I entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery, I began getting asked, the question.” Friends, family and everyone I came in contact with would ask, ‘So what’s it like?,’ she said.
“Their question stemmed from a sincere desire to know, yet I always dreaded it because I never felt that I could answer adequately enough,” she said.
She said after a priest talked to her about Advent, she knew how to describe it better, saying that life inside the monastery is like Christmas Eve.
The nuns rise at 5 a.m. and daily Mass is celebrated in the chapel. Chores, prayers, meals, meditation and individual prayer time follow throughout the day. There are no cushioned kneelers. Nuns must kneel on wooden parquet floors in the choir room or on concrete or tile in other parts of the monastery when the time comes to kneel for prayer. They retire in their cell at approximately 11 p.m.
The nuns make their own holy habits and veils. They grow some of their own vegetables when the conditions are right. Those who are close to the nuns regularly donate not only money, but also dry goods and non-perishables, adhering to their non-meat dietary restrictions.
A part-time handyman takes care of the property and several dogs patrol the enclosed property behind the monastery walls that house a hermitage for silent prayer, a cemetery and several meditation areas.
Sister Carmel Rose ferries a Cistercian monk to the monastery regularly for Confession. Father Orosco, the pastor of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Terrell, serves as the monastery’s chaplain and the nuns’ spiritual director.
The community has faced many challenges from various aspects in the past, including building maintenance and repairs, but in those times, especially, they did what they do best: they prayed, and those prayers were answered.
And in the past several years, numerous young women have rung the bell at the monastery door, asking to meet with the prioress and the community to determine if this is the place where God is calling them.
“We’ve been blessed with vocations,” said Mother Juanita Marie of Jesus Crucified, OCD. “Like everyone we survived a time period where they dwindled down, but we see a whole new flow of young people coming in.
“We are having a lot of 20-year-olds and upper 20-year-olds inquiring and desiring to follow Our Lord, now.”