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Home-grown nun veiled in Mathoura Carmel

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Discalced Carmelite Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary lays prostrate  at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April. Photo: Patrick Giam
Discalced Carmelite Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary lays prostrate at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April. Photo: Patrick Giam

Five years ago, four nuns in medieval garb arrived in Mathoura, country New South Wales at the end of a record drought.

Now both rain and religious vocations are flowing into the town.

Five years since the group travelled from the US to establish an enclosed Carmelite convent in Mathoura, a town near Deniliquin with a population around 900, the group is celebrating its first fully home-grown member.

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Discalced Carmelite Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary received her black religious veil from Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April, during a Pontifical Mass which also marked the anniversary of the founding of the convent in 2019.

The bishop also unveiled plans for a larger monastery to accommodate the sisters under the patronage of St Elijah, and the community will be renamed the Carmel of Elijah.

­­­The eldest of four children from Maroubra in Sydney’s eastern suburbs Sr Gabriela served for years as a Verbum Dei missionary sister before joining the contemplative order, making her final vows in a private ceremony in December.

“She was restless for more intimacy with God and when she had the call to enter the Carmelites I supported her all the way,” said her mother Alejandra Russo, speaking to The Catholic Weekly before the big day.

“I told her if this God’s call then be blessed and continue on. Not everyone receives this particular call.

“When I visited her, even through the grate I could see that she glows. She’s really at peace.

“I pray that many more people follow God’s call to be a priest or religious. We need them so much.”

Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green at the veiling ceremony of Discalced Carmelite Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April. Photo: Patrick Giam
Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green at the veiling ceremony of Discalced Carmelite Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April. Photo: Patrick Giam

Converging on the usually quiet Riverina town were more than 500 family and friends of the religious community, travelling from every state and territory and even overseas for the dual celebration.

Among them were several more Aussie women who are already following or thinking of following in Sr Gabriela’s footsteps.

Enquires are made from around the country by women drawn to the idea of a life of deep friendship with Christ in community, work on their small farm, without Netflix or smartphones.

Unlike other Australian Carmelite communities it prays the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and Divine Office each day, tracing its origins from the US, back to Mexico, and before that a Spanish convent established by St Teresa of Avila, the foundress of the 16th century Carmelite reform.

In 2019 four sisters from New England and Pennsylvanian convents, two of them Australian including the prioress Mother Mariam Joseph, moved into a renovated farmhouse on the Cobb Highway property.

They now number nine, with seven fully-vowed members, a novice and a postulant with another aspirant (enquirer) arriving in May.

Two more women are discerning the possibility of joining the order.

Mother Mariam said Sr Gabriela’s solemn profession and veiling was “very moving.”

“The founding sisters have made so many sacrifices to be faithful to the mission of providing a powerhouse of prayer in this diocese,” she told The Catholic Weekly.

Family and friends of Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary attend the  iscalced Carmelite sister's veiling ceremony at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April. Photo: Patrick Giam
Family and friends of Sr Gabriela of the Immaculate Heart of Mary attend the iscalced Carmelite sister’s veiling ceremony at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on 8 April. Photo: Patrick Giam

“Now we begin to taste the joy of sharing our Carmelite life with those Australian girls who also feel called to this spiritual mission of building up the church in a very hidden way.

“One of our great Carmelite saints said ‘only prayer can touch hearts’ and I think each sister drawn here has experienced that at some point—the urgent desire to change the world, along with the realisation that prayer is the most efficient way to do that.

“We definitely find that practical spirit in our young Australian novices.”

Kate Hobbs, Jean Haynes and Georgina Brazier formed the original committee who oversaw the establishment of the convent in Australia.

They said they are “overjoyed” to see it grow and inspired by the generosity of the locals in supporting them, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

“The regular enquiries from young women who wish to join the monastery and the ongoing increase of local Australians entering is a clear sign of the real need for contemplative life in Australia”, they said.

Tristan Ross, friend of the community and the monastery project manager, said his young family love living close by.

“This is a bit of a celebration for the whole town, everyone’s aware of the nuns and that they’re praying for us all the time,” he said.

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