Archbishop of Canterbury visits the newest Carmelites for tea and dessert

June 27, 2007

Sister Teresa Irene, OCD, picked up the phone in her cell on a Monday afternoon in June and heard a distinctly British voice.

"Rowan here," said the man. Sister Teresa Irene, acting prioress of the Episcopal Church's recently founded Carmelite monastery in Rising Sun, Maryland, took a deep breath. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was calling.

Sister Teresa Irene had met him years before in England and when she heard he was to spend part of his sabbatical in Washington, D.C., she wrote to him at Lambeth Palace.

"I knew he was supportive of the religious life and especially appreciated contemplative orders," she said. "I thought he might be interested in visiting the first Carmel to be founded in the Anglican Communion."

Sister Teresa Irene, who professed life vows just eight months ago, is the first Anglican in history to take solemn vows as a Carmelite. The new order, known as Episcopal Carmel of Saint Teresa, has 20 associates and four people in training to be oblates so far.

"I didn't expect in a million years to hear from him. But lo and behold… he did want to visit. The day after next."

"I had one and a half days notice," Sister Teresa Irene said. "The call came just hours after Bishop [Robert W.] Ihloff, our bishop visitor, left for Africa." She invited Sister Constance FitzGerald, OCD, of the Baltimore Carmel, the first Carmel in America, to join them for tea and a tour of the monastery. Sister Constance and the nuns of the Baltimore Carmel are serving as mentors for Episcopal Carmel of Saint Teresa.

"We didn't tell anyone,' said Sister Teresa Irene, "except the associates who were cooking in the kitchen." They were to make America's favorite treats for the honored guest.

Williams toured the monastery, celebrated the Eucharist in its newly renovated chapel and thanked Sister Constance and the nuns of the Baltimore Carmel "on behalf of the Anglican Communion" for all that the Baltimore Carmelites were doing "to bring the Carmelite life into our church." Then he joined the sisters for tea, dinner and an early celebration of his birthday.

"We grilled salmon on the grill and had strawberry ice cream shortcake… and tea on the back deck with the chocolate chip cookies," said Sister Teresa Irene." It was "good strong British tea, Yorkshire Gold tea."

"He was relaxed. He was laughing. How wonderful it was just to see him laughing."

-- Nan Cobbey is associate editor of Episcopal Life.