History & Heritage


Carmelites are members of an international Catholic religious order of friars, nuns and lay people with a continuous spiritual tradition spanning eight centuries and cultures of both East and West.

The Order originated aound the 1190s in a group of hermits living by the “spring of Elijah” on Mount Carmel in Crusader Palestine. Between 1206 and 1214 they obtained a rule of life from Saint Albert of Vercelli, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and some decades later began founding houses in Europe. By 1247 they had joined the thriving mendicant or friar movement, adding preaching and pastoral care to their contemplative tradition. Their patron, the Virgin Mary, and their place of origin, give them their official name, Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel; in England they were popularly called White Friars. Today more than 50,000 friars, nuns, sisters and lay Carmelites around the world continue in the same spiritual lineage.

In the course of the centuries the Order has produced only a few great theologians but many great mystics and spiritual writers, and the Carmelite school of spirituality is one of the most significant Christian spiritual traditions. Its greatest representatives are the 16th-century mystical writers Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. It continues to the present in modern teachers such as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, recently declared a Doctor of the Church, and the World War II martyrs Saint Edith Stein and Blessed Titus Brandsma, as well as in many contemporary authors and scholars.

Since the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), Carmelites have reflected at length on their identity, on their charism, on what is fundamental in their lives and what is for them a “life-project”, namely “to live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and serve him faithfully with a pure heart and a good conscience” (Rule). They found their allegiance to Christ in their commitment to seek the face of the living God (contemplative dimension), in living in fraternity and in service (diakonia) in the midst of the people. They see all this in the lives of the prophet Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary who were led by the Spirit of God. Looking at Mary and Elijah, it is easy for the Carmelites to understand, to interiorise, to live and to announce the truth that makes a person free.

Carmelites, conscious of being part of the Church and of history, live in a fraternity that is open to God and to people, able to listen and give an authentic response to the evangelical life according to their own charism, and they commit themselves to build the Kingdom of God wherever they are. Indeed they are committed to evangelisation in houses of prayer, centres of spirituality, parishes, Marian sanctuaries, schools, religious associations; and to Justice and Peace wherever human dignity is trodden underfoot, especially among the poor, the marginalised, the suffering.

The first Carmelites to arrive In Australia were Lay Carmelites James Dempsey and John Butler aboard the ship The Atlas in 1802, having been transported for life for their alleged involvement in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Later, Father Samuel Coote, an Irish Carmelite who arrived in Hobart in 1824 to minister to the Catholics in Van Diemen’s Land.


The first official Carmelite foundation in Australia was made in 1881 with the arrival of five Irish Carmelites in Gawler outside Adelaide. The following year they expanded their Australian Mission to the parish of Sandridge (Port Melbourne & Middle Park). In 1928, the first Australian Novitiate was founded in Albert Park at St Vincent’s Place. Then, in 1947, Father E. J. Nugent established the Lay Carmelites in Australia. In 1948 the Australian Mission became a fully independent Province of the Carmelite Order. In May 2001 the Australian Carmelites accepted the invitation of the Indonesian Carmelites to incorporate East Timor as part of the Australian Province.

In January 2005, the reunification of the parishes of St Joseph, Port Melbourne and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Middle Park as one parish paved the way to establish the Carmelite Centre Melbourne in the heart of the city, to touch, influence and impact the lives of the local community firstly and the national Carmelite community in the coming years.