The Carmelite Monastery of Oldenburg, IN, was founded in New Albany, IN, from the Carmel in Bettendorf, IA, in 1922 by Mother Theresa Seelbach. The Sisters lived in a small frame house, adapted to be their monastery, until they were able to complete the first wing of their permanent home in Indianapolis. They came with great determination but little money. Starting in New Albany, they were at least assured of enough to eat as Mother Theresa’s Uncle owned the then famous Seelbach Hotel across the river in Louisville and would provide for them.
With the promise of financial support from a wealthy benefactor, the first wing was completed in 1932. Unfortunately, the depression in our country made it necessary for him to withdraw the funds to maintain his family. Mother Theresa was left with a huge debt of $58,000. Worry over this may have contributed to a heart problem and her death in 1936. She was still in her fifties. Not long after this, there was a steady stream of postulants. The Sisters worked hard, supporting themselves with the baking of altar breads, the making of vestments, and contributing their labor over the next twenty-five years to help the construction workers with the finishing of their monastery, the expansion of their enclosure, a new wall around the property, the planting of bushes, trees, and flower gardens, the water-proofing of the building, and the construction of a tool garage and two hermitages. Two foundations of new Carmels were made: Terre Haute in 1947 and Reno in 1954. The monastery was finished in 1961.
The community fully entered into the spirit of renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council. They helped form the first Association of Carmelites in this country in 1970 and favored a freer spirit in living the cloistered life. They removed the grates in the chapel so that the community and visitors could worship together. The fruit of their ongoing discernment was that cloister was a protection of silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer, but they should be free to establish their own guidelines for leaving the enclosure. They favored a contemplative presence to others while safeguarding all that helped them go deeper into the heart of their vocation.
In 2000 the steady stream of those asking to join the community began to wane. After making themselves more visible and sharing their life in a variety of ways, including a prize-winning website, they made the decision to sell the monastery and move to another location. There were nine Sisters, but their age range discouraged receiving younger women. In 2008 they sold the monastery and moved to the campus of the Franciscan Sisters in Oldenburg, IN.
Sr. Jean McGoff
P.O. Box 260
Oldenburg, IN 47036