Buffalo Carmel's History
From the revolutionary war era in Queretaro, Mexico, transitioning to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and now Buffalo, New York, journey with us as we narrate the lives of our Community's foundresses.
Mother Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament, O.C.D.
Foundress of the Buffalo Carmel
In December of 1914, Mother Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament was brought before a firing squad of Mexican revolutionaries, having been arrested for persevering in her vocation as a Discalced Carmelite Nun. While she and her companion knelt as the order was given to shoot, Mother interiorly offered a somewhat skeptical prayer: Little Therese, if you are a saint, as some people say you are, then deliver us, and I promise to found a Monastery in your honor. Both Nuns heard the discharge of the guns, sank to the ground and were left for dead. They later regained consciousness, and although there was blood on their clothes, they were completely unharmed. Little Therese had indeed answered Mother’s prayer in a miraculous manner!
Six years later, the promise made to the Little Flower of Jesus was fulfilled when Mother Elias founded our Discalced Carmelite Monastery of Buffalo, New York. Our Chapel was officially dedicated to Saint Therese on the very day of her canonization, May 17, 1925, thus making it the first in the world to have the Little Flower as its titular Saint. To this day, many visitors to our Chapel remark that they can feel the presence of Saint Therese here, along with a profound sense of peace.
Inspired by the courageous example of our Mexican Mothers and the heroic virtue practiced by Saint Therese, we fervently aspire to follow the “Little Way” of spiritual childhood. We rejoice in numbering ourselves among the “army of little souls” whom she wanted to follow in her footsteps, repeating her ardent cry: To be Thy Spouse, O Jesus, and by my union with Thee, to be the mother of souls!
Our life is one of trustful simplicity and joyful penance, willing obedience and liberating poverty, fruitful chastity and total surrender to the Divine Spouse. Whether at Holy Mass or the Divine Office, mental prayer or spiritual reading, cooking, cleaning or working in the garden, we seek continual union with God by interior recollection and the perfect fulfillment of His holy will, in imitation of our Blessed Lady.
Reverend Mother Mary of Saint John of the Cross, O.C.D.
Co-Foundress of Buffalo Carmel and Successor to Mother Mary Elias
‘Hail Mary’ to ‘Hail Holy Queen’
Our co-foundress, Mother Mary of St. John of the Cross, was born in England as Alice Buxbaum, on August 27, 1876, the feast of the Transverberation of the Heart of Our Holy Mother Saint Teresa. Though Alice was raised in a home where the name of God was never permitted to be mentioned, Our Lord used this environment to fulfill His desire for her to be completely His. During a stay in Mexico with her mother, two of Alice’s schoolteachers sparked her faith in God by teaching her the ‘Hail Mary’. The daily recitation of this prayer inspired Alice to become a Catholic, even though it meant alienation from her mother for the rest of her life.
After converting to Catholicism, Alice generously participated in many Confraternities, finding a particular joy in assisting with that of the Holy Scapular of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel. Over time, the spiritual work of clothing strayed and converted sinners in the Brown Scapular far surpassed the many corporal works she performed for the sick and poor. Alice realized the one thing necessary: PRAYER… not only prayer for the salvation of careless and sinful souls, but prayer for the sanctification and perseverance of devout souls, especially priests. Alice then discerned her innermost desire: to be completely Mary’s in the Order of Carmel! “O my Blessed Mother,” she would whisper to Our Lady of Mount Carmel while clothing her statue, “I want so much to be dressed like you! Give me your Habit!” A pious dream, she thought to herself… but one that God would fulfill sooner than she expected.
With the help of a priest, Alice contacted and gained acceptance to the Carmel of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which had recently been founded by Carmelites who had fled persecution in Mexico. Upon her entrance, she put herself completely in the hands of her Mother Prioress and Mistress of Novices. Despite the grievous sufferings which following God’s call had entailed, she began her life in Carmel with childlike simplicity of spirit as she set off on the road to perfection. She overcame many obstacles, one of which was the necessity of learning English fluently before her reception of the holy Habit, which required an interview with the Bishop. In her attempt to prove she had mastered the language, she exhausted her vocabulary and wished to conclude by asking the Bishop if he had understood her. “Do you stand me, Bishop?” Amused and edified, His Excellency assured her that indeed he had understood her well, and her reception of the holy Habit took place on July 16, 1918 -
the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Now known as Sister Mary of St. John of the Cross, she lived her vocation with complete generosity, constant self-sacrifice, and a deep joy that greatly strengthened the young Community. After making her profession, Sister St. John was selected by Mother Mary Elias to accompany her on a new foundation in Buffalo, New York, where they arrived on April 12, 1920. In the following years, Sister St. John became an expert artist in embroidery, sewing, and painting. The latter skill was put to wonderful use in continuing the old Mexican custom of painting very detailed crucifixes to increase devotion to our Savior’s Passion. Sister St. John, with skillful brush and steady concentration, lovingly painted the life-size Crucifixes that our Community still treasures to this day.
In 1923, Mother Elias departed with several other Sisters to found the Carmel of Schenectady. Sister St. John, now known as our Little Mother, was appointed as the new Prioress of the Buffalo Carmel. In fulfilling the office of Prioress, she exercised a firm and conscientious discipline with the most delicate charity. From overseeing the supremely important work of praying the Divine Office with the utmost reverence, to celebrating feast days with well-rehearsed Gregorian chants and devotional hymns, to preparing special meals for festive occasions, to generously working in the garden to ensure vegetables for the table and flowers for the altar, Little Mother provided both spiritually and materially for her daughters. If she noticed a sign of tears after her timely corrections, one of her favorite sayings was, “Are you not trying to be perfect? Then, since you ARE trying to be perfect, TAKE THE MEANS.” She taught the Sisters to walk in truth, and in doing so, to encounter God and reach union with Him.
Twenty years after having become Prioress, Little Mother’s health gradually began to decline. As her voice weakened and her strength diminished, her will remained constant as she heard Our Lord’s question: “Can you drink the chalice that I drink?” Our Holy Mother Saint Teresa counseled, “I believe, Sisters, we should all answer “YES” and we should be perfectly right, for His Majesty gives strength when He sees it needed.” In her ailing health, she was completely forgetful of herself, and would be a source of merriment for the Sisters at recreation. Her acceptance of the chalice Our Lord held out to her was heroic. During the indescribable pain she suffered after a stroke, when asked, “Where is the pain, Mother?” she would simply reply, “All me.” During her final hours, the Sisters heard the priest coming to bring her Holy Communion and said, “Mother, Our Lord is coming!” Little Mother responded, “Yes, I want Him, tell Him I love Him. Come, dear Lord! Come, dear Lord.” These were her last spoken words.
On Sunday, November 20, 1949, the Community knew that our Little Mother was in her final hours. At about ten minutes to eight in the morning, after the prayers for the dying were recited, the Community gathered around her bed and fulfilled her often expressed wish in life, “I hope that the ‘HAIL HOLY QUEEN’ will be sung when I am dying.” The Sisters sang this favorite hymn of our Little Mother to Carmel’s Queen – the tender Mother who had rejoiced in the ‘HAIL MARY’ of a little girl. At the concluding words, “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary,” our Little Mother gave one last gasp, and then slept in the radiant peace of her eternal victory.