When the great St. Teresa of Avila, renewer of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, went about on her foundations and Inspections, she often took as her special companion the Carmelite lay sister, Anne of St. Bartholomew. Anne was the daughter of a peasant couple from near Avila. Teresa cane to admire her competence, and more than once suggested that she apply to become a choir sister, rather than remain a lay nun engaged in more menial work; but Anne preferred to retain the humbler status.
As the foundress was dying. Sister Anne did her every possible service. On the day of death, knowing how much Teresa loved neatness, Anne carefully changed her linen, headdress and sleeves. The saint was unable to speak, but smiled her thanks. When the last moments came, it was Sister Anne who held the dying mystic in her arms.
Six years later, some French Catholic leaders, anxious to introduce the Teresian nuns into their country, asked St. Teresa’s successor, Anne-of-Jesus, to send some Spanish nuns to Paris to help with the foundation. Anne-of-Jesus included our Sister Anne in the group of religious selected for the mission.
When they arrived, the other five nuns were greeted by the Princess de Longueville and other women of the court; but Blessed Anne slipped away Into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Now her superiors made up for lost time by advancing her, willy-nilly, to the rank of choir sister. When, in the midst of difficulties with the foundation, the other Spanish nuns went off to the Netherlands, Anne remained in France and was appointed prioress, first at Pontoise and then at Tours. Doubting her own competence to rule. Blessed Anne, in her prayers to our Lord, called herself a “weak straw”. Jesus answered, reassuring her, “It is with straws I light my fire.”
From France Carmelite foundations spread into the Netherlands (Belgium & Holland). Blessed Anne was sent to the one at Mons, remaining there a year. In 1612 she established a monastery at Antwerp.
Daughters of some of the noblest families of the Low Countries flocked to join this new monastic community. Anne herself was a drawing card. Her reputation for holiness, prophecy and miracle working had gone before her. Indeed, she came to be considered the protector of Antwerp. When the city was under siege by the Protestant Prince of Orange, Anne prayed all night and Antwerp was spared capture.
At the death of Blessed Anne in 1626, all Antwerp grieved; and as her body lay in state, 20 thousand mourners made a point of touching it with their rosaries or other Items for the sake of having a “relic” of this holy Spanish nun. Pope Benedict XV declared Anne “blessed” In 1917.
There is an American angle to this story. Among the Carmels set up in the Netherlands, a couple welcomed English Catholic ladies. In the British penal times, Catholics were forbidden to have convents in England. Some of the English women who took the veil here were from colonial Maryland. In 1790, at the request of Maryland Catholics and with the permission of Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, four Carmelite nuns from Belgium, headed by the former Marylander Mother Bernardina Matthews, established the first American Carmel at Port Tobacco, Maryland. One of the “granddaughter” foundations out of this source was the Carmelite monastery at Rochester. Hence, all the “Port Tobacco” Carmels in the United States celebrated their bicentennial In 1990.
–Father Robert F. McNamara