Serving the Needs of the Monastery Campus
Throughout its long history, many changes have occurred on the campus of Mount Carmel Monastery. Home to the Carmelites since 1875, the campus has continued to evolve to best serve the needs of the Monastery’s visitors. However, the Canadian winters take their toll. Resources continue to be stretched so that funds have to be used in the most responsible way possible.
A major project was the beautification of the Stanley Avenue entrances with the old garages removed and stone walls built and lit signs displayed to warmly welcome visitors. A garage/barn was constructed on former tennis courts that had fallen into disrepair, storing equipment displaced by the loss of the garages. The porches on both the 1875 and 1920 portions of the building were renewed so that visitors can enjoy the fresh air and view.
Special thanks to:
Vanderweyden Construction for their careful salvage and professional service on this project.
In August 1976, nine Carmelite students along with their director moved into the building for their novitiate year. One of the first jobs was to remove a hall closet, allowing access to two rooms, previously accessible only by a separate entrance, where the campus maintenance man lived. Although everyone now had their own bedroom, the 8x9 foot quarters proved rather tight for the recent college graduates. Nor was there sufficient meeting space for programs the novices were involved in. The following year, the novitiates of the two Carmelite Provinces in North America were joined together and placed at a larger facility in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Although the laundry continued to function, the rest of the building once again fell empty.
With the closure of the Carmelite Minor Seminary in the main building of Mount Carmel in the early 1980s, the Carmelites decided to benefit from the beautiful campus and its location in a quiet space, on the bluff overlooking the Falls. The idea of the Carmelite Spiritual Centre was born. The decision was an interesting return to a much earlier use of the campus. Beginning in 1897, the newly constructed main building, most of it destroyed in the 1967 fire, operated as a “hospice” or spiritual renewal center for people from the area. It was also intended as a retirement home for area priests. Now people started coming to the campus for one-day experiences or stays lasting a few days. The “convent” or more recently known as “the laundry” at the back of the main building became “Avila Hall” in honor of the great Spanish Carmelite writer and mystic of the 16th century.
Avila Hall found new life, occasionally housing the Spiritual Centre’s overflow. However, with the small size of the rooms and the common bathrooms, most people seeking “time away” opted not to stay in the building. Avila Hall did, however, see service to a variety of small groups who desired privacy, using the former living room for their meetings. Its chapel space was turned into a Byzantine chapel, allowing one of the bi-ritual priests at the Spiritual Centre to have a sacred space for celebrations appropriate to the Byzantine rite. When the laundry shut down and its industrial laundry equipment sold off, the Society of the Little Flower, an association of Canadians promoting the message of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, moved into the space. They also found the front basement (the building actually had two completely separate basements) useful for storage and shipping. Having outgrown its space in Avila Hall, the Society of the Little Flower moved into the ground floor of the former library/classroom building of Mt. Carmel College turning a formerly empty space into a beautiful office area for the Society.
The most recent transformation to the campus is the removal of Avila Hall which has seen itself serve the campus in a variety of ways since its construction in 1933 as the residence for the Franciscan Sisters. These women cared for the more than 100 students who attended both Mount Carmel College and the Carmelite Junior Seminary.
After a few years the Franciscan Sisters left and were replaced by women from the Congregazione Suore Carmelitane Istituto di Nostra Signora del Carmelo, founded by Blessed Mother Maria Teresa Scrilli. This congregation, which is aggregated to the Carmelite Order, suffered much damage to its institutions during World War II. Their loving ministry at Mt. Carmel, and the two other student houses of the Carmelites in the USA, relieved pressure on the sisters in Italy. Even after the disastrous fire in November 1967 which resulted in the college program moving out of Mount Carmel, the “Italian Sisters” as they were popularly known, continued at Mt. Carmel.
Eventually the sisters were able to open a school in the Toronto area and left Mt. Carmel. The residential section of the building—the part closest to Stanley Avenue and most of the second floor—stood empty. The laundry, which occupied just less than half of the first floor, continued to operate, employing local people.
Attempts were made to find a suitable use for the residential part of Avila Hall as well as the large office space abandoned by the Society. The possibility of using the building as a shelter for immigrants to Canada was studied. But the facility was deemed not suitable without major structural changes. Other internal uses were examined. In time, mold began to appear in various places and vermiculite was found in the building. The structure was deemed dangerous. Donations were being requested for projects that were deemed more critical to the mission of the Monastery. Consequently, the Board of Directors voted to move with demolishing the building.
Some of the building materials will be repurposed in the Monastery structure. Principally the walkway connecting the main building to the gym and Society of the Little Flower will use some of the materials from Avila, including the stone carvings over the door. The grounds where the convent stood will become a green space which was its original use the first 58 years the Carmelites were present in Niagara Falls.