Carmelite sisters find home away from home at Franciscan


You’ve seen them around campus – either perched in the JC Williams Center, working out of a makeshift “office” or sitting in class, joking with other students and religious sisters. Standing out with their attractive brown habits and contrasting black veils, it is hard to miss the Carmelite sisters.

The full name of the order is the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, and while their motherhouse is in Alhambra, California, they have had a convent in Steubenville since 1997. There are always sisters living in the community, usually two to three at a time, and in the 20 years since the Steubenville convent was founded, approximately 30 sisters have lived in the convent at one point or another.

Currently, two sisters live in residence at the Steubenville convent: Sister Martin Marie King, OCD, who works in the Mission Outreach Office, and Sister Mary Louise Marck, OCD, who is in her third year of studying for an undergraduate degree in education.

King is in her second stint at Franciscan after spending a year here during the 2012-2013 school year. She was sent to Franciscan by her superiors to study canon law with the Rev. Sean Sheridan, who at the time was still teaching in the theology department, and said that she enjoyed her time at the university from the first day.

Marck, however, has a slightly different experience with Franciscan. She visited the campus while still in junior high and was accepted into the university right after high school, planning to study nursing. But God had other plans, she said.

“I met the Carmelite sisters soon after graduating from high school, and I realized that God was asking me to enter that community right away,” said Marck. “So I made the sacrifice of going to Franciscan and entered the convent.

“Then, 15 years later, my superior general said, ‘We’re sending you to school, and we’re going to send you to Franciscan University. … It’s really like the Old Testament story of Abraham giving up Isaac – Our Lord has a way of giving Isaac back to us, so I’m here!”

The sisters have wasted no time integrating themselves with the Franciscan University family, and it is a family to them. Because they are so far removed from their community in California, the interactions the sisters have with students is almost like an extension of community for them.

Marck began participating in music ministry last year, and King takes students to visit nursing homes as part of the Works of Mercy, which helps her get to know students.

“My ‘office’ is in the upper level of the J.C. and I can see people coming and going,” said King, “and getting to know some of the students a little better is very enjoyable.”

In addition, the sisters serve as spiritual advisors for the Los Angeles and Arizona missions and offer spiritual formation for students through what they call Carmelite Nights.

Carmelite Nights are held twice a semester at the Steubenville convent and are often well attended by students. The sisters provide dinner and some spiritual formation before beginning a holy hour in the convent’s chapel. Men and women are usually both welcomed to the first Carmelite Night, which was Sept. 8 this semester, but only women come to the second one, held towards the end of the semester.

“We do this because, yes, Carmelite Nights are spiritual formation and not necessarily discernment,” said Marck, “but as women religious, we have something specific to offer for women’s spirituality, so we choose to focus on that for one of the nights.”

While the sisters are not at Franciscan for the sole purpose of obtaining Carmelite vocations, their presence does have its benefit. Marck said that 12 women have entered the community, and eight are still active, while noting that those eight were all in a household.

“Maybe households are good preparation for religious life,” she said with a laugh.

The sisters also derive moral support from their interactions with the many other religious sisters on the campus of Franciscan University. King said that they share a “community inside of a community” with the other sisters, while Marck added that there is a certain comfort that comes with being with other religious, despite not being with their community.

“Even though they are not my sisters in my community, they are my sisters in Christ, so just seeing their fidelity is a support in to living my own consecration,” she said.

The sisters speak very highly of Franciscan University’s mission and the caliber of students it produces and say it is a situation similar to when Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure were students of Albert the Great at the University of Paris.

“Someday we’ll be saying that St. So-and-so studied under St. Scott Hahn at Franciscan University of Steubenville,” said Marck, laughing. “This university is forming the future of the Church in a powerful way, and we are very blessed to be here.”