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Memories From The Musuem

July 7th, 2016 by

Drew County’s Discalced Carmelite Monastery and the Man Who Built It (Part One)

By Sheilla Lampkin

In the fall of 2008 my search began to confirm and affirm an old rumor in Drew County, Arkansas.  The rumor told of a short-lived Catholic monastery built in the wilds of the county by a Discalced Carmelite priest in the early twentieth century.  While many of the details of that place and time may never be fully exposed, the research that began with a search for a “place” turned out to be as much, if not more, the story of the man who built the “place”.

Even though this is a Drew County story, its roots also run deep in the history of neighboring Desha County, the American Southwest, and Mexico, as well as Spain. The story spans two continents, and touches a great part of world history. As the chronicler of the story, I’ve gathered much information, actually walked part of the ground where it happened, and am now gratified to share this fascinating part of Drew County history, and the exciting adventures of a sojourner in a foreign land.

Before we begin, readers should first become familiar with a few terms infrequently heard in southeast Arkansas.  The first such term should be “monastery”.  A monastery is generally thought of as a dwelling place for religious monks who come to visit or come to stay to pray, rest, recoup, and meditate, etc., apart from the rest of the world.  The monastery in this story was owned by, and built for, Discalced Carmelite monks!

Next readers need to understand the terms “discalced” and “Carmelite”. The term “discalced” comes for the Latin word that means “unshod”. In the case of these religious monks, it meant that they either went barefoot or wore rope sandals instead of leather shoes.

The term “Carmelite” refers to members of a Catholic religious order founded by hermits living on Mt. Carmel in modern Israel around 1210.  After the year 1238 the religious order began to spread throughout Europe as the Muslim invaders began to converge on the Holy Land to seize it from the Christians.

The Carmelites later split into two groups – the Ancient Observance Carmelites and the Discalced Carmelites. (Please understand that this is my lay interpretation of these religious terms.)  The Discalced Carmelites eventually headquartered themselves in Valencia, Spain.

When the westward expansion into the New World began, it brought priests and religious brothers and sisters from many religious orders and groups to America to build churches, meditate and “Christianize” the native people. Most of these were friars who lived and worked in various places in the New World.

Along with the other religious groups came the Discalced Carmelites.  The order was first recorded in Maryland in 1790. The OCD (Order of Discalced Carmelites) soon expanded westward and then organized into many smaller groups, sometimes called “provinces”, in many geographical locations. Eventually a group of Discalced Carmelites established a “province” in Oklahoma. (There were many other provinces throughout the country, but the Oklahoma group is relevant to our story.)

With these scant clarifications aside, we can now turn to the story of one particular Discalced Carmelite priest and his monastery near a bayou in southeast Arkansas.

 

(We’ll begin that story in this space next week.  Next week: Discalced priests in Mexico encounter the legendary Pancho Villa.)   

 

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