The following comes from recent stories in the Oakland diocese paper, the Catholic Voice.

The power of the ministry of the Carmelite Sisters can be told in little slips of paper. A woman borrowed a page from a reporter’s notebook to request prayers for a child in her parish, afflicted with a brain tumor.

A woman recovering from a brain hemorrhage also sought their prayers.

The bishop of Oakland told them of the prayer slips that he had put in the bowl at the Carmelite monastery in San Francisco over the course of his life.

The Carmelites are the only contemplative order in the Diocese of Oakland. Theirs is a ministry of prayer, silence and seclusion — and great joy.

With the nuns praying and singing behind a grille lined with a dark curtain, and about 50 guests in an enclosed porch that serves as chapel seating, the Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ, celebrated Mass at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Canyon, on Oct. 1, the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux…..

The sisters arrived from Nebraska to start a new foundation in California in July 2012. Their little sign off Canyon Road with the simple word Carmel, the bishop said, says to all: “There are women, 500 years after St. Teresa of Avila, who are still giving their all to God.”

Their prayer is appreciated, he said.

“I want to thank you publicly, on behalf of the whole Diocese of Oakland, on behalf of our priests, all of our seminarians, all of our dedicated lay people, for your life of dedication to almighty God, through love, reverence and prayer. ”


He thanked them, “in a special way for the intercession you give myself and my brother priests.”

“Your prayers are like shields surrounding us,” he said.

Bishop Barber told them that when he was a little boy, after attending Mass at the Jesuit church, his grandmother and aunts would take him to pray at the Cristo Rey Monastery in San Francisco….

The hilly property is a far cry from the 20 flat acres the sisters left in Valparaiso, Nebraska, when they came westward to found this carmel in California.

“They come with what they have in their little satchels,” and depend on generosity of benefactors, said Monsignor Timothy Thorburn, chaplain to the Carmelites in Nebraska since their arrival in 1998, as well as vicar general for the Diocese of Lincoln. He was in Canyon for the Oct. 1 Mass, at which he, Father Wayne Campbell, pastor of nearby St. Monica Church in Moraga, and Father Robert Herbst, judicial vicar and vicar for clergy, concelebrated.

Once the number of sisters reaches 21, the Carmelites make plans for a new foundation. The Nebraska carmel has set up two: one in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and the Canyon carmel.

“The sisters like the agrarian existence,” Monsignor Thorburn said. “They like to raise their own vegetables.”

In Nebraska, he said, the sisters have a couple of cows, a pair of sheep, 40 chickens and a dog. There’s also a little vineyard on the property.

The cows provide milk, and the sisters make cheese. The chickens provide eggs.

“The simple life is attractive to them,” he said.

The sisters in Canyon, too, are vegetarians and are accustomed to a simple life. They look forward to growing their own vegetables, and would like to have some farm animals.

The sisters are praying for a permanent home for their new carmel, and benefactors who would be willing to provide them with a building that would include a chapel, kitchen, chapter room and sewing room, in addition to individual cells for the sisters.

For now, they live in a cabin, and cross an enclosed area to a larger house for chapel, kitchen and other community needs. They are looking for room to grow.

The carmel at Canyon already has welcomed its first postulant. The young woman, in her 20s, is from the Bay Area and had been attending Mass at the carmel.

A second postulant, also from Northern California, is expected in the new year.

After his divorce, Mike Skapura raised his daughter by himself in Columbus, Ohio, where he worked as a contractor for the Postal Service, driving truckloads of mail between postal facilities.

“When she was 19, almost 20, she hit me with, ‘Dad, I want to become a nun,'” Skapura said.

….In 2009, Sister Elizabeth was among the sisters who left Nebraska to start a new foundation in Pennsylvania.

Mike Skapura has become a pioneer, too.

“My life has changed drastically since my daughter entered religious life,” he said. Mother Teresa asked him if he would become the guardian and caretaker for the nuns she was sending from Nebraska to Canyon, California, last year.

He moved their belongings 1,700 miles in three days, and has adapted an old family home off the beaten path into a temporary carmel. Those grilles he had to get used to? He’s built some of those, too.

He lives in an apartment over the garage with his 17-month-old golden retriever, Jackson.

“I have a calling, I guess you could say.”

St. Monica Parish in Moraga is good neighbor

Fifteen months ago, when the parish learned that the Carmelite sisters would be moving into a house in nearby Canyon, it offered hospitality.

Father Wayne Campbell, pastor of St. Monica, found “Every time there has been a need — freezer, stools, benches, tables,” parishioners have handed him checks.

One Sunday, he recalled, he had three pages of needs. All were filled by the third Mass. Then people added to the list….

To read the entire stories, click here.