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Second International Congress of Carmelite Schools:

A Reflection

By Kay Sullivan, President

Salpointe Catholic High School

Tucson, AZ


The Second International Congress of Carmelite Schools was held in Rome, Italy, from November 5 to 10 at Domus Carmelitana.


Organized by Raúl Maraví, O.Carm., and hosted by the General Council of the Carmelites, the conference was attended by 67 representatives from 40+ schools and 15 countries around the globe. Fernando Millán, O.Carm., Prior General of the Order, attended many of the sessions and celebrated Mass with the Congressional attendees.


The week was focused on “Carmel: A Life of Fullness and Beauty,” and indeed, this theme captures the spiritual depth, personal and professional renewal, and shared mission that participants experienced and embraced each day.  We listened intently to seven awe-inspiring presentations by esteemed educational and spiritual leaders; we participated in international small group settings as we responded to the call to Carmel in our schools. Meals were shared each day and Mass was celebrated together each evening. A memorable highlight of the Congress was the Papal Audience in St. Peter’s Square. Our Congressional delegation was honored to be seated six rows from Pope Francis as he shared his thoughts on cell phone use during Mass!


Our speakers were exemplary and the themes resonated. Anne Marie Bas of the Netherlands inspired us with the life and trials of Blessed Titus Brandsma. She challenged us to find beauty, enthusiasm and idealism every day even in the midst of the world’s sorrow, chaos and conflict. We must see beauty in reality, including that which does not attract and delight. As leaders, we should be filled with passion, inspiration and confidence in a joyful future;  and we must make these characteristics marks of our Carmelite schools. We must care for the whole person; “knowledge is only half.” Education is the work of man...and the work of God.


Richard Byrne, O.Carm., from Dublin asked participants to consider how our schools are responding to the challenges of secularization and globalization. Globalization is being driven by ideology, economics, politics, cultures, technology (including artificial intelligence and social media), and environmental issues which are leading to an increasing global connectedness and interdependence...the world is becoming a single place. Crises, be they financial or political or ecological, are also contagious. Carmelite school leaders must see ourselves as citizens of the world, demanding human rights for all. Carmelite schools must give voice to our students to change the world. We must tell our Catholic, Carmelite story and celebrate our core beliefs that faith matters, faith is transformative and faith is foundational. We must then provide welcoming, generational communities of prayer, contemplation and service; we must provide support for life’s journey, which is often difficult. We must be inclusive and distinctive.


Albertus Herwanta, O. Carm., from Indonesia challenged us to provide opportunities for the exercise of the foundational Carmelite spiritual values of contemplation, community and service in our schools. Carmelite spirituality is contemplative and transformative, interconnecting us with God and with each other, giving our lives purpose, seeing the world as God sees it. As global citizens, we must demonstrate a respect for all living things; learn to resolve conflict without violence; think globally and act locally to end inequality; be inclusive and non-judgemental; practice mindfulness and non-dualistic thinking (rather than accepting an either/or mentality); be collaborative, creative, communicative critical thinkers; be risk takers; and develop the full experience of faith for laity in our schools. We must celebrate who we are as Carmelite schools.

We must see beauty in reality, including that which does not attract and delight. As leaders, we should be filled with passion, inspiration and confidence in a joyful future;  and we must make these characteristics marks of our Carmelite schools. We must care for the whole person; “knowledge is only half.” Education is the work of man...and the work of God.


John Haggerty from Carmel High School in Chicago challenged us to make Carmelite values tangible in our schools by creating a physical sense of belonging, inclusion, collegiality and collaboration. He described Carmelite schools as places of hope that inspire an openness to God’s word and provide opportunity for contemplative prayer. John celebrated Carmelite saints: Elijah, who experienced God in a whisper; Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross who treasured collaboration, inclusion and a sense of belonging; Terese of LIsieux who found and appreciated grace in ordinary moments. John challenged school leaders to include tangible Carmelite symbols and saints throughout our campuses.


Eduardo Scarel, O. Carm., from Argentina and now residing in Spain, shared Pope Francis’ message in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si. Fr. Scarel emphasized the responsibility each of us bears as educators to model and propagate the themes of the Pope’s letter “On the Care of our Common Home.” From LS: “Since everything is closely interrelated … I suggest that we consider some elements of an integral ecology … Environmental problems cannot be separated from human, family, work related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which in turn leads to how they relate to others and to the environment.” Pope focuses on this concept of “integral ecology,” intrinsically linking ecological integrity and social justice, and noting that the impact of climate change disproportionately affects the poor and the vulnerable. A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems and therefore Pope Francis calls all people of the world to take "swift and unified global action,” a call that Carmelite schools must take seriously.

My presentation focused on Laudato Si, the power of the Carmelite NGO and the power of our international Carmelite schools. Given our shared educational passions and spiritual energy, our worldwide student population and our sacred Carmelite mission, the NGO and the Carmelite schools indeed have the power to change the world. I demonstrated how the encyclical message of the Pope in Laudato Si, the goals of the Carmelite NGO and the mission of Carmelite schools are essentially identical.


First, the encyclical: Laudato Si is a ultimately a call to action for a “moral conversion” for all who inhabit the planet. “Some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule concern for the environment…Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (LS)


“We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us…nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given domination of the earth justifies absolute dominion over other creatures…Each community can take from the earth what it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” (LS) The traditional concept of man’s “dominion” over the Earth is replaced with man’s dependency on the beauty and complexity of the Earth.


“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.” (LS)


Critiquing consumerism and irresponsible development, lamenting environmental degradation and global warming, Pope Francis calls all people of the world to take "swift and unified global action.” The call to action requires education. Carmelite ministries do that well!


Second, the NGO: The Carmelite NGO is a non governmental organization with special status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and affiliated to the Department of Public Information of the United Nations. The NGO has a seat at the world’s table!


The NGO is a project of the members of the Carmelite family around the world focusing on climate, hunger, education especially of women, human rights, poverty, sustainable development and freedom of belief. The goal of the NGO is to help create a more just, peaceful and loving world by caring for the needs of the human family and the environment. The NGO is a tool that the Order can use to enhance all of its ministries for the good of society, families and the environment.


The NGO encourages policy changes to vigorously support Pope Francis’ call to hear “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Three words define the NGO’s mission: Prayer by which we remain in contact with God; Community that creates a new way of living among us; and Justice that leads us to defend the value of human life for every person.


Sr. Jane Remson, O.Carm., founder and executive director of the Carmelite NGO, says that as an organization, we are wholeheartedly committed to a world “imagined anew” and as individuals we are committed to the Gospel message of hope, justice and peace. We have no choice. We Carmelites are called upon to do whatever is necessary to serve our sisters and brothers and care for our common home.


How do we do this work?

First, we listen and learn. We listen and learn from climate scientists, Pope Francis, Catholic social teaching, and the voices of ordinary people to become informed.

Second, we take action. Action to address poverty, inequality and environmental destruction can take many forms, but education is primary. We need to teach the science of climate change, the social science of inequality and poverty, and Catholic social teaching on these issues, to our friends, families, and our young people. We need to develop educators who are “capable of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.” (LS)


We now can take action via the Laudato Si’ curriculum. The NGO and Salpointe Catholic High School piloted and developed comprehensive lesson plans to teach the messages of Laudato Si across the high school curriculum. The resource is intended to help young people fulfill Pope Francis’ invitation to give special attention to the creation of God, to realize that we need each other, and that we have a personal responsibility for others and for the world. The curriculum offers a progressive and experiential learning design so that students, guided by environmental science, the Word of God and the richness of Carmelite spirituality will be able to integrate into their lives a comprehensive ecological awareness of responsible care of the earth.


Next steps: a living curriculum will sustain and propagate a living Laudato Si.


  • Carmelite schools need to honor our shared mission to respect the dignity of every person and to care for our world

  • Teachers and leaders need to role model the behavior we seek; for example, we can take the Catholic Climate Covenant pledge.

  • Carmelite schools worldwide can implement the curriculum lesson plans; go to

  • NGO can develop an open source option to make digitized curriculum available to all, creating dynamic, shared, interactive lesson plans

  • We as teachers and leaders and NGO members can instill hopefulness and inspire joyfulness!


Kate McGarey Vasey celebrated Salpointe’s role in piloting and developing the Laudato Si curriculum. From Kevin Russell’s trips to New Orleans and Peru to creating a core group of interested educators to working with Fl Alcazar on the creation of lesson plans to refining the material for publication, Kate shared the specifics of the journey. After distributing the printed curriculum guides in English and Spanish, she explained precisely how other Carmelite schools can adopt and implement the lesson plans across the disciplines. Kate reinforced the shared goals and mission of our schools, the NGO and the Pope’s call to action.


Ultimately, the Congress was inspiring and energizing because we as school leaders celebrated the clarity and essence of the shared mission of Carmelite schools throughout the world. (Now schools in Australia, Ireland and US have initiated conversations to create a teacher/student exchange program by 2019!) In summary, this was a very powerful week that continues to provide support, collegiality and inspiration.

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