HOLLADAY — In an ordinarily quiet setting along Holladay Boulevard, tents are going up, homemade goods are being delivered, and neighbors are pitching in to set up for the annual Carmelite Fair on Sunday.
The lively event, featuring dance and musical groups, attracts thousands. The proceeds support 11 Catholic nuns who live at the monastery.
This year, the sisters who belong to the order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel are celebrating their 60th anniversary.
Their lives are structured. They have few possessions, wearing habits designed in the Middle Ages. One sister wakes the others before dawn with a wooden clapper, just as members of their order have done for centuries. The first order was founded in the 13th century. Saint Teresa of Jesus reformed the first female monastery in Avila, Spain, in 1562, and a group came to America, settling in Maryland in 1790.
Then in 1952, five sisters came from Alhambra, Calif., to Utah, where the Catholic population then was very small.
Mother Maureen of the Trinity is now the prioress of the monastery. "At first, I had to find out where it was, where it is on the map (she laughs). I had been through Salt Lake as a little child on a train, but that was many years before."
She and Sister Margaret Mary of the Sacred Heart are the only two surviving members. They speak, even with family members who visit, through the grille, which signifies separation from the world.
“Oh yes, we wanted to come, to participate, to bring our form of prayer to the diocese here in Salt Lake,” said Mother Maureen.
"I remember that when I was very, very young, I always like to read Western books and I just loved Western places. When I heard we were going to Utah, I was really, really happy about it. It's a beautiful state, and the people here are beautiful,” Sister Mary said with a smile.
Their first home was at 1063 E. 200 South, but just four years later, they were able to purchase a piece of property in Holladay. Twenty years ago, they bought the adjoining land.
"It was out in the country, all these animals, you could hear cows and pigs and goats. It was great, kind of fun, but it was beautiful because it was so solitary,” Sister Mary said.
The sisters' work consists of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and baking and boxing sacramental wafers for Holy Communion. But their real vocation, or job, is prayer.
"Our life is work and prayer, but principally prayer, the Divine Office and also quiet prayer,” explained Mother Maureen. “That is the emphasis in Carmel."
The nuns are very aware of what is going on in the world. They know through letters, emails or website messages of those who are suffering.
"We know there is much prayer needed,” Mother Maureen said. “Even if we don't mention every single name, the Lord knows that we are praying for those who ask for prayers. … The Lord said, 'Ask and ye shall receive.' But we need to ask with love, which is what we do."
"We're born to be happy, to find peace, and if people find the right path, that's what we want,” Sister Mary said. “We give our life for that."
The Carmelite Fair takes place Sunday on the grounds of the monastery from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The annual fair includes food, music and other entertainment, carnival rides, auctions, drawings for prizes and gift boutiques. It typically attracts thousands of visitors. They have no other source of income.
"We have nothing. We are on our own,” Mother Maureen said.