EAST PROVIDENCE — While the wooden crosses are serving as temporary markers until flat gravestones are installed, the bucolic plot of land where they stand sentinel at Gate of Heaven Cemetery will forever be entrusted to the Carmelite Sisters who are interred there and those who will join them in eternal rest in the future.
Click to view a photo gallery of the Prayer Service for the Carmelite Sisters at Gate of Heaven.
Facing a decline of about 14 members of their order through the decades, the Discalced Carmelites who have ministered in the Diocese of Providence over the last 90 years have begun this fall to leave their cloister in a diocesan monastery on the shore in Barrington. The five remaining sisters will depart by the end of the year, resettling in other locations according to their individual health needs.
A chief concern among the sisters, however, was for the perpetual care of those members of their order — and two lay people who graciously served them through the years — who were buried in a small cemetery on the grounds of the monastery.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin arranged for these sisters and the lay faithful to be reinterred on the grounds of diocesan Gate of Heaven Cemetery. The plot, expanded to provide burial spaces for the remaining sisters when they pass one day, is in an open area toward the front of the cemetery, a short distance from the Main Office.
“It’s so beautiful,” Sister Beth Shainin, who has resided at the Barrington monastery since 1976, said of the plot during a prayer service on Oct. 15 — the Feast of St. Theresa of Avila, the Carmelites’ patron — to bless the graves of the nine sisters and two lay people recently reinterred on the grounds from the monastery.
A large wooden crucifix with the crucified Jesus overlooks the burial site. The crucifix is the same one that stood watch over the graveyard at the monastery.
“We come in a spirit of peace and prayer on a day that is both solemn but also filled with God’s grace and God’s peace,” Bishop Tobin said at the prayer service. “Be assured of our prayers, all of us, at this time of change and transition for you. The Lord’s grace is with you but you also have the support of love of our diocesan church as well. “
“We come in a very simple way to offer some prayers and to recommit the sisters to the sacred ground. That’s a very solemn moment in the life of the church to be buried in sacred ground, awaiting the Lord’s resurrection. We come together to pray for these sisters and for the deceased sisters and for the other faithful laymen who are buried here, those who have been so supportive of and helpful to the sisters over the years. God bless them all.”
Sister Sue Lumb has served as the Carmelites’ Prioress in Barrington since 1993.
“It’s turned a sad event into an occasion of joy for ourselves and our friends. It’s a beautiful sacred space,” Sister Sue said, noting how the newly planted bushes, which will grow to surround the gravesite, represent the cloistered life.
“We’re really grateful to Bishop Tobin and the cemetery workers,” for providing and preparing the burial space for them, she said.
Bishop Tobin led the prayer service, along with Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, and Fathers Joseph Escobar and William Ledoux.
Sister Elizabeth Castro, H.M.S.P., director of the diocesan Office for Religious, joined in prayer with Carmelite Sisters Roseann Gillice, Mary Theresa Keating, Mary Davin, Beth Shainin, Prioress Sister Sue Lumb and about two dozen supporters of their ministry over the years.
“I’ve been going there for over 30 years and my youngest son was a longtime altar server,” Barrington resident Kathy Lariviere said of the service her son, Bradford Lariviere faithfully performed during the Masses he served at the Carmelite Monastery.
“They’re a source of comfort and strength for all those that meet them. The whole town is very saddened by their departure.”
Lariviere said she is pleased that accommodations have been made to provide a new burial space for the sisters, and for the longtime dentist and the receptionist who served the community through the years, so that they can all be together over time.
“I was very concerned about what would happen because I’ve attended several burials at the monastery,” she said. “I think this an absolutely beautifully done site for them to rest their souls.”
“It’s lovely,” she added. “They needed a tribute, they deserved a tribute. Their work of prayer is such an important work.”
Click to read more about the history of the Carmelite Sisters’ legacy in the Diocese of Providence.