The Carmelite way of life began in the Holy Land at the end of the 12th Century on Mount Carmel near a spring known as the “Fountain of Elijah”. The original Carmelites were hermits who asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert Avogadro for a formal rule around 1206. This document in the form of a letter
outlined a standard of living that is the basic guide for all Carmelites. It was first approved by the Holy See in January of 1226 by Pope Honorius II . Several adaptations were made while maintaining the wholeness of St. Albert’s original letter and the final text used today is that by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.
The Carmelite brothers moved from Mount Carmel into Europe. Once settled as a mendicant order of the Church they welcomed lay people to join them. Blessed John Soreth, Prior General at the time, opened the way for others to be part of the Carmelite Order. With the Bull Cum Nulla issued by Pope Nicholas V on October 7, 1459 he established the second and third orders of Carmel.
The Lay Carmelites are a part of the Third Order branch of the Carmelite Order. They are an international public association of laity erected by Apostolic privilege
with the purpose of working towards Christian perfection. It sets out to do this by living the Gospel in the spirit of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel under the supreme direction of the Order itself. (see Living the Carmelite Way, The Third Order Rule #50)
Throughout the world there are many Lay Carmelite Communities. In the North Americas the Lay Carmelites are under the jurisdiction of two Provinces of the Ancient Observance: Saint Elias and The Most Pure Heart of Mary.
The Province of Saint Elias (SEL)
In the late 1800's four Irish Carmelite friars came to the United States to minister to the people of America. These four friars established the Province of Saint Elias in New York. By 1927 there were many friars serving in various areas. In many of these areas Lay Carmelite Communities developed. The Provincial offices were originally located in New York City. In 2006 the Province relocated its offices, including the Lay Carmelite Office, to Middletown, New York on the property of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.