El Carmelo Retreat House has an interesting history. As in Father Enda Somers’ words of many years ago, the purpose of the foundation of El Carmelo was “the Carmelites wanted to do something for people in every walk of life.
We wanted to pass on our rich heritage of spirituality — the doctrine of prayer, in theory and in practice — and the Gospel of Christ as interpreted by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and bring that into the lives of all.”
El Carmelo Retreat House in Redlands, California, is the property of the Western Province of Discalced Carmelites. It was founded in 1952 and dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The history of El Carmelo Retreat House would fill a good-sized book and would make interesting and, at times, suspenseful reading. Frs. Patrick Collins and Enda Somers were Carmelite priests who worked together in St. Therese’s Parish, Alhambra, and later in Our Lady of Grace Parish in Encino, both in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. While they were happy and successful in parish work, they wanted to establish a Carmelite house where the emphasis on silence and prayer would be more obvious. In the meantime, they encouraged the people in the parishes where they worked to go on weekend retreats and frequently provided the transportation in order to make sure they got there.
One night, when they were driving home with some men from a weekend retreat at the Franciscan retreat house in Malibu, one of the men said simply: “Since you are so interested in retreats, why don’t you start your own retreat house?” A new idea had arisen, a new seed was sown. And the rest is history.
October 15, 1954, the feast of St. Teresa, the day the dedication took place, Bishop Charles Buddy celebrated Mass and blessed the foundation. Father Edward Leahy, the provincial delegate, preached the homily. Many local priests and sisters were present, as well as a host of friends and helpers. Bishop Buddy, a great supporter of El Carmelo, conducted the very first day of recollection.
In October of 1954, weekend retreats began on a regular basis and have continued ever since.
In this short account of the beginnings of El Carmelo, there are a hundred stories waiting to be written, but it all began with a thought that came from the back seat of a car on the way home from a retreat, an idea that became a vision in the mind of a man, materially poor but with a wealth of friends and with God’s blessing on a project undertaken in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The El Carmelo Retreat Center has grown dramatically over the years. With accommodations for 80 retreatants, weekend retreats draws nearly 3,000 participants annually. In addition, some 2,000 people attend weekday activities per year. This includes day, evening and week retreats.