Matthews, Mary Bernardina, Mother

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First prioress of the Carmelites in America; b. Charles County, Md., 1732; d. Port Tobacco, Md., June 12, 1800. Ann Matthews was born into an aristocratic, religious family; she applied for admission to the English-speaking Discalced Carmelites in Hoogstraeten, Belgium, in 1754. The next year, at the age of 23, she was professed and received the name Sister Bernardina Teresa Xavier of St. Joseph. She was esteemed for her sanctity and her gift of directing souls, and became mistress of novices and later, mother prioress, a position she held for 28 years. In 1782 the suppression of all religious orders in the Netherlands by Joseph II made a new foundation imperative. Mother Bernardina's brother, Rev. Ignatius Matthews, SJ, suggested that a branch of the Carmelite Order be established in Maryland to foster vocations in the U.S. Under the spiritual guidance of Rev. Charles Neale and with financial aid from M. de Villegas, the foundation was made, and Mother Bernardina was chosen as first prioress. In 1790 with two nieces, Sister Eleanora and Sister Aloysia, and Sister Clare Joseph Dickinson of the convent at Antwerp, Mother Bernardina arrived at Port Tobacco, Md., where she established her monastery. This marked not only the site of the first Carmelite monastery, but also the introduction of the first religious order to the U.S. The earlier foundations of the Ursulines in Louisiana were then outside U.S. territory.

Bibliography: c. w. currier, Carmel in America: A Centennial History of the Discalced Carmelites in the United States (Baltimore 1890). Discalced Carmelites, Boston, Carmel: Its History, Spirit, and Saints (New York 1927).

[m. v. geiger]

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Matthews, Mary Bernardina, Mother

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