The Story of the Carmelite Friars Arriving at Oakville

"It was towards evening of a hot day September 5, 1955.  The first shades of dusk were settling peacefully on the quiet hills around the lonely mansion, itself buried in deeper stillness.  Weary in body but elated in spirit, four of us climbed the small rise of ground to our new monastery, to a new future for our Order and us.  We had finally arrived in Northern California, a significant milestone, we reflected on the new horizons of achievement and self-determination."

Thus, Father Edward described in his diary the manner in which he and the other three "founders" took possession of the mansion which was to be become the first Carmelite monastery in Northern California.

The Doak mansion referred to was built by David Perry Doak, Industrialist.  It was begun in 1917 and completed in 1921, at a cost of $250,000.  Weeks and Day of San Francisco were the designers.  Landscaping was done by John McLaren, designer of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.  Doak died in the House on February 26, 1921, shortly after its completion.  Doak's widow, Frieda, married Colonel John McGill.

The mansion itself was situated on 2,000 acres of land, extending from the hills to Highway 29.  In its prime in 1927, it was offered by McGill to President Calvin Coolidge at no charge as the summer White House.  Coolidge chose rather to visit Colorado. 

From about 1930-1945 it was without resident and largely neglected.  In 1945, the entire property was sold to the wealthy Napa Valley Rancher, Martin Stellings.  He was interested in the prime agricultural land and never lived in the mansion.  Through caretakers, he dept the house from serious deterioration although quite a lot of vandalism took place.

In 1955, Noel Sullivan brother of Mother Agnes of Santa Clara, came to the help of the Carmelites.  He donated $60,000 to purchase the vacant mansion and 29 acres of the surrounding property.  Noel died in 1956, leaving a further bequest to the Carmelites for the building of the present Chapel.  Paul Ryan was architect.

The altar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Chapel is a memorial to Noel Sullivan.  A marble plaque recalls, in Latin, the memory of Noel Sullivan, most generous benefactor of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.  Revered for his great love of God, of mankind and of all living things, on which he poured out great largess and kindness.  Born December 25, 1890-died September 15, 1956."

The Oakville Monastery served as Novitiate for the California Region for many years.  Here, candidates for the Carmelite Order received their initial formation, before going on for further studies to San Jose, founded a few years later.  In 1981, when the Novitiate was transferred to the San Jose Monastery, Oakville was designated as a House of Prayer and Retreat Center.  At present this is the chief apostolate of the community.

The Origin of the Carmelites

The Carmelite Order was in existence long before it came to Oakville: over seven centuries ago. Carmel has the distinction of being the only religious order in existence to have been founded in the Holy Land. It was in the vicinity of Mount Carmel, about the year, 1214, that St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, gave the original rule to the first Carmelite Monks. Very likely many Crusaders from Europe who, after serving in a military capacity against physical enemies now decided they wanted to wage a war in "spiritual combat" against the ones who as Jesus said should be the ones we should really fear, not those who have only the power to kill the body but even more importantly those who have the power to kill the soul.   As a result of the adverse conditions of the crusading effort they mitigated to the West: Cypress, France, and England, then eventually all over Europe, where they became part of the great mendicant movement with the Franciscans, Dominican and Augustinians.

In the 16th Century in response to the Council of Trent to renew religious life, two saints, and later Doctors of the Church, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, set about the revitalization of the Carmelite Order in Spain. This renewal spread throughout the world, to Ireland in 1625, to Alhambra, Los Angeles in 1924, and Oakville in 1955.