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In an effort to provide those who visit this site with up-to-date information regarding  events or stories of interest happening within the diocese, the Secretariat for Communications researches and prepares articles and news releases. 

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Carmelite Mother Teresa Margaret <br>has entered eternal life

05/28/2013

Mother Teresa Margaret, foundress of the Carmelite Monastery in Traverse City , died May 26, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, surrounded by her religious community. She was 101, and had been a cloistered nun for 83 years.

MTM_profession.jpgZoe Julia Armstrong was born in Columbus, Ohio on September 8, 1911 to Edward and Zoe (Goulet) Armstrong. The oldest of six children, she attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Columbus, and enjoyed piano, dance, and basketball. At the age of 18 she entered the Carmelite Monastery in Grand Rapids, and pronounced her vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity two years later in 1931.

In 1949 she was chosen to begin a new monastery in Traverse City, which was founded on February 1, 1950 in a remodeled house on Peninsula Drive. Ten years later the community moved into a permanent monastery built on Silver Lake Road according to plans drawn by Mother herself.

She served as Prioress of the monastery from 1950 to 1963 and from 1973 to 1997, and then as Subprioress and Council Sister. She transitioned from vigorous activity to old age with remarkable gracefulness. Until her brief final illness, she participated in all the activities of her religious community.

Mother had a gift for making lifelong friendships, a passion for imbuing our culture with Christian ideals, and an enviable balance of faith, serenity, humor, and common sense.

She is survived by her sister Marion Holland of Sandpoint, Idaho, sister-in-law Pat Armstrong of Columbus, and numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her brothers Edward, Albert and Robert, her sister Rose Marie, and all of the original founding nuns of the monastery.

Visitation will be held in the Carmelite Monastery Chapel on Thursday, May 30 beginning at 10:30am, where a Rosary will be prayed at 7pm, with Rev. Anthony Cureton officiating. Visitation will continue on Friday from 8am until the Mass of Christian Burial at 11am. The Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda will serve as the celebrant.

Memorials may be directed to Mass intentions.




“I fell in love with the Lord”

Mother Teresa Margaret was interviewed by novices of the Carmelite Monastery as the celebration of her 100th birthday approached. The following essay was compiled from her reminiscences. This article was originally published in Religious Life magazine. (www.ReligiousLife.com).

By Mother Teresa Margaret Armstrong
Infant Jesus of Prague Monastery
St. Joseph Association, Discalced Carmelite Nuns
Traverse City

“Did you ever think about becoming a nun?” the Sisters at school often asked me and the other girls.

I always told them “NO!”

Once a Sister asked me, “Why not, Zoe?”

“Because then I couldn’t go to the movies.”

I was born on September 8th, the Blessed Mother’s birthday, in 1911. I wasn’t named Mary as might be expected, because on my mother's side of the family the oldest girl is always Zoe. I once read in an article by Father Hardon that Zoë means sanctifying grace in Greek. Before that, I was always a little shy about it because I didn't think it was a very Catholic name.

I had all the woes of the oldest girl, tending my five brothers and sisters. One time I rearranged the cupboards while I was cleaning them, and my mother had me put everything back just like it was. I determined then, Someday I’m going to get my own house and then I’ll do everything the way I like it!

When I was in fourth grade, a Sister read the autobiography of St. Therese to the class. I was very attracted to it, but never considered such a life for myself.

I won a scholarship to an all-girls high school and made five close friends. We’d ride around in a roadster, three in the front and three in the rumble seat. Father Hynes, a young priest at our parish, started basketball for the boys of our parish – and then he started it for the girls too. I played basketball at my school and I taught the others how to play. Between that, dancing lessons, and piano recitals, my life was very full.

We went on retreat every year at school and when I was a sophomore I fell in love with the Lord. I remember my grandmother and I had gone to a movie and coming home I looked up at the sky and the beautiful stars. All I could think was: Heaven! Everything meaningful is up there. Nothing on earth can compare with it. What I’d heard in the retreats came back to me and I thought to myself, I have to do something about this! From then on my religious vocation grew.

I didn’t want to teach. So the Orders I knew -- the Dominicans, Mercy Sisters, and Notre Dame Sisters -- they were out. Then I remembered the life of the Little Flower and I said: Now that’s good. I won’t have to teach. The next year at the retreat I told the priest that I was thinking about being a Carmelite. “Do you know what you’re getting into?” he asked. He told me about the fasting and lack of sleep. I said, “I want to do penance to save priests.” “Well then, that’s it,” and he told me to keep praying about it.

When I told my parents, my mother was happy but my father was disgusted. He said, “You always have to do something crazy! Why couldn’t you choose an Order that does something -- that teaches or takes care of sick people? But just to pray?” Years later his attitude changed during a visit while we were beginning the foundation in Traverse City. We had no enclosure yet and we were still fixing up the monastery. He saw how happy I was -- and how down-to-earth all the Sisters were -- and that impressed him.

At Father Hynes’ suggestion, I wrote to the Buffalo Carmel but they were filled to capacity. When I think of it now it makes me laugh, but I wrote back and asked if they knew if anybody was going to die soon! The superior never answered my question, but sent me addresses of other monasteries. I wrote the names on pieces of paper and picked one at random. And that’s how I chose the Grand Rapids Carmel!

As the date for my departure approached, my mother cried incessantly. She worried about me joining a Mexican community. She worried aloud that I wouldn’t be fulfilled without physical motherhood. “She’s raised her family already,” my grandmother remarked dryly, glancing at my siblings.

On the train to Grand Rapids my mother couldn’t stop crying. What am I going to do? I thought. This is just too much! So I started to say four-letter-words and language I’d never used before. There were two nuns and a priest right across the aisle from us. My mother stopped crying!

The nuns had told me to enter after Mass in the morning. Well, we went to a late Mass at the cathedral, had a leisurely breakfast, settled everything at the hotel, and then finally went to the Carmel. The nuns had been waiting hours for me!

When I knocked on the enclosure door and they let me in, I was so excited! When I met old Mother Bernadita, she was so tiny that I took her up in my arms and spun her around like my little sister at home. I think the nuns were horrified -- and poor Mother Bernadita was speechless!

The nuns named me Teresa Margaret right away because they thought Zoe was too odd. Those first days were rough, but I was convinced that this was what God wanted me to do. I feared I was going to be sent away many times, but I said, No I’m not going to go. I’m going to become what they want me to be, to prove my love to Him!

I needed that attitude all through the years—whether it was starting the foundation in Traverse City, or building a new monastery -- whatever it was. At each challenge I just said, God wouldn’t ask this of me if He didn’t intend to help me with it. And so I’d go ahead. In struggles you have to ask: Why am I here? To please myself or to please God?

I’ve learned you become discouraged when you depend more on your own efforts than on grace. You’ve got to get down on your knees and beg God for the grace to understand this. Don’t depend too much on what you do, but on what God is going to arrange for you—and oh, the way He can arrange things! Then you’re forced to practice virtue! Sometimes the biggest penance in Carmel is community life.

People ask us Carmelites how can we live like this, not seeing the results of our prayers. You need to have a strong sense that God knows what’s what, so you ask Him for a deep spirit of faith. You can't feel His presence in your soul through sanctifying grace but you know He is there and you try to keep Him company. That’s just the ordinary way of life here. A cloistered nun draws down God's grace on the Church and the world. The more you’re united to God, the more you want what He wants which is the salvation of souls and the conversion of sinners. If you’re not united to God, how can you get graces from Him for others?

We each have our own story about how the Lord calls us. It’s very personal. And it really fits each one. Things work out the way you never thought they would. And you thank the Lord that He insisted on His way instead of your way!

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