The Epsom parish has, for nearly 60 years, been blessed by the presence within its boundaries of the Carmelite Sisters. It is their sole monastery in the North Island and one of only two in the whole of New Zealand.The original band of Sisters, seven in all and under the leadership of Australian-born Mother Mary Carmel (Glasheen), arrived in Auckland on 15 February 1937 from their convent in Sydney. Initially, they were given temporary accommodation by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in their house at Waikowhai (now the site of a retirement village). this was a most generous offer but the stay turned out to be a short one for, within weeks, they had purchased the property on Mount Albert Road which they still occupy. At the time, it consisted of a fine villa, set on about six and a half acres of land. The house was immediately put to use and is still part of the Monastery but much of the land has since been sold.
The official opening was on 20 April 1937, although the Enclosure Ceremony had to wait for some months until the distinctive brick surrounding wall had been built. The present front building seen on entering the property was completed early the following year. It included the present Chapel, dedicated to St Thomas, which was opened and blessed by the Irish Archbishop of Taum, who was at the time visiting Auckland for the Catholic Centenary celebrations that were currently taking place.
From the very outset, the Sisters were made most welcome in the city and received great support from both clergy and laity. This was especially so in Epsom and the Sisters still talk of the generosity extended to them by the late Father Dunphy and many of the local parishioners during the settling-in period. Through the influences of the late Archbishop Liston, the Catholic Womens’ League became actively involved in setting up a special Carmelite Circle, convented by Mrs Violet Delaney, and they assumed responsibility for the nutritional needs of the Sisters by means of special “pantry days” and organising regular deliveries of food. With the Leagues’ decentralisation, its activities were transferred to the various parishes and Epsom has maintained that support right up to the present day, thanks to people like Mrs Tish Molloy and her sister Mrs Gert Clotworthy, to whom the Sisters are most grateful. However, they have in recent times requested that much of the food normally sent to them be redirected to the needy of South Auckland.
Over the years, the spiritual needs of the Carmelite Community have been attended to by the Epsom Parish, with its clergy acting as Chaplains and Confessors. And for their part, the Sisters have reciprocated in their own particular way. Because of their rule and the enclosed nature of their religious life, they may not have been an obvious presence in the parish, but they have nevertheless made wonderful contributions to it. The main one, of course, has been prayer life, the central feature of their vocations. But, as well, they have generously opened their chapel for public worship, allowing parishoners living at that end of the parish to attend Mass there. They have also contributed to the training of altar-servers and helped to provide for themselves by making altar-breads and vestments.
The Monastery is under the patronage of St Thomas, Apostle, as is the chapel, and its present Prioress is Mother Mary of Carmel (Little).