Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

May 30, 2013

Foundress of the Carmelite Monastery dies at 101

TRAVERSE CITY — Zoe Julia Armstrong realized her religious calling as a sophomore in high school. She was coming home from a movie with her grandmother and looked up at the dark sky and twinkling stars.

“All I could think was, ‘Heaven! Everything meaningful is up there. Nothing on earth can compare with it,’” said the Carmelite nun in an interview “A Century of Zoe.”

On Sunday, Armstrong — who was later named Teresa Margaret — died at the local Carmelite Monastery at age 101 with a sister by her side.

The witty and feisty nun founded the Carmelite Monastery, tucked away at the end of a long, blacktopped driveway off Silver Lake Road.

Mother Teresa Mararet grew up in Columbus, Ohio, the oldest girl of six children. After her nighttime epiphany, she was drawn to the cloistered order of Carmelite nuns, who devote their lives to prayer.

Armstrong first lived in the Grand Rapids Carmel. She arrived there in 1929 and excitedly swooped up tiny Mother Beneradita and swung her around to the chagrin of the other nuns.She made her vows of obedience, poverty and chastity in October of 1931.

In 1949, she and another nun moved to Traverse City at the bishop’s request to help return fallen-away Catholics to the flock. Armed with only $50, they began to transform a small house into a monastery. In February, the rest of the foundresses arrived and celebrated their first mass.

The growing community lived in the small house until 1960 when a permanent monastery was built. When visiting the construction site a worker was surprised when Mother Teresa Margaret was pointing things out on the blueprints. “You can read those plans?” he asked. “I think so,” she replied. “I drew them.”

Mother Teresa Margaret served as prioress until 1963, and again from 1973 until 1997.

“The transition from superior to subject after so many years was a little difficult in the beginning, but we were soon amazed at the gracefulness with which Mother aged,” wrote the Carmelite nuns in a press release issued on Wednesday.

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