Carmelite Studies is a relatively new academic field. To be sure, scholarly collections of documents related to the history and heritage of the Carmelites were already appearing in the Middle Ages. But the idea of recognizing a particular religious order’s broad heritage as constituting its own field of interdisciplinary academic and pastoral study seems to have developed only within the last 100 years. Examples in the United States include the inauguration of the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure College around 1940, the launch of the Institute of Cistercian Studies (now the Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies at Western Michigan University) in 1973, and the establishment of the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies at Boston College in 2014.

Carmelites, too, have been part of this trend, as shown by the founding and activities of the Institutum Carmelitanum and Pontifical Faculty “Teresianum” in Rome, the Titus Brandsma Instituut in The Netherlands, the Centro Internacional Teresiano-Sanjuanista in Avila, the Carmelite Forum in the United States, the Institute of Carmelite Studies, the Carmelite Institute of Britain and Ireland, the Carmelite Institute of North America, and similar initiatives around the world.

But the idea for this new Center at Catholic University is most closely connected to earlier developments at the Washington Theological Union (WTU) in Takoma Park, Maryland. For many years, under the guidance of Prof. John Welch, O.Carm., and the Carmelites, WTU was offering a graduate certificate in Carmelite Studies that attracted students from around the world and was also available in a distance-learning mode. There were hopes that other Carmelite programs could be added in the future. When the Union finally closed operations in 2015, however, the Carmelite Studies certificate was orphaned. Some of its courses migrated for a time to Catholic University but were not really able to be sustained without a particular academic program or center anchoring them.

And so the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary was looking for the best way to ensure the future of Carmelite Studies in the United States. They considered the long-standing connection between the Carmelite Order and the Catholic University of America. Generations of Carmelites received their theological training at CUA, and over the years numerous Carmelite scholars have taught there, including Roland Murphy (biblical studies), Christian Ceroke (biblical studies and religious education), Romaeus O’Brien (canon law), Ernest Larkin (spiritual theology), Kieran Kavanaugh (spiritual theology), Eamon Carroll (systematics), John Sullivan (liturgical studies), Leopold Glueckert (church history), and Quinn Conners (pastoral studies). In addition, one of the best libraries for Carmelite research, the Carmelitana Collection, is housed nearby at Whitefriars Hall. 

Thus the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary decided to make a grant of five million dollars to the Catholic University of America to endow a Chair and Center for Carmelite Studies. The Center was officially launched on October 15, 2019, in a university ceremony in McMahon Hall, attended by numerous dignitaries, university officials, and friends of the Carmelites. At the same celebration, Rev. Prof. Steven Payne, OCD, was installed as the first holder of the endowed Chair of Carmelite Studies.