Carmelites trace their roots to Mount Carmel and to the Desert Fathers and Mothers. There are two Carmelite orders in the Catholic Church: the Carmelite Order of the Ancient Observance and The Discalced Carmelite Order.
The Discalced became a separate order under the reforms of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, who desired to return to the more austere and contemplative life lived by the first Carmelites. "Discalced," meaning "shoeless," signified this greater austerity.
The Discalced Carmelites are men and women, consecrated religious and lay people, who dedicate themselves to a life of prayer. The Carmelite nuns live in cloistered (enclosed) monasteries and follow a completely contemplative life. The Carmelite friars, while following a contemplative life, also engage in the promotion of spirituality through their retreat centers, parishes and churches. Lay people, known as the Secular Order, follow their contemplative call in their everyday activities.
The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCDS) is a religious association of the Roman Catholic Church composed primarily of lay persons and ordained diocesan priests or deacons. Members must be over the age of 18 and Catholics in good standing.
Commonly known as Secular Carmelites, they are an integral part of the Discalced Carmelite Order, juridically dependent upon the Discalced Carmelite Friars, and in fraternal communion with them and the cloistered Nuns of the Order. They share the same charism with the Friars and Nuns, each according to his or her particular state of life, forming a single family with the same spirituality, and called by God to holiness and apostolic mission.
There are more than 45,000 Discalced Carmelite Seculars worldwide and more than 6,000 in the United States. They gather in canonically erected communities or recognized study groups under the guidance and leadership of the order.