HOLLADAY, UTAH — Those who see no value in prayer should have been in Holladay Sunday, where hundreds of community members came together to raise more than $100,000 for the sisters of the Carmel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Monastery for no other reason than the simple fact that "they pray for us."
"They are such an amazing spiritual presence in our community," said Marie Mechel just minutes after making the winning bid — $100 — for a specially engraved Carmelite drinking mug that was the first of dozens of items auctioned during the 2013 Carmelite Fair, held annually on the spacious, well-kept grounds of the Carmelite Monastery on Holladay Boulevard.
"They pray for us every day — this is what they do," Mechel continued. "So I come every year prepared to give what I can for the sisters.
"Besides," she said, smiling playfully as she contemplated one of the side benefits of buying a bona fide Carmelite drinking mug, "from now on when I come and bring this mug I get free beer!"
The Carmelite sisters have been in Utah since 1952, when they came to what was considered Utah's "spiritual desert" from the Carmel of St. Teresa Monastery in Alhambra, Calif. The sisters make altar bread for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and are well known for the delicious jams, jellies and candies they make in their spartan kitchen.
But they are a contemplative order. So mostly, said Mother Maureen, senior among the eight sisters who currently occupy the monastery, they pray.
Which is good for the soul, she acknowledges, but doesn't pay the bills. Although they fall within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese, they are expected to be self-sustaining.
"The fair is our main support," she said after offering a simple, stirring invocation for the event. "We sell some jam and jelly and candy through the year. But this fair is so important to meeting our needs each year, and we are so grateful to everyone who makes this possible for us."
And then she and her colleague, Sister Therese, left the fair to return to the monastery to — what else? — pray for those who had come to participate in the fundraising fair.
Lou Bertram, a retired FBI agent who has been in charge of the Carmelite Fair for the past two years, said the community fundraising project started 44 years ago as a tea party. Through the years the project has grown and new elements have been added until it is now a full-scale community event, with food and beverage concessions; booths selling everything from baby clothes to Carmelite nun dolls to colorful rosaries; music and dance performances by Basque, Chinese, Venezuelan and Greek dancers; and a Kidz Korner with toys, games and inflatable toys for youngsters.
Bertram said the biggest money-maker for the fair comes courtesy of Christopher Kia, which has donated a car for which people can enter a drawing in exchange for their $10 donation. There is also a 5K "Run for the Nuns" fundraiser (also known as "The Race for Grace"). And thousands of dollars will also be raised through silent and public auctions conducted at the fair Sunday.
"We have more than 200 baskets filled with all kinds of great things for the silent auction," Bertram said, gesturing toward tables loaded with baskets filled with Halloween goods, Christmas decorations, University of Utah and Jazz gear and other attractive items.
Then he pointed out several dozen people seated under an open-air tent. "These folks are waiting for the auction," he said. "There are some really interesting things for them to bid on," including a roll-top desk, a basketball autographed by Karl Malone, furniture, an expensive Nativity set and a big basket of different kinds of wines and liquors.
"We have a great time here at the fair," Bertram said, "but really, what you see here is an outpouring of love for the sisters. We know they need our support financially. And we all feel like we need their prayers. So the way we see it, it's a fair exchange."
Pun — and prayers — intended.