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Br Derrick Turrentine making first vows with Carmelites on June 12 in New York

The 41-year-old convert has been a novice with the Province of St. Elias since last summer.

(Derrick Turrentine)

Br Derrick Turrentine, a novice with the Carmelites, will profess first vows as a lay religious brother on Monday, June 12, in Middletown, New York, the order has announced.

The Mass will take place at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, near where Turrentine has been in the novitiate since last June. 

“Like St John of the Cross, I'm beginning my own ascent of Mt Carmel, towards Christ, our Lord,” he told BCM this week.

“I am grateful. He spares no expense in both bringing me home and making it to the end of my earthly purpose. For every prayer you invested in vocations to the religious life, I am in your debt. Thank you.”

Born and raised in North Carolina, Turrentine graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in sociology, before obtaining a master’s from the University of Chicago. A convert to the faith, he studied in a Baptist seminary before joining the Catholic Church while serving as a social worker.

He told BCM that his call to religious life was bound up in his conversion story, which first began during his youth.

“My transition is unusual in that I think my call to religious life came before I became Catholic,” he said.

“I had been thinking about being a ‘monk’ since high school but I thought that life died out with the Middle Ages. Until one day, a mentor—in my last conversation with him before he died—stopped me from joking about being a monk. He asked, ‘And why haven't you considered it?’,” he recalled.

“All that time, I had just been waiting for permission to pursue that kind of life.”

Turrentine, then still a Protestant, joined an Anglican third order before realizing his call to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience required a more significant shift in his faith affiliation. He began catechesis at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Lynchburg, Virginia—the same city where he had attended seminary.

“After a lot of reading, studying, RCIA, and talks with a Catholic friend, I decided that I believed what the Catholic Church teaches,” he said.

After further discerning his vocation while serving in volunteer ministries in his parish, he originally entered formation with the Carmelites in 2019. He re-entered in August 2021 and completed philosophy studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he will return for theological courses in the fall.

He says he was drawn to the Carmelites by their ancient status in the Church, and their continued commitment to visible religious life in the world with their characteristic brown habit—which Turrentine calls “a living icon/reminder of Jesus, the Intercessor.” 

“The more I learned about the charism, the more I felt a kinship with the order,” he said.

He received a habit of his own last summer in New York, three years after first entering formation. Now 41, Turrentine is one of roughly 30 African-American Catholics in formation for the priesthood or religious life in the United States, a fluctuating number that reflects low retention numbers among young African-American Catholics, but also the continued interest in the faith among Protestants and others—resulting in conversions.

“I was 39 at the time [of my original discernment], and knew that I was on the edge of eligibility in most orders these days… I wanted to find a home. I had already spent so many years wandering,” Turrentine said.

Soon, his home will be back in the nation’s capital with his Carmelite brothers at Whitefriars Hall in Brookland, where consecrated religious from around the world study in view of their vocation. Turrentine says he is grateful to just be one of them.

Monday’s vow Mass in New York will begin at 11am ET, and a livestream will be made available on the shrine’s website.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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