Brother Marc Jozsef Lester G. Hallig, O.Carm. is a friar of the Order of Carmelites. He resides in  Carmel Spirituality Center & Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, better known as Ormoc Carmel, in Ormoc City, Leyte.

“[The seminary] was established in February 2008 as a gift to the Archdiocese of Palo, Leyte. It is built on land donated by the family of Melchor and Rita Larrazabal. It is located in Sitio Cantilong, Milagro, Ormoc City. It is in the highlands, pretty much like Tagaytay or Baguio, with cool weather, farms, fog, pine trees,” Br. Lester shares.

“The Order of Carmelites (O.Carm.) traces its roots to as far back as the Prophet Elijah, who is considered as the Inspirator of the Order. His followers used to live as hermits, but political unrest forced them to head to the lowlands, where they evolved into mendicants. In the 1200s the Carmelite Order received its official Rule of Life from St. Albert of Jerusalem. The Order of Carmelites, through the Dutch Carmelites, came to the Philippines in the 1950s.”

They recently started a small herb garden on the balcony of the seminary. “There was a day whenI needed basil for a pasta dish I was planning to cook. We decided to visit this neighbor who runs Atit’s Garden on their property. The neighbor was only too happy to receive us. When we told her we needed basil, she started asking us if we had so-and-so herbs. Since we replied in the negative, she began pulling out pots and pots of herbs, encouraging us to take care of them and enjoy them. Also, she is not a parishioner of ours since we do not run a parish. She is, however, a dear friend of Ormoc Carmel,” the friar says.

Basil is such a versatile herb that it has become a mainstay in many dishes.

This was how the seminary found itself with a pocket garden filled with herbs. They currently have “Thai basil, sweet basil, tarragon, thyme, stevia, oregano, and chives.”

“I personally water it every day, though we have a house staff that helps out whenever possible,” Br. Lester says. “It’s actually pretty easy and relaxing.”

Br. Lester tends to the pocket garden every day.

The harvested herbs make their way into the friars’ daily meals. “We use them every day in our cooking. Fennel is usually for the eggs and the boiled rice. Basil, thyme, chives, and oregano are favorites for many dishes. Tarragon, mint, and stevia are great for after-lunch tea,” Br. Lester says.

There are plans to grow more edible plants as soon as the space is ready for them. The seminary hopes to be able to involve the community in this endeavor. “We plan to grow more of them as soon as our property is already spic and span. There are plans to put up a larger herb garden for our community’s use. Vegetables are also being considered. Who knows, maybe in the foreseeable future we might open a café for our guests, since Ormoc Carmel is a tourist spot and pilgrimage center, too. Hopefully these home-grown vegetables and herbs will be served in dishes and drinks,” Br. Lester says. “Ormoc Carmel is also home to bamboo trees and other flowering plants. Recently we planted more pine trees and cherry blossom trees in the property since these thrive in cool climates such as ours.”

Mint and stevia make for a perfect post-lunch cup of tea.

The seminary’s residents are enjoying the harvests from their pocket garden. Br. Lester is particularly delighted. “For starters, it is very economical. We don’t have to spend much on commercially available ones anymore. I love that the herbs are fresh. It is totally different from the bottled, dried herbs in the supermarket. Makes me look forward to more kitchen creations. It is fulfilling also to be able to enjoy them on a regular basis,” he says. “It is uncommon to have such an herb garden nowadays, let alone have access to it. We share the seeds with friends who express the desire to start their own herb garden. Just last week I gave someone some basil seeds, which we have in abundance, and a sectioned thyme for replanting. Just looking at it and tending to it is quite therapeutic as well. This is God’s creations at their finest!”

Photos courtesy of Br. Marc Jozsef Lester G. Hallig, O.Carm.

For more information, visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel – Ormoc City.