One of the Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel of Christoval, Texas walks and prays at sunrise. (Photo: Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary
of Mount Carmel)
When Sister Mary Diana, 83, of Springfield, Oregon, became
a consecrated hermit almost 40 years ago, she was among the first in the US. “There
were some, but not like what you’ve got now,” said Sister Mary Diana, who lives
with Sister Mary Magdalene, 89, who was also among the country’s first hermits.
If the ease with which hermits and hermitages can be found on
the Internet is any indication, more and more people are discerning the call to
a life of prayer and solitude with God.
To what does Sister Mary Diana attribute the increase in
hermitic vocations? “Let’s hope it is out of pure love of God, and wanting to
spend time with him every day of your life.”
One reason for an increase in the hermitic life is the fact
that when Canon 603 was promulgated in 1984, it allowed bishops to accept within
their own dioceses hermits who were not affiliated with religious orders.
Canon law allows men and women like Maria, who is now in her 60s and who spent the better part of her adult
life raising children, the opportunity to discern whether they have a call to
the hermitic life.
disappointing to Maria to learn that most Catholic women’s religious orders
would not accept her because of her age. Becoming a hermit, however, will give
her the chance to partake in the religious life.
who lives on the Gulf Coast, thinks the increase in hermits may also be a sign
of the times. “The call was answered in the early Church when there was heresy
and persecution,” she said. “The world had become so wicked; people could not
exist in it anymore.”
said it may also be indicative of the loss of religious orders. “Maybe the Holy
Spirit is renewing the hermitic life to bring back the orders we need.”
Sister Mary Diana agreed that some may be
turning to the hermitic life because of the culture’s moral decay. “You
cannot do anything politically because the cards are stacked against you,” she
said, but added that prayer, on the other hand, is always a good option,
because it is always successful.
Is the hermitic life lonely?
Although it would be easy to imagine the hermitic life as a
lonely one, Sister Mary Diana cheerfully dispels that idea. “How could you ever
get lonely in the Lord’s presence?” she asks.
sisters, who attend a Byzantine Catholic parish, have no structured
schedule at allwhich is a common feature of Eastern Catholic hermitsbut pray
and stay close to the Lord at all times. The Lord, however, brings
people to them, according to Sister Mary Diana.
She described one day in which she and Sister Mary Magdalene had a
strong desire to pray. Soon after they
began praying, a man showed up at the door and became part of their prayer.
This person was going through a difficult time, so the sisters stopped what
they were doing and ministered to him.
Several years earlier, after they built their first
hermitage in another area of Oregon, the sisters offered a cabin for retreats to
anyone who wanted to spend time alone in nature with God. “There was no
advertising, but people found us,” said Sister Mary Diana. “It became a steady
stream of them. We didn’t charge anything. Whatever they wanted to give was up
When it comes to communicating with people, however, the
sisters partake of very little in the way of technology. The only reason they
have a phone is because Sister Mary Magdalene has serious health issues. “No
radio, TV, newspapers,” said Sister Mary Diana. “I hear kids talking about iPads and Google. I
don’t know what they are and have no wish to know what they are.”
Martin, of the Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in
Christoval, Texas, said that although he does get lonely sometimes,
“There are probably people in cities who rub elbows with people every day, and
they are intensely lonely.” He added that being in a location where God is placed
first and the fact that he has hermit brothers around keep things from being
brothers have become like a family to him.
The hermitic life and the call to
A hermit in prayer. (Photo: Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary
of Mount Carmel)
living the life of a hermit, Brother Martin said he imitates Christ. “In the hermitic life one retreats from the
world, much like Christ did when he went off for 40 days in the desert to pray
or when he went to lonely places to pray,” he said.
may wonder how the solitary life fits in with the call to evangelize. “Believe
it or not,” said Brother Martin, “Protestants seem to identify more with what
we dointercessory prayer. We get a
lot of Protestant visitors. They see it in the element of the praying Church.
When people come they are evangelized by the place. When people come, they experience
the beauty of nature, and Christian art.”
seem to understand [the hermitic life] better than most Catholics,” he said.
“When [Catholics] see monks, they think we don’t do anything for anybody, but
when a person does a good thing, it affects everybody. It’s the Communion of
also said that a big part of the hermitic life is praying for the souls of
others. “The deeper into Christ’s heart you go, the more elevated you become.
It’s like being on a mountaintop, and you can see the whole world writhing in
sin, and you feel sorry for the world, and pray for the world.”
of their vocation, the brother hermits also make time for guests to the
hermitage. “Brothers take turns interacting with visitors,” said Brother
Martin. “We show them around. We try to be friends with people.”
ways, the hermitage sounds similar to a traditional religious monastery. The
difference, however, is that in a hermitage, the hermits live in separate
dwellings, and pray some of their prayers privately.
support themselves, the brother hermits make different kinds of bread, as well
as jellies, apple butter, and chocolate fudge. The hermit brothers take the
money and divide it by 12that is their yearly
budget. People also donate, and help
with the construction of the hermitage.
buy the hermits’ wares from their website, through
the catalog the hermit monks produce, or at the hermitage gift shop. Some of the hermits go to a particular
location to sell wares.
hermits must stick to a strict schedule, and, according to Brother Martin Mary,
it is physically demanding. The hermits
rise at 3:30 am each day, and when
they are not using that time to pray, they are taking care of the large
hermitage, gardening, caring for the goats and chickens, tending the grounds,
and digging ditches. There is time
allotted for a siesta during the day, but he said that many times they do not
end up getting around to it. Bedtime for the hermits is 8:30 pm, if the work for the day has been
Martin Mary said what visitors find most surprising about life in the hermitage
is the schedule. He said it brings a lot
of peace to him and the other brothers. “We’re happy and we are fulfilled
[through] surrendering of self-will and obedience,” he explained.
Maria is discerning whether she has a call to the hermitic life, she, like
Brother Martin, sticks to a strict schedule called an horarium. Some of her daily activities include prayer, daily Mass, lectio divina, meditations, study,
physical exercise, household chores, and gardening. “It’s a very intensely busy
life,” she said. “But it is all centered in silence and solitude, so you grow
to the point where you can hear and discern God’s word.”
comes to technology, Brother Martin and the other hermits, like Sisters Mary
Diana and Mary Magdalene, have no access to radio, TV, or newspapers. However,
since the brothers sell their homemade goods online, they must have access the
Internet in order to maintain the website and keep up with sales. During those
moments, a hermit brother is not allowed to access the Internet himself, but
must do it with his superior present or in union with everyone else.
way, we don’t get into any trouble,” said Brother Martin Mary.
brothers’ superior keeps abreast of current events, and informs the other
hermit monks of any life-threatening weather situations or major news events.
For example, on 9/11 Brother Martin Mary’s superior showed him and the other
hermit monks pictures of what occurred on the computer.
has not taken any private or public vows, still has access to a cell phone and the
Internet, but may have to give those up at some point if she decides to pursue
the hermitic life.
Recognizing the call
Prior to becoming a hermit, Sister Mary Diana was a
cloistered Dominican nun for 20 years, which she describes as a beautiful
vocation. Like Mother Teresa, though, she says she experienced a “call within a
call,” in which she discerned she was being called to life as a hermit.
“A seed was planted when I was in the monastery,” she said.
Sister Mary Diana said that although there was not much
resistance from her superior and the other nuns at the Dominican monastery when
she revealed she was being called to the hermitic life, there was a little
misunderstanding at first. “They felt
they were contemplative,” she said. “But
then they understood.”
Martin Mary, who has been a hermit for 12 years, said, “I felt like [the
calling] was deep inside me, looking for a life of prayer…believing that it was
a way of life. Prayer was something that was helpful to me a lot. I was growing
through prayer. I realized that it was the road I need to continue on for the
rest of my life.”
Martin Mary was raised Catholic, going to Mass on Sundays. When he went to college, however, he quit
going to Mass.
the influence and intercession of his mother, who had left the faith and then returned
herself, he started practicing his faith again.
made the decision to become a hermit, he met some resistance from his
family. “I am an only child, and to
think about a celibate vocation cancels out grandchildren for my parentsthat
was already hard enough to take,” said Brother Martin Mary.
dad, the disappointment also extended to Brother Martin Mary’s abandoned career
choice. “In college, I was on my way to med school,” he said. “I had taken the
MCAT, started on applications. It was hard to swallow for my dad. I had gone
from being a doctor to a shaky idea [of being a hermit.].”
was sure for me was if I went to med school, it would be another eight years,
24 hours a dayI wouldn’t have the time to pray a rosary, go to Mass,” he said.
“I was seeing that as a reality. If I go down this route, I could lose my
it was also hard for his mom to give him up.
He said the fact that his mom was such a woman of prayer, she was able
to overcome that. His father did as well, eventually.
In 1996, Maria started
saying the Divine Office, and the more she said the Office, the more she
started to hunger for a religious order. “I approached a number of them, and I
was told I was too old,” she said.
also had several impediments, though: a minor child, duties to family, and
student loan debt.
joined an email list in order to find out about vocations for older women,” she
said. She was reading posts about religious orders when she came across a post
in which someone identified himself as “semi-hermitical.” She did not know what
that meant, so she contacted the author of the post, who turned out to be a
superior over hermit monks. His order
had no corresponding women’s order. “It was kind of an eye-opener, that such a
life existed,” she said. From there, she
went on a quest, reading everything she could about hermits.
as her impediments were taken care of, she sought an orthodox spiritual
grew up as a fundamentalist Christian in heavily Catholic St. Louis, Missouri,
where she regularly saw nuns and priests. She converted to the Catholic Church
in 1992 after being vehemently anti-Catholic most of her life. Before her
conversion, she said, she faced an interior struggle. “I could see this beauty
inside the Church, and would be attracted to it, and think I was going to Hell
’70s, I became very ill, and on many occasions, the Blessed Mother actually
came to me in various ways, and brought me comfort,” said Maria. “At that
point, I dropped the anti-Catholicism…I stopped hating the Catholic Church.”
does one know he or she is on the right path? Maria said for her, it was after
years of study, years of saying the Divine Office, and spiritual direction.
think you may have a calling to the hermitic life, Maria said, “Don’t give up.
Read everything you can.” She said books such as Poustinia by Catherine Doherty and the early works of Thomas Merton
have really helped her in the discernment process.
to Maria, there is a lot of prejudice against the hermitic life. “Most people
don’t realize it exists,” and then there are others who “probably have a
negative, knee-jerk response to it.”
“My goal is to discern, step by step with my spiritual director, what God
wants,” said Maria.