The Hermitages - Part 1 of 3: Pacem in Terris

On February 3 – 5, 2017 a number of men from St. Monica will be attending the St. Blaise Weekend Retreat at Malvern Retreat House. This will be a traditional retreat for men and will include Mass, conferences (talks), private Adoration, Stations of the Cross and more. Fr. Dennis O’Donnell, former Rector and Spiritual Director of Malvern Retreat House will be the Retreat Director for the weekend. BTW, there is still time to register and attend, even at this last minute.

Let me provide some background on retreats as it concerns priests. “Canon Law” is the practical application of the bible to day-to-day Christian life. For example, in the section about priests, we read that, “Clerics are to acknowledge and promote the mission of the laity in the Church and in the world.” Thus, in order for me to support you .. “Clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since, having been consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders, they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people.” Some of the ways a priest does this is “to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of sacred scripture and the Eucharist. Thus they are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours daily according to the proper and approved liturgical book. They are equally bound to make time for spiritual retreats. (Canon #276)

Therefore, yearly I go away for anywhere from 5 to seven days of quiet, silence (there is a difference), prayer, reflection and some one-on-one time with the Lord. I have gone to various retreat houses around the country - some large and impressive, some smaller and somewhat cozier.

I always look forward to spending this time alone and away. The “alone” time can take different forms depending on the style of the retreat house. At some retreat houses, you might be sharing space with other retreatants. You will definitely have your own “room” (usually quite small) but bathroom and shower space is typically shared. Meals are often “in common” with some places emphasizing a “no talking” rule merely listening to spiritual reading read by one of the monks. Other retreat houses have meals where conversation is the norm.

In our noisy, technologically pervasive society, I find more and more, I look for locations where intentional silence is available. Over the past years I have had the opportunity to have my retreat at a number of hermitages. Let me describe three of them over the next few weeks.

Pacem In Terris is in Isanti, MN and is located less than an hour north of Minneapolis. The grounds of Pacem include three miles of walking trails through woodlands, prairie and marshlands and feature a rich variety of plants and critter habitats, reflecting the awesome wonder of God’s magnificent designs.

When you first arrive, you are greeted in the modern community house, Our Lady of Pacem. The house features a large gathering room with a beautiful fireplace which is used for hosting evening meals for the guests and staff Monday through Friday. A simple, quiet chapel is used for celebration of Mass, staff prayer, prayer gatherings, and personal quiet meditation.

In the lower level, guest restrooms contain private showers, with linens provided. There is also an extensive exercise room for those needing more vigorous activity during their stay. A library is also available for browsing or relaxation. In addition, there are common showers available for retreatants staying in the hermitages.

The hermitages are the key feature of Pacem. (See my website for pictures). Each furnished hermitage features a one-room, mini-cabin that contains bed, table and chairs, an altar, a New Jerusalem Bible, a handmade wooden cross and icons, and a rocking chair in front of an extra-large picture window providing a magnificent view of the woodlands. There is a wardrobe for clothing and general supplies (flashlight, towels, washcloth, bedding, soap, coffee/tea, rain poncho, umbrella, insect repellent). One of the great features is a large, screened porch where you can lookout into nature from three sides.

Three “special needs” hermitages are located in one wing of the lower level of Our Lady of Pacem community house. Designed to be handicap accessible, they can be requested when guests make their reservation. Those requiring electricity for medical equipment or those with limited mobility during their stay would also appropriately use these rooms.

In the spirit of simplicity, there is no electricity or plumbing in the hermitages. A gaslight and candles provide light, and a thermostatically-controlled gas wall heater provides for winter comfort. A gas burner allows guests to heat water for coffee or tea and for personal grooming. The outdoor “biffy” is a short walk away and a commode is available in each hermitage.

One can eat meals in the community house with other retreatants and the staff. I preferred to really get the hermitage experience whereby daily I receive a simple food basket provided by the staff. This includes bread, fresh fruit and cheese - enough for one day. I also found that I needed to “augment” the menu with some of my own supplies.

One brings clothing appropriate for the outdoors: good walking shoes and boots (the trails and woods may be muddy), comfortable layered clothing (temperatures in the woods may vary from your home), and a sweater or jacket. Many people prefer lounging-type clothes and slippers for inside the hermitages as well as personal grooming items, one’s own personal Bible journal and reading material.


What I enjoyed about Pacem In Terris is that you could make the experience as radical or as social as you want. After 4 days in the hermitage, I went to enjoy lunch with the staff. A little socializing filled the tank and I was ready to return to the solitude and silence for a few more days.

Next week I shall describe a Benedictine retreat house a little closer to home here in Berwyn.



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