The Hermitages – Part 3 of 3: Marymount
Priests are ordained to “promote the mission of the laity, who exercise their call in the Church and in the world. Thus clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since … they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people.” In order to do this, priests are bound to annually make time for spiritual retreats.
Over the last two weeks I have covered two places where I have gone to achieve silence, solitude and some “down-time” with the Lord. Last week I described a Benedictine monastery called Mount Saviour located near Elmira, NY. Previously I wrote about a retreat house in Minnesota (Pacem In Terris) which features a collection of actual, individual, hermitage cabins for a more serious experience of solitude and silence. This week I shall continue that same theme writing about an actual, real-life “hermitage” run by an actual, real-life hermit.
When Jesus asked Andrew and John: “What are you looking for?” they responded, “Teacher, where do you stay?” Jesus offers an invitation to share his very person with them in the words: “Come and see.” (John 1:37-39)
The Hermit Sisters of Mary are a Catholic community of Hermit Sisters living in the desert mountains of rural Idaho who seek God revealed in Jesus Christ and made known in the Catholic Church. Their home is the “Marymount Hermitage.” They are not cloistered religious, but their way of life is strictly contemplative. They live by The Rule of St. Benedict and model their lives after the Desert Fathers of the third century in Egypt. While they have a great respect and love for the ancient traditions of hermits, they try to respond to the Holy Spirit enabling them to live authentic contemplative lives of prayer in this day and age.
Now – an important full disclosure. Marymount is not a “retreat center” in the strict sense. It is a true “hermitage.” Marymount Hermitage was founded by Sister Mary Beverly Greger (who lives there) and Sister Rebecca Mary Bonnell (who has since returned to her original religious community in Oregon) and was solemnly dedicated by diocesan Bishop Treinen in 1984. They are committed in a special way to praying for the needs of the Church and the world and trust that, in union with Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, our repentance, reparation and adoration will bring all brothers and sisters to the joys of eternal life.
The Hermitage is located 125 miles NW of Boise and encompasses 100 acres of rolling, high desert and range land with fabulous views of the near-by mountains. The site, at an elevation of 3200 ft. above sea level, is on a mesa overlooking the river valley 200 ft. below. There are no sidewalks and a rough, mile-long dirt and rock road from Hwy 95 gives cars access (…most seasons of the year). There is ample opportunity for hiking and wildlife such as mule deer, coyote, rabbits, birds, and a few varieties of harmless snakes and lizards inhabit the land. Those with a pioneer spirit will find that the beauty and austerity of this vast land will lift their hearts and minds to God and bring them into genuine interior silence and exterior solitude.
For those desiring to withdraw from the world, to seek the Father, to hear the Word, and to be taught by the Spirit, Marymount Hermitage offers five hermitages and the support of liturgical, communal prayer, daily Mass (or “Communion Services” in the absence of a priest), Lauds and Vespers. “Our Father’s House” (the chapel) is always open for Eucharistic adoration and private prayer. Informal spiritual sharing with Sister M. Beverly may be requested and arranged upon arrival. Retreats are intended to be essentially solitary, however, and there are no formal spiritual direction sessions or retreat conferences offered.
The complex includes the chapel (with magnificent views of the near-by mountains through large windows behind the altar), a library, common house and five hermitages. As true hermitages, the houses have been primarily built to accommodate women discerning a vocation to this way of life. Nevertheless, visitors and retreatants who want to share in the sister’s life of prayer, solitude and silence are warmly welcomed.
I was pleasantly surprised when I first entered the “hermitage.” They are modern, fully furnished and secluded. They have a bedroom, a private bathroom and shower (with hot and cold water) and a “living room” area with wonderful views of the surrounding area. The hermitages (as well as the chapel) are not air-conditioned but the buildings are heated and a few hermitages include a wood-burning stove. They are equipped with a full kitchen area including refrigerator, microwave, counter space, cabinets and sink with hot and cold water. Sorry – no automatic dishwasher 😉 Cooking utensils are supplied but since one is expected to cook their own meals, you must provide your own food supplies. Their web-site provides a list of “suggested items to bring” arranged according to the seasons and local weather conditions (The week I was there, we had several feet of snow and -12 temperatures. I had providentially packed my snow shoes and I loved it!)
Besides the chapel, retreatants may use the common house which serves as a parlor and laundry facility. You are free to use the library to check out books for spiritual reading and study while you are here.
Having done sub-zero winter camping in tents eating dehydrated food, I found the hermitage rather “luxurious.” I was looking for quiet and solitude and found it there in spades. There were only two people there: Sister Beverly and I (and a hoot-owl who welcomed me every morning). I celebrated Mass with her and a few locals while I was there. Sister Beverly and I said Morning- and Evening Prayer in common. Otherwise I was alone with my own thoughts, reflections, conversations (fights, questions, suggestions …) with the Lord.
This kind of experience might not be for everyone. However, in our noisy, technologically pervasive society, I find that, more and more I am looking for locations where a more intentional silence is available. If you are seeking a place for prayer and retreat, these places have accommodations for you.