The vocations of consecrated virgins and hermits are rooted in the early Church, and the rites were revised in the 1970s. Because the commitments are individual spiritual journeys, there are few if any vocation outreaches. Men and women who answer the call often say that the Holy Spirit led them there.
According to Judith Stegman, president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (consecratedvirgins.org) and a consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, there are about 250 consecrated virgins in 109 dioceses in 39 states. They live in the world and are obedient to their bishops.
“Some are employed by the Church, and many are in health care and academic fields,” she said.
“I’m a CPA and have a degree in canon law. It’s not so much what we do but who we are as brides of Christ. Whatever her work, she’s a witness to the spousal love of Jesus.”
Candidates to become consecrated virgins enter discernment and preparation under a spiritual director.
“It’s not vowing, but she is consecrated by the promise to live in virginity and is consecrated by God at the hands of the bishop,” Stegman said.
Hermits seek a personal intimacy with Christ and devote their lives to the praise of God and to the salvation of the world through prayer.
They include ordained priests or deacons who surrender their clerical status, or diocesan hermits who are men and women (some previously married) who make a profession before their bishop, to whom they are obedient.
Though they live apart from the world, they are spiritually connected to the world.
“The prayerful presence of a consecrated hermit is quite significant for the local Church,” said Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has one hermit. “When an individual makes the decision to formally lead a solitary life of prayer and fasting, they do so to be alone with God — not just for their own benefit. More importantly, they do so on behalf of all members of the local Church.”
Here are some of their stories.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
LINDA ANN LONG, CONSECRATED VIRGIN | WOODBURY, MINNESOTA
A priest friend returned from Rome in 1990 with information about consecrated virgins and told cardiologist Linda Ann Long, “This is you.”
| Courtesy photo
Long, a convert with a deep faith life, put the idea aside. Three years later, another friend asked her why she had never considered the vocation.
“The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me alone,” she said.
During Holy Week in 1995, she told a priest, “If you think I should pursue this, I will. If you think I should forget about it, I will.”
That summer she professed her consecration in Rome before her friend, Cardinal Paul Augustin Mayer, OSB, the first president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. She now had official recognition to what she had been living privately.
Once on clinic rounds, a woman noticed her ring and asked about her husband and children. Long told her she wasn’t married and started explaining her vocation.
“She interrupted and said, ‘I understand. You’re married to Jesus,’” said Long, 72, who is retired from medical practice.
SISTER JUDITH WEAVER, HERMIT | DIOCESE OF LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
Sister Judith Weaver leads a quiet life of prayer and meditation; she reflects on daily Mass readings and takes frequent walks with her little dog, Cuddles, who, she said, is also quiet and is “the perfect hermit dog.”
| Judith Weaver and her dog, Cuddles. Courtesy photo
She sought the eremitical life in 1996 after being a writer, editor and health aid, and after she went through the discernment process with two religious communities.
“I felt drawn to more solitude, more quiet time and reflection,” she said.
Sister Judith, 75, has an apartment in a senior community in the small town of Paris, Arkansas, and lives off her social security. She attends Mass, weekly Eucharistic adoration and a monthly potluck social at a nearby parish.
The simplicity of her life, she said, allows her “to remain conscious of the experience of God.”
BROTHER JOSEPH REISCH, HERMIT | NAZARETH HERMITAGE, AVA, MISSOURI
Brother Joseph Reisch made 400,000 fruitcakes when he was the baker at Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri. When he stepped in as handyman at nearby Nazareth Hermitage after their priest/chaplain became ill, one of the sisters asked if he’d ever considered the eremitical life. As a Trappist monk, he already had an aptitude for solitude and inspiration from an elderly monastery hermit.
He professed his vows as a diocesan hermit in September 2014 following three years of discernment. He is one of two men and five women who live in the laura — an ancient design of dwellings circling the chapel.
In the winter, Brother Joseph, 54, chops wood for their heat, and the rest of the year he tends a garden and does repairs. In January, the hermits prepare liturgical incense to sell year-round on the internet.
“The life of a hermit has a great deal of solitude and quiet prayer, and there’s contemplative time just for walks,” he said. “A person who lives a life of prayer strives for certain ideals in terms of self and a purity of heart in fulfilling Jesus’ counsel to pray at all times. We believe in the power of prayer and the primacy of prayer. There’s something in each of us hermits that has led us to this particular life. But everyone is called to pray.”
FATHER FABIAN ROSETTE, HERMIT | Mt. CARMEL HERMITAGE, CHRISTOVAL, TEXAS
Father Fabian Rosette (pictured above in main photo), 68, didn’t have as much time to pray as he wanted when he was a parish priest.
“I was doing all kinds of good things — visiting homes and hospitals, marrying people and burying people — and I would fall asleep when I started to pray,” he said.
“We have some very holy priests, but it wasn’t working for me,” he added. “I needed to go the center of what had called me to live my life for God.”
In 1990, Father Rosette became a hermit with the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel, where he is now the superior. There are three brothers and one other priest whose lives are dedicated to prayer and to making jams, jellies, fudge, bread and other products to sell online.
“We live a simple life,” he said. “It takes a lot of dedication, and you really have to be in love with the life to say, ‘This is for me.’ You’re going to be here for life. You’re going to be buried here. That’s as simple as it can be.”
DR. CARA BUSKMILLER, CONSECRATED VIRGIN | ST. LOUIS
Cara Buskmiller couldn’t find what she was looking for in cloisters and convents, but she knew, she said, that she “wanted to belong to Jesus.” She also knew she was called to be a physician who brings Catholic teachings into the medical field.
| Courtesy photo
A year and a half ago, she found graces in the call to be a consecrated virgin.
Buskmiller, 27, puts in long hours as an ob-gyn resident at a hospital in St. Louis.
“I pray the morning and evening prayers, liturgy of the hours and attend Mass whenever I can,” she said. “Sometimes the midday prayers get lost, but this residency won’t last forever.”
Being a bride of Christ requires a unique heart, she added. “You have to be a little gutsy to live in the world and stay pure.”
BROTHER RICHARD WITHERS, HERMIT | ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA
Brother Richard Withers, 62, was raised as a Jew, entered the Church in 1975, and six months later took private vows that began his search for vocation. The journey took him to two religious communities, then to an eremitical life in 1980. He was consecrated in 2001.
| Brother Richard
He lives in a home by woods and a stream near Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and works one day a week for income. The rest of his time is spent in formal prayer, praying for intentions and praying for the world.
“The contemplative life is not just about ‘praying for,’ although that’s extremely important,” he said. “There’s private prayer and meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, and it’s also about just being present to God and just living with God. Prayer can be done any place, under any circumstances. If God can be present in concentration camps, he can be present in a hectic day. This journey toward God is a journey that all of us should be taking, hermit or not.”