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Our Life in the Hermitage

The Capuchin Friars of the Pennsylvania Province have had a ‘hermitage’ for decades since the renewal of our life and Constitutions after the Second Vatican Council.  Recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA, the hermitage has been a dwelling place where friars who seek more pronounced solitude can do so while maintaining their lives in brotherhood. That dwelling has been in several different locations over time but has always existed with the same goal: providing an environment where human hearts can hear the Word of God in solitude.

The Hermitage: St Francis Friary, Pittsburgh, PAIn the days when St. Francis lived, he struggled with how God was asking him to live out his life of faith in the Lord Jesus. He debated whether to withdraw to a life of quiet solitude contemplating God’s goodness or to be active in preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus. With the help of close companions, he concluded that both were expected.

Prayer and devotionFrom then on, the band of lesser brothers ('friars minor') was always challenged by their Rule of life to guard “the spirit of holy prayer and devotion above all things (Rule V).” The early followers, just like Francis himself, were commonly preachers and evangelizers working to strengthen the faith of people in the towns and villages. Yet, also like Francis himself when not preaching, they often embraced solitude and quiet in the caves above Assisi or in isolated areas.

Francis wrote a special "Rule" for the brothers who sought solitude and periods of time to stay longer in caves or in quiet places. Often called the “Rule for the Hermitages,” this instruction is still guiding brothers who wish to deepen their experience of prayer, contemplation and silence within the Franciscan family. Throughout our history, the Capuchins have regarded the “Rule for Hermits” with special devotion and zeal. Even today, the Capuchins, originally called 'The Lesser Brothers of the Eremetical [Hermit] Life,' prize opportunities for quiet, deep and prolonged prayer as a call that is central to Franciscan living.  

A simple meal of bread and brothThe word 'hermit' can sometimes be misunderstood. In the minds of many, a hermit is seldom seen and certainly never heard. Perhaps that mental picture conjures up monks in the desert or eccentric street people. But St. Francis was drawing on the Church's tradition of the 'eremites' (from which we get the word 'hermit' in English). Hermits were single-minded men and women with a desire to choose the "better portion," like Lazarus' sister in the Gospel of Luke. St. Francis drew on the biblical imagery of Mary and Martha to describe two distinct roles for the brothers in a community of solitude. Martha was attentive to the needs of hospitality, while Mary sat at Jesus' feet to hear his Word to her. The Franciscan ‘hermit’ is both Mary and Martha, sometimes busy at work and sometimes attentive to what the Spirit will speak in prayer. (Lk 10:38-42).

Brs. Walt and Dennis at a local soup kitchenThe brothers who are assigned to this way of life live in a friary like other friars. The fraternity, however, embraces certain disciplines to enhance their experience of solitude. Currently three friars are living at the hermitage, participating in a daily schedule that brings them together five times a day for communal prayer, as Francis asked. Additionally, the fraternity works to build a prayerful atmosphere of silence where conversation and noise are kept to a minimum. There is no television, fasting is a regular part of each day (one daily full meal and a 'bread and broth' supper) and, in service to their neighbors, they volunteer at places that assist the poor and the needy.

The length of stay for any particular friar varies according to the assignment by the Provincial Minister. Yet, hermits are preachers and evangelizers like the other brothers of the Order. Each weekend, they participate in Mass on the Lord's day with the people of local parishes. They make every effort to preach and teach, sometimes offering retreats, while accompanying one another and witnessing to our life in fraternity.

This article is adapted from this season's CapContact. You can download the entire issue here.


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Capuchin Friars  ♦  Province of St. Augustine  ♦  220—37th Street  ♦  Pittsburgh, PA 15201  ♦  (412) 682-6011