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The Eremitical Life

(Sheila O’Handley)

            Throughout its two thousand years of evolutionary history, the Church as the People of God is the recipient and guardian of ancient and rich treasures. Consecrated Life, in its various forms, is one of its riches. Consecrated Life includes the monastic life of women and men, religious communities of men and women, societies of apostolic life, anchorites, consecrated virgins, and hermits or solitaries. The consecrated life of the hermit or solitary is known as ‘the eremitical life’ and has existed in the Church from its earliest beginning.

            The eremitical life, given its ancient place in the Church, is once again beginning to flourish. This renewal of the eremitical life or hermit life is noted in the Second Vatican Council’s documents: Lumen Gentium #43; Perfectae Caritatis #1; Ad Gentes #18; and as well, in Canon Law, especially Canon #603. Encouraged by these teachings, Bishops with their Councils are discerning the place of the eremitical life in their respective dioceses.

            The eremitical life is a gift from God to the Church, in and for the world, as a way of living the Christian life simply and joyfully. It is not a negation of life, or of the world. The essence of this consecrated life is to witness to the primacy of God - the Mystery of Life and to the Sacredness of all life. Simply stated, the hermit’s life is a faith statement that God is and that God is enough. The vocation of the hermit is rooted in the experience of knowing that she or he is loved by God. It is not an intellectual ascent but a heart-knowing, and her or his life becomes a response to, and witness to, this love.

            The hermit makes a public commitment within the faith community in the presence of the Bishop to live the eremitical life, which is celibate, obedient, and simple. Embracing the eremitical life is a commitment to, and nourished by, interiority, silence, solitude, study, and prayer. The hermit is ever mindful before God, of the needs of the universal Church, the local diocese, the world community, and all peoples.

            Respecting the importance of silence, solitude, prayer, study, and interiority, the hermit chooses to withdraw from society while honouring her/his place within the heart of the world, where family, friends, faith community, and the local community are a positive dimension of life. The dwelling place of the hermit is simple but moderate. The hermit may engage in a limited ministry according to her/his gifts, and to the needs of the Church, ever mindful that the primary apostolate is that of witnessing to the primacy of God’s love.                             

            On February 5th, 2017, Sheila O’Handley made her commitment to the eremitical life in the presence of Bishop Brian Dunn and the faith community of Holy Cross Parish, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

            Sheila entered the Sisters of Saint Martha of Antigonish, Nova Scotia in 1958. She ministered in this Diocese for several years before she made a commitment as a hermit in the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrabor, Newfoundland in 1993, and in the summer of 2016 returned to the Diocese of Antigonish. She presently lives in Port Morien, Nova Scotia, supporting herself with the art of weaving, and also with gardening, and offers a ministry of counselling and spiritual direction.