Tuesday, October 1, 2013

ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX, SR. JEANNE McNULTY, AND THE FRANCISCAN APPALACHIAN HERMITAGE






autumn light in l.a..

If you're ever in Spencer, West Virginia, and want a rustic cabin, solitude, and a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, the Franciscan Appalachian Hermitage is the place for you.

Sr. Jeanne also has a killer memoir--Voice for the Hollers: A Journey Into Solitude and Solidarity in Appalachia.

Here's my piece from this month's Magnificat.


October 1: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Tuesday, October 1

For thirty-seven years, Jeanne McNulty has lived in a holler in Spencer, West Virginia: praying, embracing a simple lifestyle, gardening, gathering firewood and reaching out to some folks in her rural county by nursing the sick in their homes.

There are modest hermitages in the woods there where folks, for a small donation, have come to spend time in deep solitude, take long walks, or sit quietly in the straw bale chapel which houses the Blessed Sacrament.

Jeanne is a member of the Order of Consecrated Virgins (Canon 604)* and she also belongs to the Third Order of St. Francis.

The first time I visited the hermitage, I immediately knew she was a normal human being with a deep and authentic inner life. First, she came out from her cheery red-painted house to give me a hug. Next, she invited me in, sat me down, and made me a grilled cheese sandwich with home-made pickles. And the minute she found out I was a writer: being a fledgling at the art, she exclaimed, "Really! How do you get an agent?"

At the time I was contemplating writing a book about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the virginal French nun who had entered the cloister at the age of fifteen, discovered that "My Vocation is Love!" and died in agony from TB at the age of twenty-four. Our culture, would say of such a life, What a waste! How neurotic! In The Story of a Soul, Thérèse's autobiography, I saw something deeper: a freedom, a fierceness. "The Little Flower" was not less passionate than any other beautiful girl her age, but infinitely more.

One night Jeanne invited me to dinner.

"Have you always wanted to be alone?" I kicked off the conversation.

She replied: I have always felt the call to celibacy and drawn to spend many hours in solitude. Even as a very young girl I sat in the church by the hour, looking and listening, and one day I "heard" - "I want you."

She said, "When I chose a life of solitude in the holler, I didn't feel the prison gates were clanging shut behind me. I felt as if the gates of heaven were opening." The mountains provided the cloistered solitude her heart longed for. She still had her struggles, including occasional loneliness, but hunger for a man wasn't one of them.

"I like men, she said. "I have many relationships with men, lots of priest friends. It's easy for me to open up to them. But" - a girlish smile spread over her face - "It's Him I want. Christ is my all. It sounds strange, I know, especially coming from one such as I. But the fact is that one man wouldn't be enough for me. . . "

That's a modern-day Thérèse of Lisieux. That's a woman in the fullest, most fecund flower of self-giving love.

*Canon 604 is a public consecration in the church bestowed by the bishop of the diocese. It is relatively new in the church, since the seventies when the Rite was brought back. It is the oldest form of consecrated life in the church dating back we believe to the time of St. Matthew the Evangelist.

a shower of roses

5 comments:

  1. Sometimes I wish you had a "like" button for blog posts! Love this and I just ordered Jeanne's book. Perhaps I'll make it to the hermitage someday for a retreat.

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  2. I love everything you write....all your photos as well!!

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  3. I love your work, and just found this blog today. You have always captures my attention through your words in the Magnificat. Say more....

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  4. Hello, Heather: Blessings on this day! I read your article in Magnificat yesterday, St. Therese's feastday and was just so taken by Jeanne's story and wondered how fabulous that holler must be for her. I thought it so honest that she said "It's Him I want," and so she knew and went forward in her life with that knowledge and followed HIM! How many of us (me - number one) have not done that even when we knew from the beginning that it was HIM!? I'm learning to listen to what He has to say in my old age. HA! Really took me a long time. I want to thank you for your wonderful articles on the saints in the "Year of Faith Companion" from Magnificat. Spot on, my friend. Keep up the good work. You're a precious gift to us all.

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  5. I live in Big Chimney, WV - it tickles me to death that I learn about something this wonderful located 40 miles up the road, from someone living in L.A.!

    I pull Shirt of Flame off the bookshelf a few times a month to look at this or that. I guess I need to read it again. Thanks!

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