Hermits called to a life of prayer and solitude


CHARLESTON — After 80 years and six children, Doris Hadden settled into a new life. She’s a hermit. But she doesn’t live in the woods.

Hadden took public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience last year before Bishop Robert J. Baker.

A lay Carmelite since 1956, she always felt her spiritual life had yet to be fulfilled. When her pastor at Holy Family in Hilton Head mentioned becoming a hermit, her search was over.

“I realized it was an additional step from the Carmelite life. That I would be in total union with Christ,” she said. “I’ve always been active in tennis and golf, and I love being with people, but I was being drawn away from all of that.”

Hadden, whose husband died in 1981, now spends the majority of her time in prayer.

“It’s a vocation of intercession, of prayer for the church,” said Father Stanley Smolenski, vicar for hermits for the Diocese of Charleston. “The hermit is no longer considered a recluse, because the hermit is allowed to have a job to support himself or herself as required.”

Regarding the eremitical life, Canon Law states, “… Christ’s faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.”

Since Vatican II, the church has canonically recognized the eremitical life, but only recently has the vocation begun to blossom.

Two years ago Elizabeth Menendez took vows.

She rediscovered the faith in 1988, and soon after sought out a religious order to join. None, however, seemed to fit her calling. Her journey brought her to a hermitage where she felt at home, able to live more closely connected to the Lord.

She, with the help of her spiritual advisor, created a rule by which she lives. All hermits create such a rule that is approved by the bishop.

“It says our desire to follow the Lord more closely through the eremitical life,” said Menendez, who goes to St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton. The rule includes a schedule for their daily routine, which includes going to Mass as frequently as possible. They also meet periodically with Bishop Baker.

Though neither Menendez nor Hadden work, hermits are permitted to do so to support themselves.

“We live a very deep spiritual life,” said Hadden, a former real estate agent. “The world can take you over, if you aren’t careful. Work shouldn’t interfere with spiritual life.”

Menendez and Hadden live separately in Hilton Head. While the life of a hermit is not conducive to communal living, hermits may live together in small number. In the Diocese of Charleston, they wear white tunics and a distinctive scapular according to their spirituality.

“I feel like I’m home,” said Hadden, now a member of St. Francis by the Sea. “It’s very rewarding — quiet and peaceful, but rewarding.”

Hermits live a solitary, simple life with minimal, well-chosen, exposure to the world. For Hadden that exposure included a visit from her son and his family for Thanksgiving.

For more information contact Father Stanley Smolenski, 34 Wentworth St., Charleston, SC 29401, (843) 723-5758.