The Called: Sister Mary Catherine Rose Giacobbe, Er. Dio.
Hometown: Newark, New Jersey
Education: St. Vincent Academy in Newark; Irvington High School; Lyons Technical Institute
Assignment: Hermit at the Flower of Carmel Hermitage in Harrisburg
You are one of several hermit Sisters in the Diocese. Explain what a hermit is.
People have approached me on occasions after Mass and while shopping, wanting to know, “What kind of a Sister are you?” When I respond, “I am a consecrated hermit,” they say, “What is a hermit? I have never heard of them.” Many do not know we exist. The Church recognizes the life of hermits in which 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.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (921) states it this way: “They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom they have surrendered their life simply because He is everything to them. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.”
What is the history of hermits in the Church?
When there was tumult in the Church after the great persecutions around the year 300 – the first wave – and again around the year 1000 – the second wave – lay people and monks guided by the Holy Ghost left their homes and monasteries to seek out solitary places in the desert to pray and regain their solemnity and fervor. And so, eremitical life was born. Later, some of the hermits were called out of the vocation to form religious orders.
We have many saints who lived as hermits, such as St. Anthony of the Desert, one of the Desert Fathers; St. Francis of Assisi; and St. Benedict, just to name a few. St. Mary of Clopas was at the foot of the cross with St. John and our Mother Mary; after the death of Jesus, she left to travel with her brother to find a place to settle in. She was called by God to live as a hermit. Her dwelling place was a single room attached to a church in Assisi. She lived a very holy life with God in deep prayer and contemplation for 40 years until her death.
What is the ministry of hermits today?
God is still calling His hermits to follow Him; we are so needed, just as they were in their time. I consider this the third wave; persecutions of Christians have not stopped. God continues to call ordinary people from all walks of life to be hermits. Even though the people themselves may be commonplace, the vocation is not. God places a desire in the heart of a person, and only solitary prayer will satisfy this desire to be alone with God in the silence and solitude of the hermitage within. In that solitude hermits make themselves vulnerable to temptations from the devil, and this becomes an opportunity for God to battle Satan through us. Satan cannot directly attack God, so we become the front liners, like the Marines, so to speak. Satan is attracted to our intimacy with God. We become the battleground. We become soldiers of Christ, and it is God who gives us the strength to endure.
How are hermits required to live today? Are you in solitude?
The Code of Canon Law was revised and promulgated in 1983. We have our own Canon Law. We are recognized by the Church giving our lives to the praise and glory of God and the salvation of the world with a stricter separation from the world in a life of silence, solitude and penance. We are not cloistered; we are in the world but not of it. Hermits do their own shopping, go to doctors, and attend Holy Mass daily.
One might think that the life of a hermit must be dull, uneventful and boring, but that is the furthest from the truth. It is full of love, joy, peace and excitement, to say the very least. How, I would ask myself, could being alone with the Great Alone ever be dull? To be loved by LOVE Himself, to grow and learn within the depths of your heart and soul where the Trinity dwells, to hear the silent whispers, day or night, to see yourself as God sees you, to become little, to hopefully become a beautiful flower in the garden that St. Therese spoke of, and most importantly to make reparation for our sins and the sins of the whole world in love and charity: that is what it is all about. God chooses you and says, “Come my little one, come be my bride; I await you.”
Each hermit has her own plan of life, inspired by the Holy Ghost, which is uniquely her own. It allows the Holy Spirit to work with each of us based on who we are. One can say that this is our road map, our journey – in a word, our “Yes.” This plan of life then needs the approval of the bishop. When we profess our vows at the altar, at Holy Mass, it is signed by the hermit, the vicar of religious, and the bishop.
We have a full prayer life chanting the Liturgy of the Hours along with Holy Mother Church; we have our devotions with our Mother Mary, spiritual reading and continued study within our hermitages. We study the history of the Church, the Desert Fathers, the saints. We partake in the holy sacraments of the Church and attend daily Mass. We have a monthly private Mass in our own heritage chapel to refresh Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament on our altar. It is also important that we live a well-balanced life of prayer, work and recreation.
Since you don’t have a job, how are you supported financially?
Hermits depend on God’s divine providence. We are not financially supported by the Church and must have a way to sustain ourselves and bring in income: by the work of hands, Social Security, or using the gifts God gave us. We are to have no impediments that interfere with our spiritual prayer life and must be debt free.
Some hermits have non-profit corporations that help in the promotion of the vocation while taking care of the needs of the hermitage through our website donations. We cannot and do not do it alone. Hermits were always known as “beggars.” It is through the goodness of our brothers and sisters in Christ who keep us going with monetary support to our vocation, providing us with our study books, a spiritual retreat once a year, and the expenses and upkeep of the hermitage and more. This allows our brothers and sisters to become partakers of our vocations and receive graces from God through their act of selflessness. God loves a generous giver.
We hermits live our lives, through the grace of God, with an interior detachment from the world: for God and God alone. Our lives are literally made up of assiduous prayer, sacrifice, and suffering for our sins and the salvation of the world. To be united with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ in their sufferings and to bring them before our Lord in prayer is a great joy and privilege from God, which is so needed today.
There are various types of hermits. One can live alone as a solitary hermit or be part of a colony of hermit Sisters which is referred to as a “Laura.” A Laura entails each hermit living in her own hermitage on the same land. There is a community aspect whereby the hermits gather on Sundays and feast days to share one meal in common, pray, and chant the Office (known as prayer of the Church) together. Other than that, they live in the silence of solitude with God in their own hermitage maintaining that intimacy with God. At all times they live in silence, even if working on the land together in the same areas. If a priest is not available, hermits leave the grounds to attend daily Mass and receive the sacraments. While traveling they remain in silence.
As I mentioned before, hermits are canonically approved by Holy Mother Church under Canon Law, Can. 603; we make our public consecration at Holy Mass into the hands of our local bishop. I am a consecrated Hermit Sister. I made my public profession at Holy Mass into the hands of our local bishop in Harrisburg on the feast of the Assumption, 1991.
Tell me about your upbringing, and how you became attracted to the eremitical life.
I was a cradle Catholic and attended Catholic schools most of my life. I was a survivor right from the cradle. I was a premature baby and weighed in at 2 ½ lbs. when I was born two months early. God had work for me to do for the Kingdom, unbeknownst to me.
I graduated in the medical and dental field and worked in the local hospital, with doctors and in dental practices. I am an extrovert and always thought of myself as the most unlikely hermit, but all things are possible with God. Everything is a grace.
Unfortunately, there was a time in my life when I left God and my Catholic faith behind. That lasted ten years, but God had another plan and did not let go of me. My dear family was so disappointed, and I know they never stopped praying.
One summer, my family invited me to visit my father who was living in Italy for part of the year. I said yes, but did not really want to go, for I knew no one and could not speak or understand the language. I did it for them, not knowing what God had in store.
Of course, you don’t go to Italy without visiting the Vatican, and so it happened. While standing before a bust of St. Peter on the wall, I had an interior spiritual experience with St. Catherine of Siena. The result was an instant conversion, like St. Paul’s. The rest is history.
Interesting to mention, my birthday is St. Catherine’s feast day. I took the name of Catherine when I professed vows and even made it legal in court, thanking God for sending her to help me come home to the Holy Catholic Church. St. Catherine and I have been traveling together ever since. I thank and praise God and my family who never stopped praying — my mom and aunt Katie, for sure. I returned home and ran to the first Catholic church I could find and had a most wonderful Confession. I came home indeed. I grew deep in love with our Lord and knew He was my God, my all. Only in God is my soul at rest.
When did you hear the call to religious life?
Some years later came “the call.” As I explored religious life, I somehow knew I was being called, but to what? I found a spiritual director. I began to seriously and prayerfully discern what God was asking of me. One day, Father called me on the phone and asked me to come to see him; he knew what God was asking of me. This was after at least one year of prayer and discernment.
I had no idea what was coming next, and when we met, he said, “You are being called to be a hermit.” A hermit! What is a hermit? I did not have a clue. I knew within my heart I wanted to give my life to God, unconditionally, no matter what or where. Father told me that it is a beautiful life alone with God, praying with Him, and bringing Him glory here on earth.
Wow, I thought to myself. Oh yes, I can do that with the grace of God, if He asks it. My heart overflowed with so much joy and peace. It was a beautiful and profound moment. And so my journey began. On August 15 of this year, 2021, I will celebrate my 30th anniversary as a consecrated Hermit Sister in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and under the guidance of Bishop Ronald Gainer. All things are possible with God; we need only to cooperate with His graces.
I would like to share one of my beautiful prayer experiences. I was meditating on our Mother Mary’s Sorrow from a special little book called Behold Thy Mother by the Servite Fathers. I began to write some personal mediations that came to my heart from that book. I was so touched.
I received permission to use my meditation along with theirs. I made contact through our local Catholic shop with Heart Beat Records. After prayerful consideration, they decided to record a CD of my meditation. I received reports of conversions having taken place within families and religious communities that were not praying in common any longer. A grace from God. I consider this experience the fruit of a hermit’s prayer.
You will celebrate your 30th anniversary on August 15. As you reflect on the past, where do you feel God calling you for the future?
I thank and praise God for His goodness to me. I know God has more work to do with me. His time, His way, His will. Praise and thank God! Yes, I am in the process, through the grace of God, seeking God’s Holy Will, of beginning a Laura for traditionally consecrated diocesan hermit sisters. Our bishop believes this would be a “blessing and powerhouse of prayer,” as he said. He is very supportive and welcoming of it if God should bring it about. I do have one hermit who hopes to join me when we have land, and others who are waiting in the wings. Now we have four solitary consecrated hermit sisters in our Diocese. We are also blessed with a hermit priest and a new group of Carmelite male hermits.
We are blessed and growing. As I said, this is our time again in history. We are needed, and that is why Our Lord placed it on my heart to do this work now.
We are living in very evil times; therefore, the hermit vocation is growing by leaps and bounds in many dioceses across the country. It was always this way, even in the early Church. When there was tumult in the Church, the hermits were called by God to fight the spiritual battle between good and evil. Our time has arrived indeed. History repeats itself. We become His soldiers because our prayers are powerful. We pray without ceasing before our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament in our private chapels. We intend to follow the spirit of Carmel, as the first Carmelite Hermits did on Mount Carmel in our daily lives.
Satan does not like us, he causes much spiritual warfare trying to stop us, and he knows he is defeated. God is indeed greater and we are His marines on the front lines. Hallelujah!
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Is God calling you? Do you feel called to the eremitical life? Would you like to learn more? The Flower of Carmel Hermitage is depending on God’s Divine Providence to bring good souls who are called to the eremitical life.
We would then be looking for land to purchase or benefactors to help purchase or donate land to us. The good news is that anyone who helps work toward this endeavor becomes a partaker in our mission, which is making reparation for our sins and the sins of the world in a life of prayer without ceasing, alone with God.
The Hermit Sisters will live in their own individual hermitages, coming together on Sundays, feast days, and holy days for a meal in common and to chant the Divine Office together in chapel. Other than that, we would live a life of complete silence and solitude.
Please pray for us as we seek to do His will and bring Glory to God here on earth. Our lives are total dependency on God. As of this very moment and with the permission of our bishop, we are looking for land that I can move to in order to build a few hermitages. This would allow us to bring women who are interested in joining to test the waters in their own hermitage. Currently, I live in a convent and have no place for them to come.
Hermits need to be in their own hermitages, alone with God, to experience the true and full life of a hermit and intimacy with God. Who knows? There may just be a good soul or souls that have land and a few buildings that they just don’t know what to do with and are waiting on God to give them their answer.
I pray that people will become excited about this prospect, in a time when we are most needed. It is for all of us, for the world. You can all become a part of this with us, support us in prayer, join the board if you are local, help with fundraisers, promote the vocation and live our spirit. We hermits, as part of our apostolic work, catechize and do spiritual direction, as we are inspired by the Holy Ghost.
Know my prayers are with all of you. May Our Lord bless you abundantly and Mother Mary cover you with her mantle of love and protection. For those of you who may be interested in learning more about this special vocation and the vision, I would enjoy hearing from you. You can go to our website, www.flowerofcarmelhermitage.org, to learn more and watch the videos.
Thank you for taking time and allowing me to share my life, my call, and the vision God placed on my heart. Please remember to pray, pray, pray, and say the daily Rosary: these are our special weapons of Love. I send you all my love and prayers. God bless, and Mary keep you all.
(Editor’s note: A Mass in celebration of Sister Mary Catherine Rose Giacobbe’s 30th anniversary will be celebrated on Aug. 14 at 9 a.m. at St. Lawrence Chapel in Harrisburg. Bishop Ronald Gainer will be celebrant for the Pontifical High Mass, and Sister will renew her vows. All are welcome to attend the Mass, and to send prayer requests to Sister at www.flowerofcarmelhermitage.org.)
(Interview responses submitted by Sister Mary Catherine Rose Giacobbe.)