By GAYDA HOLLNAGEL | La Crosse
GENOA, Wisconsin — Sister Mary
Dawiczyk doesn't always know where her next dollar is coming from but she
believes God knows.
"I do live by donations, and when I get low, I say, ‘Lord, I need
big monies,' so it's kind of a joke between us," said the 57-year-old
hermit who lives a life of prayer and semi-solitude in a bluffside coulee
off Highway 35 north of Genoa.
As an example, she tells how once when she was $100 overdrawn in her bank
account, a benefactor stopped by the same afternoon with a check for $300.
The money was enough to cover the overdraft and put her account back in
the black as well as provide her with the means to assist someone else who
"That's how it is with God," she said. "If you trust Him
faithfully, He will take care of you."
Following God's call
A Carmelite sister who was raised in Connecticut, Sister Dawiczyk came to
the Genoa area in 1998 after a benefactor and friend purchased the 55-acre
site and gave it to her for her hermitage.
She previously was part of a small group of Carmelite sisters who live in
a monastery on a ridge near Houston, Minnesota but she said she left there
in 1996 because she felt God was calling her to lead an even more secluded
Sister Dawiczyk sought help in her quest from the Diocese of La Crosse
which aided her in finding a place to stay and guided her through the
formal process of discernment developed for individuals wishing to live a
hermitical life in the diocese.
The process was developed by Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, President of the
La Crosse-based Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who at the time
was the diocesan director of consecrated life.
Sister Weisenbeck said she created the process for another woman who
previously had come to the diocese seeking permission to live as a hermit.
After researching it, Sister Weisenbeck discovered that Roman Catholic
Church canon law has very little to say about hermits.
In fact Sister Weisenbeck said canon law states only that a hermit is to
live a life of prayer, solitude and penance and to make a public
profession of vows.
The process ended up being published in a book which has been circulated
nationally and internationally Sister Weisenbeck said.
Among the requirements is that each hermit is to follow a Rule of life
that they compose for themselves said Sister Weisenbeck who recently was
quoted in a Newsweek magazine story about hermits.
The diocese's current director of consecrated life, Sister M. Stephania
Newell of the Alton, Illinois-based Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr Saint
George said there are five hermits living in the diocese.
Hermits typically are older women or men who feel capable of living a
solitary life Sister Newell said.
"They realize God wants them to intercede and sacrifice for the
Church in the world," she said. "There's not a stereotype. They
all come from different backgrounds. The common thread is they feel called
to serve God through prayer because their life is supposed to be based on
The diocese has seen an increase in the number of people interested in
pursuing a religious life on all levels including several young women who
wish to be members of women's religious communities, and young men who
wish to become priests Sister Newell said.
"They're realizing that God has a plan for their life, that He wants
them to serve the world in a special way," Sister Newell said.
"They see the distress our world is in, and they want to make it
Sister Dawiczyk made her temporary vows as a hermit in 1997 and her final
vows in 2001. Both ceremonies were presided over by the diocese's former
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke who is now archbishop of Saint Louis.
A life of prayer
Sister Dawiczyk said she rises each day at 5 A. M. and spends the morning
in prayer and solitude praying for everybody from nations to individuals
and for the Church and its people.
Afternoons are dedicated to work and prayer. Since the hermitage has
expanded from one wood cabin served by solar power to three buildings
including one that houses a simple chapel in the loft and a library on the
ground floor and one reserved as a guest house for individuals wishing to
come to the hermitage for retreats, there always is plenty to do.
Sister Dawiczyk has done most of the painting, staining and decorating
herself, aided by benefactors or friends who occasionally lend a hand.
The two main buildings are equipped with all the modern conveniences
including a telephone, microwave, and a television and VCR for watching
Sister Dawiczyk said she rarely leaves the hermitage usually for grocery
shopping or doctor appointments. Her mode of transportation, both on the
highway and around the 55-acre site, is a beige Ford Ranger pickup truck
which was a gift from a benefactor.
For earthly company she mostly relies on a white male Siberian husky named
Icon and two cats including one, a rust-and white-color feline named Tigee
who lives in a lean-to attached to the wood cabin.
As word about her hermitage has spread, Sister Dawiczyk said more and more
people have come either to visit or for a retreat. A monthly Mass
celebrated in the chapel often draws 20 to 30 people, she said.
Sister Dawiczyk said she doesn't charge
people wanting to stay at the hermitage but most people make some kind of
She believes God must want her to have the hermitage and use it to reach
out to others because her prayers about it have been answered.
"Everything I needed, I walked in and it was right there," she
said. "If I'm faithful to God, He will sustain me, and He has so
"This is God's work, not a man's work, and everyone who comes here
feels His presence so strongly," she said, adding that one need only
look at the state of the world to believe that people need a place of
quiet and solitude where they can find God.
"There's a spiritual warfare going on, its been going on for 2,000
years," Sister Dawiczyk said. "My main work is to witness to the
one true God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth."
About the hermitage
For more information about the Hermitage of Saint Mary, contact Sister
Mary Dawiczyk, W-1498 Spring Coulee Road, Genoa, WI 54632-8858; (608)
Directions: From La Crosse, take Highway 35 south to Stoddard, Wisconsin.
About two miles past Stoddard, turn left at the second scenic lookout to
Spring Coulee Road. Follow Spring Coulee Road to the bridge, turn left
onto dirt road before the bridge and follow road to hermitage.
About the consecrated life
Belonging to ancient orders or new institutes or being directly dependent
on the bishop, hermits bear witness to the passing nature of the present
age by their inward and outward separation from the world. By fasting and
penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the word
of God (cf. Mt. 4:4). Such a life "in the desert" is an
invitation to their contemporaries and to the eccleasial community itself
never to lose sight of the supreme vocation which is to be always with the
The Diocese of La Crosse has five hermits, four women and one man.
The ancient Order of Virgins known in Christian communities ever since
apostolic times has seen renewal in recent years. Consecrated by the
diocesan bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church
which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world.
Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special
eschatological image of the heavenly bride and of the life to come when
the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.
The diocese has three consecrated virgins.
Societies of apostolic life
These pursue each in its own particular way a specific way, a specific
apostolic or missionary end. In many of them, an explicit commitment to
the evangelical counsels is made through sacred bonds officially
recognized by the Church.
There are four priests who are members of a Society of Apostolic Life in
the Diocese of La Crosse.
Consecrated apostolic religious
These men and women consecrate themselves to God through the public
profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience
in accordance with a specific charism and in a stable form of common life
for the sake of carrying out different forms of apostolic service to the
people of God.
Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
Religious community of women based at St. Rose Convent, 912 Market St., La
Purpose: The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration consecrated their
lives to God who calls them to live in community in order to be signs of
the unity of a life in Christ and an instrument for extending the kingdom
of God. Centered on the Eucharist, the Sisters follow the Gospel after the
example of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Third Order of Saint Francis
Saint Joseph Congregational Home, 1300 Maria Drive, Stevens Point,
Purpose: To minister to unmet human needs such as health
services, education, social work, respite care, administrative/clerical
work, spiritual direction, counseling, pastoral care, services for the
homeless/AIDS victims/abused women.
Sisters of Saint Francis of the Martyr Saint George
Provincial House, Alton, Illinois; local convent, Mater Redemptoris
Convent, La Crosse.
Purpose: To make the merciful love of Christ visible.
Benedictine Sisters of Pontifical Jurisdiction
1190 Priory Road, Eau Claire, Wis.
Purpose: To seek God through communal, liturgical and personal prayer and
through work. Work includes ministering to the people in the local church
and promotion of gospel values.
Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest
(American Headquarters), 429 Grand Avenue, Wausau, Wisconsin
Purpose: Members of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest make
available the Mass and sacramental rites as well as other special
devotions according to the 1962 Roman Missal.
Consecrated Contemplative Life
These institutes completely devote themselves to contemplation composed of
men or women and by their lives and mission imitate Christ in His prayer
on the mountain bearing witness to God's lordship over history and
anticipate the glory which is to come.
Order of Cistercians
Our Lady of Spring Banks Abbey, 17304 Havenwood Road, Sparta, Wisconsin
Purpose: A monastic order with a great variety of apostolate including
education, parish work, house industries, retreat, spirituality.
There are five men in this community in the Diocese of La Crosse.
Public Association of the Faithful
These men and women are a newer community in the Diocese of La Crosse who
are in the process of reaching full recognition by the Church.
Institute of Saint Joseph
11386 Hwy. Q, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Purpose: The members embrace a mission "...to make God present to the
world and the world present to God," by promoting and pursuing the
universal call to holiness as diocesan priests, laity-single and
married-and monastic men and women who live according to the nine elements
found in the life of Nazareth: Silence, contemplation, poverty, chastity,
obedience, prayer, study, work and charity.
They have nine priests (mostly diocesan), two men religious, one woman
religious, 27 married, and 15 single members.
For more information about any Roman Catholic religious vocation,
contact Sister Stephania Newell at the Diocese of La Crosse, Office of
Consecrated Life (608) 788-2690.
Published - Sunday, July 17, 2005, in
the La Crosse Tribune. Reproduced with permission.
Gayda Hollnagel can be reached at (608)
791-8224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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