For more than four years, Kathryn Bloomquist has prepared to formalize a life of solitude and prayer. Late last month, she made the final step and was consecrated as a hermitess before Bishop Paul Coakley and a few witnesses.
Now, as Sister Kathryn Ann of the Holy Angels, she will spend her days mostly in solitude, "lived to the praise of God and the salvation of the world," she explains.
It is a path she has walked for much of her life.
She moved to Kansas from Washington, D.C., with her husband, Len, in 1989 when he joined the faculty at Kansas State University. Eventually he became chairman of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work.
Even then, Sister Kathryn said, she chose a life of prayer and silence.
"He worked in the world, but he so believed in my calling. He protected me," she said of her husband.
"This life came about as we built this chapel. I was practically already a hermit. It just fit. It happened," she said.
Together, they constructed the native stone chapel, hidden even from their residence tucked away in the wooded hills near Manhattan.
She adopted the practice of a Benedictine oblate, focusing on the Rule of St. Benedict written 1,500 years ago. She prayed the Litany of the Hours and learned the Gregorian chants in Latin.
And then Len became ill. A rare cancer took his life just four months after they finished the exterior of the chapel.
She soon knew she wanted a more formal expression of her calling and began researching eremitic life.
She learned that particular calling began shortly after Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in the fourth century, predating even monastic life.
St. Benedict, one of the most well-known hermits, became so upset by the immorality of Roman society in about the year 500 that he left the city and took up residence in a cave. In time, however, he began attracting disciples, and he eventually founded a monastery and is known today as the Father of Western Monasticism.
Eremitic life continues today. Some hermits live alone, others are a part of religious communities.
"There is a resurgence," Sister Kathryn said. "I think it’s a response to the troubles of our times, and they are not small ones."
She contacted Bishop Coakley, who had just come to the Diocese of Salina, to ask that her vocation be formalized.
"I have been working with Sister Kathryn since shortly after my arrival in the Diocese of Salina," Bishop Coakley said. "For over four years, I have been privileged to guide and encourage Sister Kathryn in discerning her response to this very special vocation in the Church."
The Code of Canon Law recognizes a hermit "as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction."
In addition to guidance from the bishop, Sister Kathryn drafted her plan of life, which spells out how she will live her vocation.
"It is one of assiduous prayer, silence, solitude and penance. It’s an ascetic endeavor," she said. "I try to live in the utmost simplicity — the idea of poverty of heart, pureness of life. It means a simplicity of living, to gaze toward God so pure that he can commune with the soul. Nothing is loved like God is loved.
"I’m here alone, but everyone is with me because of my prayers. No one prays alone," she added.
She knows it won’t be an easy life to live.
"I lived a greater life of solitude and silence when I was married than after he passed away," she said of Len. "Then I became so exposed. Nobody had really seen me. Some saw me for the first time at the funeral.
"Now it’s not as complete with solitude. It’s more of a battle," she said.
She does leave her hermitage when necessary, although she relies on a close friend for many necessities. She prefers attending a Latin Mass in Maple Hill, 50 miles to the east, but that also forces her to cut short the time she spends in prayer. Other times she will go to Mass at nearby St. Patrick’s in Ogden because there are fewer people in attendance than her home parish of Seven Dolors in Manhattan.
Although she owns the home that she and Len shared, her income is meager. She accepts small donations and gifts of food or labor.
"I haven’t gone hungry," she said.
She supplements her income by making and selling rosaries via the Internet.
"A hermit with a Web site and e-mail. That’s very strange," she said, laughing. But, adhering to that tenet of simplicity, she has dial-up Internet service, not broadband.
And not unlike St. Benedict, she has been found by people seeking guidance and counsel.
"Some come to join in prayer, others to speak about their spiritual lives. It become a faith sharing," she said.
But she has strict rules, and people first must find her.
"People have to look for me really hard, and those are the only ones I’d permit to come. There’s really nothing out there that says where I am," she said.
They must make an appointment, and no more than two people may visit at a time.
"Most are not Catholic, but they have deep spiritual lives," she said. "There is some counsel. They really are seeking God: ‘What do I do? What does it mean?’ If the Holy Spirit enlightens me, I say something," she said. If not, she prays with them.
She is not looking to attract disciples, however.
"If more people came, it would disrupt my silence of solitude. But it also is charity," she said. "I will not turn them away.
Her advice to people when asked?
"Go to Confession," she said, and focus on what Jesus taught was the greatest and first commandment — "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."
"There’s so much attention to the second commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But the first commandment, that’s what this is," she said of her eremitic life. "You can’t separate the two. If you don’t have the first, the second is rote practice. The first makes the second. That’s what our Lord intended it to be, to become God’s love for us all."
Bishop Coakley sees Sister Kathryn’s life as a gift to the faithful.
"A hermit’s hidden life is a silent witness to the invisible presence and power of God’s grace at work in our midst. Our society highly values human activity and measures success by the results of our efforts. This vocation reminds us of the primacy of grace and the importance of silence in our busy lives," he said.
"Sister Kathryn’s consecrated life is a gift for the whole Church and to our diocese in particular. I am grateful for her generous response to God’s invitation to seek him in solitude and silence while devoting herself to prayer and the chanting of God’s praises," the bishop added.
Now that she has professed her vows, Sister Kathryn says her new life begins in earnest, with her bishop as her superior and her plan of life as her guide.
"Now I have to live it," she said.
Samples of Sister Kathryn’s rosaries can be seen on her Web site, www.wayofroses.com.
Printed with permission from the Diocese of Salina, Kansas.