Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 1, 2003
Hermitage restores a weary nun's soul
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
Dealing with irate boyfriends of pregnant young women, attending court hearings and sticking with these women through their birthing journey is a "24/7" commitment for Sister Pat Derbyshire.
And that pace takes a toll on even the most devoted individual.
Derbyshire is a Sister of Charity of St. Louis and she ministers in the Calgary Diocese's Elizabeth House, a home for young women who are pregnant and wish to keep their child or place the infant for adoption.
After five years of this ministry, Derbyshire felt overworked, tired and directionless.
"I believe Dante had a handle on some of those feelings when he wrote: 'Midway in life's journey I found myself in a dark wood, having lost my way.'"
But where could she go to find herself and her sense of direction again? Then she remembered reading a pamphlet that described a hermitage in Newfoundland called St. Mary's Place of Solitude.
Located in the Codroy Valley in southwestern Newfoundland, this sanctuary is owned and operated by St. George's Diocese which established this place as an eremitical way of life.
The hermitages are situated on 150 acres of land adjoining the Codroy River. Two hermits live on the property should one wish to have some spiritual direction or a directed retreat.
So the day Derbyshire got her sabbatical in 2001 she was off to Newfoundland to spend three months of blessed solitude.
"At this time, some old feelings of wanting to spend time in a cabin by the water surfaced," says the nun.
"When my sabbatical came I was tired. I felt the need for solitude and a reflection style of program. It would be a time to gather my inner resources together and quench my basic longing for solitude, but not the usual organized style of retreat.
"What I knew I needed was to be free - no expectations. This is very difficult for many sisters. You have heard the term 'good sister.' Well, that covers a plethora of meanings and expectations.
" I needed a model that would get my energy and enthusiasm back. I truly needed rest and to regain my focus.
"Life is more than business or just running from meeting to meeting. One has to be able to experience God in creation. This time of solitude was a way for me to get in tune with my spirituality."
Derbyshire spent three months at the hermitage. She built her own fires in the wood stove, cooked her own meals, took long walks, prayed and watched the seasons change as never before.
All of this had an overwhelming effect on her. Take a peek at her diary entry of Oct. 21, 2001. "Northern lights - wow - covered whole sky changing colours too. Some pink and red. I haven't seen those lights for years. Thank you creator God for such beauty."
Taking time to just to sit and absorb the beauty, to feel the breeze and the warmth of the sun, to just listen, put Derbyshire back in touch with God's natural world.
"I experienced a great sense of gratitude to God. Things become simple and slowed down and easier to comprehend. I remember one night there was a tremendous gale - rain, thunder, lighting all the beauty and scary stuff of night.
"The next morning the sky was pinkish - clouds floating by, still waters flowing down leisurely to the ocean.
"A lesson for life - storms aren't forever. Neither is the calm. I see these experiences, as one author calls it, catching grace. Our whole society needs a lot of catching grace."
Moving through that natural beauty restored another part of the weary nun's life - her health.
"The hermitage was not only good for my spiritual health but my health in general. Once I got into walking a lot, it was part of my contemplative moments.
"This style of spirituality helped me move more deeply into awareness of prayer in creation. I realized I pray better in creation. I am looking at walking and riding my bike as a life long journey with positive effects spiritually and health-wise.
"I know Elizabeth House will have its challenges and certain things will remain the same but I believe my time on sabbatical gave me skills and a healthier focus for my health life, work life and spiritual life.
"I have a simple formula for myself these days - eat well, exercise well, sleep well, pray lots, play my flute and read some."