A calling from the Lord to a life of solitude is what led Sister Mary Ann Burkhart to the vocation of eremitic life. Sister Mary Ann had been living in a community of religious sisters when she discerned that God was not calling her to community, but rather to solitude. After leaving her community, Sister Mary Ann approached Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades about becoming a hermit.
Hermits discern their vocation for three years before professing their final vows. Sister Mary Ann professed her final vows on Friday, July 6, at St. Mother Theodore Guerin Chapel in Fort Wayne, where Bishop Rhoades celebrated the Mass. The Church celebrates with solemnity the Rite of Perpetual Profession, by which religious bind themselves permanently to the service of God and the Church.
Bishop Rhoades began his homily by discussing the first reading Sister Mary Ann had selected. In this reading the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” The bishop explained that this passage reminds all of God’s tender love for all His children, and that “He loves us and is with us always.”
The bishop then spoke of how Sister Mary Ann became a hermit in response to God’s call “to devote her life to His praise.”
“Sister Mary Ann, like all consecrated hermits, is called to live a stricter separation from the world, to live ‘in the desert,’ so to speak, in order to live in communion with God,” he said.
This separation from society is a life of “profound communion with the whole Church.” Even though Sister Burkhart lives in solitude, he said she is “part of the praying community of the whole Church.” In addition, her life of prayer and penance is the “constant prayer of praise and petition which the Church offers to God.”
Bishop Rhoades noted the example of the patron saint of the day, St. Maria Goretti, whom he referred to as “a model of courageous fidelity to the Christian vocation” who teaches “the beauty and value of chastity.”
“St. Maria Goretti is an example for Sister Mary Ann and for all of us, of the radical choice of living the Gospel, of adherence to Christ,” he said.
He added that St. Maria Goretti reminds all that “the Christian ideal is possible” and can be lived intensely “with the grace of God.” He then explained that Sister Burkhart is embracing the eremitic life because she seeks to live the Christian ideal and knows she can only do so with “the help of God’s grace.”
This idea of seeking the Christian ideal was found in the Gospel reading at Mass. In this Gospel, Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Bishop Rhoades explained the passage, saying that the only way to discipleship is the Way of the Cross, “with the self-sacrificial love and the dying to self-centeredness it entails.”
“By following Jesus to the cross, we also follow Him to the resurrection,” he said.
He added that Sister Mary Ann is following Jesus to the cross in her consecrated life as a hermit. In addition, “all Christian vocations take the shape of the cross” and when these vocations are faithfully lived out, they “lead to the glory of the resurrection.”
The bishop added that Sister Mary Ann’s profession of vows is a reminder that “we are called to follow the Lord as His disciples.” Being His disciples means “following Him to death, death to self, in imitation of His example of laying down His life for others.”
As a hermit, Sister Mary Ann has embraced prayer and taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Her daily life consists of Mass, a Holy Hour, prayer and fasting. When in her home, she lives mostly in silence and does not usually interact with the outside world, except for viewing or listening to the news.
Her silence does not mean that Sister Mary Ann cannot speak to others, however. She is not to engage in group activities or gatherings, but is able to spend time with her family or talk with others at church.
Sister Mary Ann said that some people may find such a vocation boring, but she finds gratification in the eremitic life. She knows that this is the life meant for her, and that “just growing deeper with God” is her goal.
Her vocation has influenced the people in her life. Her daughter, Tina Schneider, said that her mother was “always a follower of her faith.” She said that seeing her mother grow in her vocation has made her want to grow in faith as well.
Another family member influenced by Sister Mary Ann’s vocation is her grandson, Jacob Schneider. Schneider, a second-year pre-theology student at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, referred to her as the spiritual leader of the family. “Her witness to Christ strengthens our family,” he said.
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