Like St. Francis, who at different seasons in his life was led by the Spirit to live extended times in the hermitage, among the lepers, or on preaching tours, we are inspired to respond to the Spirit in a similar way. Following the tradition of the Third Order Regular, which continuously seeks to blend the contemplative and apostolic life, we have been inspired to establish structures for living which provide both the stability and flexibility needed to live as Franciscan contemplative penitents committed to works of mercy. Within our community there are three types of settings in which to live our way of life: monasteries, hermitages, and mission houses. These settings are not separate branches; rather, together they form a whole which provides for our overall contemplative-active rhythm of life. Therefore, depending on the setting in which we live, there will be times and seasons when the contemplative or apostolic dimensions of our life will be given greater emphasis. Each setting is an essential part of our contemplative penitential form of life and is significant to the way we are called to live the charisms and mission entrusted to us.
Pictured above is Our Lady of Sorrows Monastery in Toronto, OH. This is the only monastery that we have established at this time. Our monasteries provide the foundation, stability, and unity for our threefold way of life. The main monastery in our motherhouse complex houses many of the sisters who serve in General Administration and their offices. The motherhouse monastery is also the central location for initial formation. Monasteries also provide care and fraternal support for elderly and infirm sisters. In the overall contemplative-active rhythm of our life, monasteries provide a stable contemplative and fraternal setting for sisters who have been assigned to a mission house or hermitage setting to be re-immersed in the broader fraternal life, work, and ministry of the community.
Our mission houses enable us to give a more visible witness in the world to the presence of Christ. While our life at the mission house is similar to our other settings, it allows for more flexibility and less in-house work so that we can focus our prayer and service toward meeting the spiritual and corporal needs of those whom we are called to serve. Currently we have three mission houses: Heart of Mary located in downtown Steubenville, OH; Santa Chiara located on the campus of Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH; and Greccio located in Gaming, Austria on the campus of Franciscan University’s study abroad program. Heart of Mary works with the poor in the downtown Steubenville area and the other two houses focus on campus ministry. Flowing from our life of prayer and fraternity, we seek to give ourselves generously for the particular mission of the house to which we are assigned. Each mission house usually has a corporate ministry that the house as a whole embraces. We value the visible witness of the mission house setting as an essential dimension of our community’s contemplative-active rhythm of life and esteem its apostolic fruitfulness as an indispensable contribution to our mission in the Church.
The hermitage setting enables us to live more intensely our contemplative dimension. As yet, we have not established the hermitage setting. This is a way of life that we hope will become a reality in the near future. Currently, we have four hermitages on our property that Sisters can use for extended times of prayer and solitude. When called to fully embrace the contemplative life in a hermitage setting, we imitate Christ in His prayer on the mountain, giving ourselves in communion with God and being drawn into a communion with all people through the Spirit. By embracing a deeper immersion into a life of prayer and penance, we seek to offer ourselves as a sacrifice of praise and adoration to God who is supremely loved and to offer ourselves as a sacrifice of love and intercession for all of God’s people. Because of the intensity of the life in a hermitage setting, careful discernment is given regarding the call and readiness and the length and type of the hermitage experience which would best suit the call of each sister. Through mutual discernment, those called to a hermitage setting for a longer period of time could be assigned either to a hermitage house where several sisters live together with private bedrooms or a hermitage cluster which would have a central chapel and refectory. These hermitage settings provide a stable form of contemplative life with an established common life of prayer and fraternity.