All posts by Anne Tschanz

Saint Romuald: Solitary to the Solitaries

In the history of monasticism, Saint Romuald and the Camaldolese appear as a bridge between the Desert Fathers’ eremitic tradition and the Benedictine monastic way of life. A precursor to the Carthusians, Romuald battled abuses and laxity in the Church, reforming existing monasteries and establishing new ones faithful to the Rule of St. Benedict.  A biographer deemed him “the solitary to the solitaries,” yet he was an incessant traveler, spurred on by the intense desire to bring souls to Christ.

Romuald was born to a noble family around the year 952 in Ravenna, Italy. The few facts we know about his life come from two principle sources: The Life of the Five Hermit Brothers by St. Bruno of Querfort and The Life of Blessed Romuald by St. Peter Damian (1007-1072). Peter Damian, too, founded and reformed many monasteries in the Romualdian tradition.

The abuses in the Church at the time were deep-rooted. When men could purchase or sell positions or spiritual goods in the Church (the sin of simony, cf. Acts 8:9-24), it is not surprising that sexual mores among the clergy also became lax. During his youth, Romuald too “felt drawn to the carnal sins popular in his day.” Yet, he was also drawn to solitude and was sincere in trying to amend his ways. Romuald’s monastic life began when his father Serge killed a distant relative in a duel over a land dispute. Romuald fled to the monastery of St. Apollinaris in Classe to do forty days’ penance for his father’s sin. There he was enkindled with the “fire of divine love” and asked for the monastic habit.

Romuald, who lived with the monks for three years, “perceived that some of the monks were living in laxity, walking along the broad way, while he was not allowed to take the narrow as his heart was urging him.” They took offense at his attempts to draw their attention to the Rule and plotted to kill him, though Romuald successfully avoided the trap.  He received permission to live near Venice under the spiritual leadership of a venerable hermit named Marino. Romuald was almost illiterate and when he was unable to sing the psalms, suffered raps on the head from Marino who admired his forbearance.

Through the Doge of Venice, Romuald and Marino were introduced to an abbot who was returning to his monastery in southern France. The two solitaries and others joined the abbot on his journey home where they began to live an eremitical life in the woods near the monastery. Soon the disciple became the master. Romuald “grew wondrously in virtue and surpassed the others on the journey of monastic life.” An elder monk later said of him, “This Romuald, the greatest in our times, lives sublime realities with great humility, not out of his own presumption but according to the Conferences of the hermit fathers, and taught us the right way.” Romuald’s regimen was severe. He once fasted for fifteen years, eating substantial meals only occasionally.

Romuald eventually returned home to help his father persevere in a monastic vocation. This was the start of a lifelong whirlwind of travel punctuated by long periods of solitude. He befriended the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, who became his devoted follower. Otto forced him to become abbot of his old monastery, St. Apollinaris in Classe, where the monks proved to be as obstinate as ever. After fruitless efforts at reform and “seeing that he now had less quiet and purity,” Romuald dramatically threw down his abbatial staff and went to Monte Cassino, the home of the Benedictines. During a grave illness, he was nursed to health by a fervent young disciple named Benedict.

After building a monastery in Pereo near Ravenna, Romuald was persuaded by St. Bruno of Querfort to promote an evangelization mission to the Slavs. From this endeavor came a “threefold good: a nice cenobium for those newly come from the world, golden solitude for mature members thirsting for the living God, and the preaching of the Gospel to the pagans for those eager to depart and be with Christ (martyrdom).”  This became the model for the later foundation at Camaldoli.

The scattering of Romuald’s disciples resulted from the collapse of the foundation at Pereo that some unfairly blamed on Romuald. In truth, though he founded many foundations, Romuald “thought of himself more as an abbot of souls than of bodies.” He had a “propensity to do the opposite of what people wanted, respecting himself and preserving his own virtuousness while succeeding in having others scorn, insult and defame him.”

Romuald moved to Istria (Dalmatia) where he lived in solitude for several years.  Over time, he received the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tears, and the profound knowledge of Scripture. He preferred to celebrate Mass in private because he could not contain his emotions.  When he learned that Bruno and Benedict had been martyred, he went to central Europe with a “tremendous desire to shed his own blood for Christ.” Illness forced him to turn back in Germany though there were many conversions.

Though Romuald desired this martyrdom of blood, the real life and death battle was fought in the monastic cell. Here the devil and his temptations were confronted. Here the riches of the world,  the battles that lay ahead, and his life of “petty, worthless activity” were presented to entice and discourage him. One night, a brother heard him say, “They have cast you down from heaven; what are you looking for in a hermitage? Go away filthy dog; clear off, you old snake!”

Whenever Romuald encountered monks resistant to reform, he “left in search of earth apt for bearing the fruit of souls.” One place was Val di Castro where he built a hermitage for his followers and a monastery for women. Here, “the blessed man was like one of the seraphim, divine fire beyond any comparison burned within him, and wherever he went he lit the torches of others with his holy preaching.” He also reprimanded secular priests and bishops who had purchased their offices through simony. So entrenched were abuses that Peter Damian wrote, “It is doubtful that the saint during his entire lifetime could really convert a bishop!”

Romuald’s reform embodied rigorous fasting, solitude and silence yet also brotherly love in community. His gift to the Church was to provide hermits with a structured, semi-eremitic life under a superior and a Rule. The Little Rule of Romuald, recorded by Bruno c. 1006, begins: “Sit in the cell as in paradise. Cast all memory of the world behind you.” Use the Psalms to focus your attention. “Above all, place yourself in the presence of God with fear and trembling, as one who stands in the sight of the emperor. Completely destroy yourself and sit like a little bird content with the grace of God. For unless its mother gives it something, it neither tastes anything nor has anything to eat.” The hermit’s principal ideal, aim or task, said Pope Benedict XVI, “is continual prayer (Lk 18:1), that is, constant union with God. There is no fixed time for mental prayer in the eremitic life, unlike other religious institutes, because prayer is to be unceasing, a kind of spiritual equivalent to breathing.”

A solitary once told Romuald that he was under no authority, that he alone decided what was best. Romuald told him, “If you are carrying the cross of Christ, you cannot forget the obedience of Christ. Go, then, get your abbot’s permission. Then come back and live humbly in obedience to him. Thus the building of your holy work, constructed with good will, will be built on humility and raised by the virtue of obedience.”

Peter Damian said that to be in Romuald’s presence was to feel as though you were standing before the majesty of God. The marquis of Tuscany said, “Neither the emperor nor any other mortal can frighten me equal to the terror that Romuald’s gaze gives me.” He was regularly besieged by people seeking guidance or healing. It was well known that a piece of bread blessed by him could cure the sick of mind or spirit. Nevertheless, this awe did not prevent an abbot who had purchased his office through simony from trying to strangle him.

Often, his own followers rebelled against him. One time, his monks were furious that he gave money to the needy that they wanted for themselves. They beat him with clubs and threw him out of the monastery. When a disciple who had been chastised for serious sins accused Romuald of the same,  Romuald was forbidden to say Mass for six months. During his first Mass after this unjust sentence, the radiance of his face startled those present. He was inspired to write a commentary on the psalms, no longer extant, containing grammatical inaccuracies in form, but none in spirit.

At one point, he remained in solitude for seven years, “observing perpetual silence without exceptions. Still, with a silent tongue and preaching with this life, he was able to do more than ever.” His last foundation was built at Camaldoli (c. 1023), where he established a hermitage and a separate monastery to receive guests. This hermitage “from its very onset was established by our fathers as lord and master over the guesthouse.” The owner of the land told Romuald that in a dream he saw, like the prophet Jacob, men in white ascending a ladder to heaven.

When his end was near, he went back to Val di Castro, where for six months he suffered greatly from diseased lungs. He died in 1027, yet fifteen years later, people still flocked to his tomb “to see the miracles God works through him. “Now,” wrote Peter Damian, “he shines in an inexpressible way among the living stones of the heavenly Jerusalem.”

It is believed that Romuald founded or reformed nearly a hundred monasteries and hermitages during his life. Today, there are two Camaldolese branches: the Camaldolese Benedictines and the Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona. Founded in 1520 as a reform by Bl. Paul Giustiniani, the Monte Coronese have hermitages only. The lone hermitage in the United States is in Bloomingdale, Ohio, where the silence is not disrupted by television or the internet. Its nine solitary cells stand, in original fashion, in a semicircle about the Church, the true center of the hermitage.

In 1960, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: “Their silence will make atonement for vain verbiage where so many talk, but few listen; their lives as hermits will repair for those human alliances where men communize to be anti-God. And for those who always want to be ‘alone,’ these saintly men will prove that the only aloneness is being without God.”

For more information, visit The book Camaldolese Spirituality: Essential Sources by Peter-Damian Belisle contains the five ancient texts of Romualdian spirituality. Camaldolese Extraordinary by Dom Jean Leclercq and Bl. Paul Giustiniani is a detailed look at the Monte Corona founder and his spirituality.

Born:  c. 952 in Ravenna, Italy

Founding of the Camaldolese Order:  1023 in Camaldoli, Italy

Died: 1027 in Val di Castro, Italy

Establishment of the Camaldolese Congregation: 1105 by Pope Paschal II

Spirituality: “Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ.”

Motto: Ego vobis, vos mihi (I am Yours, You are Mine)

The Eucharist and Vocations by Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.

By Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.

It is impossible to exaggerate the close relation between the Holy Eucharist and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

This is only to be expected once we realize that every vocation is a special grace from God, and the greatest source of grace we have is the Eucharist as Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion.

Faith tells us that Christ is really present on our altars, that He really offers Himself in the Mass, and that we really receive Him in Holy Communion. In each case, the Living Christ is now inspiring men and women to give themselves to Him with all their hearts and follow Him in the extension of His Kingdom.

The Eucharist, therefore, is the best way to foster vocations. This means that persons who attend Mass, receive Communion and invoke Christ in the Blessed Sacrament obtain light and strength that no one else has a claim to.

The Eucharist is also the best way to recognize vocations. Show me a man or woman devoted to the Eucharist and I will show you a person who is an apt subject for the priesthood or the religious life.

The Eucharist is finally the infallible way of preserving one’s vocation. This is especially true of devotion to the Real Presence. Is it any wonder that saintly priests and religious over the centuries have been uncommonly devoted to the Blessed Sacrament? They know where to obtain the help they need to remain faithful to their vocations. It is from the same Christ Who called them and Who continues to sustain them in His consecrated service.

Vocations begin with the Eucharist; they are developed through the Eucharist; and they are preserved by the Eucharist. All of this is true because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, still on earth, working through men and women whom He calls to share His Plan for salvation.

Son of Poland’s Prime Prime Minister Ordained FSSP Priest!

On May 29th, the Prime Minister of Poland, Beata Szydlo, and her husband, Edward, had the unique privilege of attending the first Mass of her newly ordained son, Fr. Tymoteusz Szydlo, at their home parish of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Przecieszyn in southern Poland. Father Szydlo is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, an order founded in 1988 and known for celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form. “Human words are unable to express the gratitude I owe You, my God,” Father said. “Therefore, I humbly ask You to keep me in Your holy service.”

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was founded at the Abbey of Hauterive in Switzerland by a dozen priests and a score of seminarians. Their mission is the formation and sanctification of their priests, using the traditional liturgy of the Roman Rite to worship Our Lord and to serve the Church across the world. Shortly after their foundation, they moved to Germany, which is now the location of their European seminary. They also have a house of formation in Denton, Nebraska. Currently, there are 270 priests and 132 seminarians in the Fraternity serving in 124 dioceses including 34 in the United States.

“This is not an easy road,” the Prime Minister said. “especially these days I think young people like them have an extremely important mission to fulfill. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for … all of my son’s fellow seminarians and for my son. I hope they will persevere and do a lot of good for everyone, for all of us. They are wonderful young people.”

Visit the FSSP website for more information.

Using the ancient liturgy as our well-spring, we form our priests in the traditions of the Church to serve at the altar and in the parish so that the fullness of Christ might enter the emptiness of the world.

The Church Celebrates Religious Brotherhood

On May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the Church in the U.S. celebrated the first ever Religious Brothers Day. The day is the brainchild of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Religious Brothers Conference, and highlights this often-hidden and under-appreciated vocation in the Church.

When I was thinking of orders that have brothers as members, I did not think of the Dominicans, but lo and behold, an article in the Catholic World Report talks about Dominican Cooperator Brothers, who have been a constant presence in the Order since the beginning! The Dominican Province of St. Joseph (Eastern Province) has produced a short video highlighting the work of the Cooperator Brothers.

I would guess that a common question asked of brothers is—why did you not become a priest? The call to brotherhood is  call from God, just as the vocation to the priesthood is a call from God, freely chosen.

A Franciscan brother once said to me that in a priest there is barrier of sorts in his role “in persona Christi.” A brother is a man who is standing shoulder to shoulder with you in the trenches. He is accompanying you as a brother would a brother. Yet, at the same time, there is a great paternity about brothers. The holy ones I have known offer wisdom, course corrections, and fatherly concern. Maybe they are more approachable than a priest, because they seem to be the confidants of so many and are “one of us.”

The IRL has a newly revamped website dedicated to religious brotherhood called fittingly  In it are links to religious communities and organizations that support and embrace the vocation to religious brotherhood. Some are communities exclusively composed of brother members and others are mixed communities comprised of both priests and brothers. Here are the ones listed who are Affiliates of the IRL but go to our website to see the entire list and links direct to the communities.

Alexian Brothers – a lay, apostolic religious community of brothers, bound together by religious vows, who dedicate themselves primarily to live in community and to participate in the ministry of healing in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Brigittine Monks – a monastic community, given to prayer and contemplation, according to the Rule of St. Augustine. This is an ancient way of life in its concept of the withdrawal from the mainsteam of activities of society; however, the monks seek to place its ancient traditions into this era, conveying its attraction and needfulness to the culture of our times.

The Brotherhood of Hope – a canonically recognized religious community of brothers who serve the new evangelization of Pope John Paul II, particularly by reaching out to lapsed and uncommitted Catholics, and are involved in college campus ministry and men’s retreats and conferences.

Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception – a congregation of priests and brothers, living in common according to the Rule of Saint Augustine, dedicating themselves to all the duties and offices of the pastoral ministry in the parishes where they serve.

Canons Regular of St. John Cantius – a Roman Catholic community of priests and brothers dedicated to a restoration of the sacred in the context of parish ministry, by helping others to rediscover a profound sense of the sacred through solemn liturgies, devotions, sacred art and music, as well as instruction in the heritage of the Church, catechetics and Catholic culture.

Conventual Franciscan Friars of St. Bonaventure Province – part of the worldwide Franciscan Order founded in 1209, they emphasize the “conventual” tradition and minister primarily in urban settings. The St. Bonaventure Province was founded in 1939 and its friars serve in Midwest parishes and foreign missions, in education and evangelization, shrine ministry and work with the poor.

Discalced Carmelite Friars, St. Joseph Province – followers of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, they live as brothers in community. With Mary as their patroness, they serve Christ and His Church through ministries of prayer, presence, evangelization and pastoral care.

Franciscan Brothers of Peace – a religious institute of brothers founded in 1982 by Brother Michael Gaworski to live and proclaim “The Gospel of Life” by devoting themselves to serving and defending the most vulnerable of our society.

The Friars of the Sick Poor of Los Angeles – a community whose mission and vision is to give themselves to God in the service of the sick poor and marginalized, whom they receive in God’s name as they follow Christ more closely while “living in the midst of the world.” Hope is the friars’ charism in which they assist the sick poor and marginalized to find meaning in their suffering and sickness as being redemptive, inviting them to a fuller life within the Church. The friars remain “Ever ready to tell them the reason for our hope.”

Institute of Charity – a religious congregation of priests and brothers, also known as the Rosminians, founded by Bl. Antonio Rosmini, whose ideal of “universal charity” underlies their way of life and emphasizes a desire to live closer to Christ and His teaching by trusting completely in divine providence and love of God.

Missionaries of Mariannhill – a pontifical mission congregation in the United States and sixteen other countries, comprised of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay missionaries, founded by Abbot Francis Pfanner. Their apostolate is to bring the Faith to those places where the Church is not yet established or has disappeared.

Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – a religious congregation of priests and brothers, dedicated to serving the needs of God’s family while witnessing the great love present in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Order of Our Lady of Mercy – also known as the Mercedarians, this is an international community of priests and brothers, founded in 1218, who live a life of prayer and communal fraternity based on the Rule of Saint Augustine and serve in schools, prisons, hospitals and foreign missions.

Salesians of St. John Bosco – a society of apostolic life made up of seminarians, clerics and laymen who complement each other to carry out St. Don Bosco’s apostolic plan in a specific form of religious life: to be in the Church signs and bearers of the love of God for young people, especially those who are poor.

Servants of Charity – a community of religious priests and brothers, also known as the Guanellians, they work with developmentally disabled children and adults.

Enroll Now for the Vita Consecrata Institute!!

The deadline for priests, religious and other consecrated persons to enroll in this summer’s Vita Consecrata Institute is fast approaching (June 1)!

The VCI is an enriching two or four-week program of graduate level studies in Spirituality and the Theology of the Consecrated Life. Held at Christendom College, the VCI is highly recommended for those preparing for vows and for those with formation or leadership roles in a community.

The 2017 courses offered are:

The Virtues in the Spiritual Life                                                                         (Rev. Brian Mullady, O.P.)                                                                                            This course examines the key moral virtues for successful living the consecrated life. These virtues are first summarized in general, then particular virtues are treated such as: prudence, religion, magnanimity, patience, and perseverance, etc.—and how to develop them in fidelity to a rule of life. The intention is to show that the consecrated life is both a call and a means to heroic virtue.

Scriptural Foundations of the Consecrated Life              
                        (Rev. Gregory Dick, O.Praem.)                                                                              This course will examine the Scriptural foundations of the consecrated life as found in the Gospels and other New Testament writings, especially those of Saint Paul.

Ecclesiology and the Consecrated Life                                                           (Rt. Rev. Eugene Hayes, O.Praem.)                                                                     This course presents the ecclesiology of Vatican II, and an examination of the nature of renewal and the ecclesiology of communion. The topics covered serve as a basis for developing an ecclesial spirituality that emphasizes the universal call to holiness and the need for all the baptized, but especially those in the consecrated life, to participate in the life and mission of the Church.

Vatican II and the Consecrated Life                                                                (Rev. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem.)                                                                             This course examines the documents of Vatican II, along with the post-Conciliar teaching on consecrated life, especially that of Pope St. John Paul II, including Redemptionis Donum and Vita Consecrata.

 Click here to see the flyer and for enrollment information. Limited scholarship money may be available.

Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy at the St. John Paul II National Shrine

Late in 2016, two sisters from the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy were sent  to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, to minister to the many pilgrims who come to this sacred place. You will know these sisters as the community which St. Faustina entered in 1925 and received the revelations of God’s Divine Mercy for our times.

The Knights of Columbus announced the establishment of a shrine dedicated to Pope John Paul II in 2011. It has proven to be a popular pilgrimage spot for visitors to the capital, especially K of C groups and participants in the annual March for Life. The Knights first met the sisters  in Krakow at the Divine Mercy Shrine. They have worked together during World Youth Day, on the film “The Face of Mercy” and other projects.

Each day at the shrine at 3:00pm, the sisters lead the prayer for the Hour of Mercy. One a month, they host “Evenings with the Merciful Jesus” for young people. Other events and scheduled exhibits are held throughout the year.

A first-class relic of St. John Paul II’s blood is contained in a glass ampoule at the center of a reliquary in the Luminous Mysteries Chapel, for veneration by pilgrims. This relic was given as a gift to Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson by His Eminence Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków and personal secretary to John Paul II.

“We understand our presence in the shrine as a continuation of St. John Paul II’s mission to spread the message of Divine Mercy,” said Sister Gaudia, “the message about God whose love is greater than we can imagine.”

It is wonderful that many people are introduced here for the first time to the Divine Mercy message. “St. John Paul II called the message of mercy the message of hope for our times,” said Sister Donata. “We believe that this shrine, which attracts more and more people from faraway places, is a special place where people find new hope, which has the power to change their lives.”

To read the whole article in Columbia magazine, click here!


West Springfield Dominican Nuns – Back to Basics

In West Springfield, Massachusetts, on a busy street, up on a hill, is the Dominican Monastery of the Mother of God. Their presence there silently proclaims to the passers-by their faith in God and their desire to belong wholly to Him. Their foundress, Mother Mary Hyacinth of Jesus, entered the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, NJ, on September 8, 1908.  She was chosen by Bishop Thomas Mary O’Leary to be the foundress of their community: “Come, come to Springfield in the name of God and Mary. This will be our gift to Our Lady on the feast of her birth.”

They eventually took on perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and went from Third Order sisters to Second Order nuns. Life in modern times is more complicated for everybody, cloistered nuns not excluded, but they have striven in recent times to strengthen the essentials of their enclosed life, striving for the one thing necessary – union with God.

In 2008, reflecting more deeply upon their contemplative vocation after the nuns’ Jubilee Year, they decided to take back their traditional veil, believing that each nun should strive to become a mini “house of prayer.”  This was followed by the restoration of a simple grille in their parlors in 2011, as another reminder of their call to silence and withdrawal from the world.

Following the Rule of St. Augustine, they make solemn vows and follow Papal enclosure. The solemn chanting of the Divine Liturgy is at the heart of their day.  Their Eucharistic adoration and Rosaries flow out of this wellspring of grace, while study and lectio divina are a fruitful preparation for it.  They strive to make the Liturgy as beautiful as they can, all for the glory of God.

May Our Lady, who helped them to begin this work of love for God, allow it flourish through her special Motherly intercession.  Amen!