Lucille Dupuis, The Poustinik of Estes Park

Lucille Dupuis – 1934-2014 – the Poustinik of Estes Park
Lucille Dupuis
“She was a wild woman. Her large black eyes flashed fire. Her jaw, square and strong, shouted determination, iron determination. Her grey hair was never quite tidy, it always felt wind-blown as if the Holy Spirit were always somehow blowing her around. Yet she was solid, very solid, a squarely built woman, large feet planted squarely on earth.

Lucille Dupuis was born into a complex world of French Canadian immigrants to New England, her mother’s people humble lobstermen and fishermen from Prince Edward Island, her father’s people much more elegant Gauls from Quebec and Nova Scotia before that. She loved both sides. But her parents were humble people, much reduced in the world: they lived in a trailer in their later years.

From earliest childhood she wanted to passionately love God. But she could not find this passionate love confirmed or nurtured anywhere, not enough. Surely the Catholic schools of her girlhood, her Catholic college in the Connecticut where she was raised taught her the Faith as one learns items in a catechism. But her soul craved more, and she found it at Madonna House, in Combermere Ontario.

The love of her life was God. But the form in which He came to her above all was in the person of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Russian born foundress of Madonna House. It may be that Lucille was in fact destined to be her successor.
Poustinia book
She certainly lived years of a rigorous formation in places like Whitehorse – living for years with the Indians in the Sub-Arctic wilds of western Canada. But something went wrong and Lucille was expelled from the order without a word. Catherine utterly ignored her after that, treating her as if she did not exist.

Lucille’s world collapsed at that time, and with the collapse of the outer world came the collapse of her inner world as well. With God’s grace, and the help of good people, she regained her equilibrium. She lived for awhile in Newport with Ade Bethune, one of those figures of the generation of Merton and Day and de Hueck and de Vinck, Catholic lay intelligentsia giving birth to the Church in post-immigrant America. She found a livelihood being a nanny for the large families of Naval officers, based in eastern Virginia. She lived with and served them at Guantanamo base in Cuba.

Hungry for the living Spirit of God, she became taken with the charismatic movement in the Church –and the Spirit of God whisked her off to Estes Park, Colorado, where she felt called to go – and listen for God’s further word. And so it emerged: the dream that became “Our Lady of Tenderness Poustinia.” The Lord sent her companions, and together with them, and with the help of many, she organized and had built a beautiful chalet with two poustinia (prayer) cabins on isolated acreage surrounded by National Forest: God’s Holy Mountain.
Lucille Dupuis 3
She developed an entire spirituality of the holy mountain, the place of prayer – relying on Scripture, and prayer experience. Finding friends in the Catholic world, and perhaps even more in the world of Evangelical Protestantism, she became a living link with God for many. Available to anyone for spiritual conversation, in person or on the phone; offering the cabins where one could go to meet God and themselves.

She early found support in the Church. Archbishop Stafford visited, and was so impressed he gave her permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in her chapel, and donated a set of vestments for her house of prayer. Many years later, Auxiliary Bishop Jim Conley would visit and also savor the deep grace of the charism, of the place.

Lucille had many trials and many struggles “on the mountain.” Some of them came from without, sadly, from the local parish which long disowned her, and from an archdiocese which showed no interest in her profound self-donation, and lifetime of prayer and fasting and sacrifice for God – and her availability to hundreds if not thousands of hungry souls. People would come to her with their wounds –and perhaps she especially drew wounded people, who all too often would wound her and leave her bleeding alone.
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She herself was a wounded soul. Perhaps her one great error was living without a spiritual director, for the soul who ventures into the world of God all alone runs a terrifying risk of identifying themselves with God. This is especially so if the soul is spiritually gifted and so cut off from the ordinary run of humanity. Combine that with a prophetic vocation, and grave dangers become inevitable. Church authority played very little positive role in her life, yet though often tempted by the goodness of her many Protestant friends she remained a loyal Catholic. Still, the benefits of Church authority – spiritual guidance above all – were simply not to be had in her part of the world, and she was left on her own. This was not helped by the very strong-mind which had created this poustinia in the first place. Our vices are the obverse of our virtues. Her great tenderness and concern at times could be overshadowed by a wounding harshness which had more of the Old Testament prophets to it than anything quietly flowering in Mary. She was an imperfect vessel of God’s grace, but one who had said “yes” to God, and let herself be consumed by His plan for her life.

Lucille had planned her funeral well for some years. She was concerned about the many pines killed by the beetle infestation of the Rockies, and had suggested to a neighbor that he develop a small industry of transforming the forest of dead trees into pine planks and then shaping them into coffins.

It was in one of those coffins that she was lowered into the earth, on a beautiful snowy day in early February. Having given her all to Her Beloved, she has entered into His rest, and her great reward. God chooses the weak to shame the strong of this earth. Lucille was weak and wounded, considered crazy by the rich, the strong, those whose “sanity” rests on money and power and social mores. Perhaps her more disturbing confrontations could be considered “crazy wisdom” by the Tibetan Buddhists (for whom she would have had no time, alas). Certainly she who did not hesitate to call authority to keep young campers from building fires on the mountain would understand the prophet who summoned she-bears to kill youthful miscreants.

She could be fierce and wild, and yet in the midst of that storm that was Lucille there was a peaceful and gentle and tender center, known fully to God alone, refreshing many in their – in our – desperate moments.

May she enter into the heart of Our Lady of Tenderness and through it the eternal embrace of Her Beloved.
Fr. Raymond Gawronski, SJ February 2014”
An extract from
Lucille Dupuis 2
“Death came suddenly for Lucille Claire Dupuis Jan. 27. But the poustinik was ready.
As keeper of Our Lady of Tenderness Poustinia (hermitage) in Estes Park, the 79-year-old had been cultivating her heart as a sacred place where God could dwell, and helping others to do the same. For 31 years, she prayed for her own salvation, that of the world, and for the Archdiocese of Denver.
Poustinia, Russian for “desert,” refers to the tradition of going into the wilderness, alone, to fast, pray and listen to God. Dupuis felt led by God to establish the poustinia on the secluded 80-acre site in 1983. As caretaker and spiritual director of the poustinia, Dupuis was a “poustinik,” one who lives permanently in the “desert” much like a hermit.
With her death, due to complications associated with pneumonia, Our Lady of Tenderness is closed. Anthony Lilles professor of spiritual theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and close friend of Dupuis said he and the other members of the poustinia’s board of directors are praying and discerning how to continue the apostolate.
“We think it’s vital for our times,” Lilles said, “because Christians now more than ever need places where they can find solitude and silence to listen to God.”…
“I will lure her out into the wilderness and there I will speak to her heart,” Dupuis told the “Denver Catholic Register” in 2002 quoting Hosea to describe the spirit of poustinia.
At Our Lady of Tenderness people could go for a minimum 36-hour stay in a rustic cabin to fast on bread, water and tea and feast on the Scriptures—the only reading permitted.
“Not everybody can go off into the wilderness and fast on bread and water for two to four days or longer,” Lilles said, “but I do think that as part of our regular Christian lives we need to make it a priority to withdraw from the world to enter the silence of God—to renounce and to fast so there’s space for God in our hearts, so we can see the truth. We as Christians can only thrive when we live by the truth, the truth that God has for us.”
Lilles goes on poustinia a couple of times a year. The first 24 hours he simply “crashes” from exhaustion and the overstimulation of modern life.
“The second day that you’ve been fasting you get used to the silence and you begin to feel more alert,” he said. “The Lord begins to speak to you through the Scriptures in more acute and forceful ways.
“There is a monotony (to poustinia), which is part of the solitude and silence,” he admitted, “but hidden in the monotony are moments of grace where God reveals truths about yourself, things that need to be changed, and God reveals things about himself and his great love for us.”
Lilles said the experience has helped him confront sin his life and has deepened his relationships with others, particularly with his wife and children.
“When you step back you see some of the broken ways you relate to each other and you realize that’s not really what you want for life. And as you submit that to God, he begins to disclose new ways of relating and a deeper way of being with each other,” Lilles said. “That’s one of the greatest blessings for me.”
The founding of the poustinia and Dupuis’ ministry here was the last chapter in a faith-filled life that ended being offered in intercessory prayer for the archdiocese, her friends said.
Born Aug. 6, 1934, in New Haven, Conn., to French Canadian immigrants Herv’e and Marie (Arsenault) Dupuis, she attended St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford where she met Catherine De Hueck Doherty, founder of Madonna House Apostolate in Ontario, Canada, and proponent of poustinia.
“I went to Madonna House for four days in 1954 and it changed my life,” Dupuis told the Register in 2002.
She became a 20-year member of the apostolate, which is a house of hospitality where celibate laypeople and priests live in community. She was present when Doherty, a native of Russia, introduced poustinia to the members as a way for them to deepen their prayer life and relationship with God.
“(Poustinia) means, geographically, a place like Sahara, but it also means more,” Doherty told them. “It means the lonely place that souls sometimes have to enter, to find the God who dwells within them. Or it means a wild and lonely place to which a hermit would go to seek God in solitude and silence.”
Doherty, whose cause for canonization is being considered, later wrote a book, “Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man,” which is now a spiritual classic.
When Dupuis left Madonna House, she was uncertain about what God was calling her to, Lilles said.
“She was alone at a lake and cried out ‘O Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!’ It was a kind of prayer of the heart, which expressed both love and trust, but also sorrow and heartbreak,” Lilles said. “Then she said she heard an echo across the lake—not an echo of her own voice, but another voice that called to her ‘O Lucille, O Lucille, O Lucille.’ She had already entered into what many of us seek, a deep love affair with God. It is this profound love of God that opened her up to come to Colorado and live a life of solitude and prayer.”…
An extract from

“Maybe sixteen or seventeen years ago, we were relatively new in our parish in Estes Park. I believe I casually mentioned something about possibly being interested in becoming a deacon.
Someone said, “You should call Lucille Dupuis.”
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s a holy woman who lives up on top of a nearby mountain. She’d be a good one to talk with.”
And so I called and went to visit Lucille. The twisting, precarious, single lane rock and dirt road to her self-designed wooden cabin was not for the faint-of-heart. We settled into her place, which she had named Our Lady of Tenderness, overlooking a beautiful and idyllic scene at 8,000 ft. elevation in the Rockies.
We talked for a while – mostly me sharing my journey up to that point. I remember saying to Lucille, “I don’t really know why I’m here.” She replied with a smile that spans countless years of forming people, “I know exactly why you’re here.” It took me a while to determine that it was a part of God’s holy plan for my life, and for hers as well.
Lucille Dupuis was a prayer warrior. She was an outspoken, loving, and very direct holy woman. Over the years, we had countless visits. When we lived nearby, she would come for tea and cookies and hours of conversation. She called me “Thomas” and I loved to hear her say that, even though I always solicit “Tom” from others who speak of or to me. As a pure coincidence, a few years after meeting Lucille, I was accepted into the Archdiocese of Denver Deacon Formation program. And wouldn’t you know it, the Archdiocese chose Lucille to lead our wives, and sometimes us men, in spiritual formation. One of the great things she taught us was the power of intercessory prayer for others…
Lucille was what is called a Poustinik – from the word Poustinia. It’s a Russian word for ‘desert’ and a poustinik is one who withdraws from the world as you and I know it. Lucille had three small, one-person poustinia cabins built on her property — places for people to come and spend time in total summertime silence with the Lord.
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In a poustinia cabin, she would provide homemade bread, butter, tea, and the Bible. Nothing else. People ‘in poustinia’ would spend at least 24 hours, sometimes more in the beauty that God splashed throughout much of Colorado. Elk and deer and majestic eagles were common sites around her sixty-some acres. It was far more than the Rocky Mountain High that John Denver suggested in his music. Lucille would remain in continuous prayer for those in poustinia.
Lucille was a stubborn (and opinionated) woman. In December she caught a cold, and we believe it soon became bronchitis. But she refused to come down off her mountain. She would tough it out. Sadly, it became pneumonia and she finally relented in late January. She descended from God’s ‘holy mountain’ on January 27. Alas, it was too late. She died in the Estes hospital late that afternoon. A week later, she was buried on the grounds of Our Lady of Tenderness…”
An extract from Deacon Tom Fox at

A correction: when this post was originally published, it concluded with what was described as the website address for Lucille Dupuis’ Hermitage. I am very grateful to Sister Wilma (Diocesan Anchoress of the Diocese of Metuchen) for advising me that this was incorrect:

“Our Lady of Tenderness Hermitage in the Diocese of Metuchen is not related in any way to Lucille Dupuis, aside from our connection in loving prayer. I am a Diocesan Anchoress of the Diocese of Metuchen and the website is I believe the mix-up is due to the fact that Lucille’s site was named while mine is .com . I simply desired to make this known for your readers.
In union of prayer always, Sister Wilma”

I offer my apologies to Sister Wilma, and assure her of my unworthy prayers for her life and work.


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