Sister Mary Beatrice Raphael, Hermit in Atlanta

“Sister Mary Beatrice Raphael wakes before dawn and walks down a narrow hall to begin hours of prayer. She lights the beeswax candles.
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Opening the hand-carved wooden tabernacle with angels adorning its front to see the Eucharist, she kneels as she prays in this bedroom converted to a private chapel. Later, she’ll spend time with books at her desk, where light floods the living room through a wall of windows. This modest family home sits on the edge of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit property. The song of the cicadas, along with the noise of passing cars, fills the air. Water spills over rocks into a fishpond. It is where Sister Beatrice, who has been on a journey of solitude for a few years, is living as a hermit…
Sister Beatrice’s vocation as a hermit outside a religious community is found in church law but is rare…Hermits in the past were members of a religious order, but hermits can also take perpetual vows before a diocesan bishop.
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Sister Beatrice made her promises to live as a hermit to Bishop Luis R. Zarama, whose responsibilities include those in religious life…
Today, Sister Beatrice, 64, prays and studies spiritual readings as part of the rhythm of life. She’ll do work to keep up the house and the yard, which she rents from the monastery. In addition, she helps once a week to care for elderly monks in the monastery infirmary. Her day begins at 4 a.m. with vigils and ends at 8 p.m. after prayers to close the day.
She was married, divorced and received an annulment. Her son’s family lives in Chicago.
Sister Beatrice lives on her Social Security income and other funds she received by selling her possessions. Books like a natural world study of “Dragonflies and Damselflies” together with “Spiritual Combat” are found in her library. A nearby Bible is open to the Song of Songs. On her arm, almost hidden by a sleeve, is a wrist rosary. Prayer for her isn’t just time spent in her chapel, but she considers studying and working as prayer.
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Twice a month, she’ll drive to the nearby Publix store for groceries and pick up other supplies. It’s an unusual experience, she said, adding she feels “out of place.”
She’s been living this solitary life for three years, two on her own and one year to test her vocation. In a hot and humid chapel at the monastery in August, Sister Beatrice pledged to Bishop Zarama “to live poverty, chastity and obedience for three years according to my personal Rule of Life as a hermit.” The handwritten document with her promises stated in black ink: “With joy I seal this covenant.””
An extract from


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