Brother Richard Scott Withers, an American Consecrated Hermit
“Brother Richard Scott Withers (born 1955) is an American consecrated hermit. In 1974, Withers converted to Catholicism and was baptized; shortly after, he started to live a religious life. In 2001, Withers was consecrated as a hermit by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Archbishop of Philadelphia. He was the first hermit to be consecrated in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Withers was born in California’s San Fernando Valley. He had seven siblings and his father was a mechanical engineer. Neither of his parents were practicing Catholics during his childhood; his mother was Jewish and his father was a “lapsed-Catholic”. He was raised culturally Jewish. When Withers was eight, his family moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. In 1974, he had an encounter with a group of Catholic activists at the bicycle repair shop that he worked at, which caused him to convert to Catholicism and be baptized. The same year, Withers left home for nearby Camden, New Jersey to live in and repair abandoned row houses.
After his baptism, Withers lived in a loosely affiliated religious community. While in this community, Withers almost got married but decided that he wanted to live a religious life instead. In 1984, he took private vows of “poverty, chastity and obedience” and became a hermit. Before taking his vows, Withers had looked into several religious orders, but he could not find one that he felt compatible with. In 1989, he and Sister Margaret McKenna moved into an abandoned row house that they began restoring, continuing their work even when their tools were regularly stolen by drug addicts. There, they founded New Jerusalem Laura, a treatment center for drug addicts.
Two years later, in 1991, Withers bought a derelict row house from the city of Philadelphia for $1 and parted ways with McKenna. This would become his hermitage. He fixed the building, which lacked doors, windows, or a working roof, and then went on to build furniture for it by himself. In 1995, Withers attempted to be recognized by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as a hermit but was rejected. After the 1983 revision of Canon 603, however, the option of being a hermit while independent of the system of religious orders became available; in 2001, Withers was finally consecrated as a hermit by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and took his public vows. Withers is the first hermit to be consecrated by the Archdiocese.
As a hermit, Withers lives in solitude. He does not own a car or television; he gets his news from the people around him and gets around on a bicycle that he found, broken, on the side of the road. Though he has an open door policy for people that come to visit him, he himself visits family only twice a year. He does have a computer, which he uses to keep in touch with other hermits via email. To earn his food and clothing allowance, which amount to under $5500 per year, Withers makes pottery to sell and works one day a week. At the end of each year, he donates any funds that remain to the poor.
Withers wakes up at 5 AM and then fills his day with prayer and chores, following his rule of life. He prays for 4.5 hours each day. Withers claims that “it’s in the solitude that I hear God best”.