Sister Mariam Sharbel Vianney

“She’d been forced to flee a difficult marriage.
Just as her father died of lung cancer, she learned at age 50 that she, too, had the disease.
Her beloved son moved out to start his independent life.
Both of her cats died.
And so the registered nurse who would one day become the one-woman prayer engine known as Sister Mariam Sharbel Vianney sat down in her quiet Salem house and said to God, “Wow, you have really stripped me. What do you want?”
“I heard in my heart, ‘I want you to turn this house into a house of prayer and I am calling you to be a hermit.’ I remember saying to the Lord, ‘Okay,’” Sister Mariam recalls now, four years after Archbishop John Vlazny consecrated her as a hermit sister in the Archdiocese of Portland.
“I believe our Blessed Lord has allowed me to experience many things so that they may be in turn used for his glory and for the good of Holy Mother Church,” she explains.
She wed in 1985 and had a son, Kristopher. But the marriage was full of peril — she doesn’t specify. Amid the hard times, in 1992, she had a dramatic conversion to Catholicism. Soon, she became a member of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, a public association of the faithful founded in 1980 by Catholic singer-songwriter John Michael Talbot. The group includes monks, nuns, singles and married people.
Her marriage could not be fixed and she received a divorce in 2001 and the marriage was declared null in 2004. That same year, she moved to Oregon.
Sister Mariam looks back at her family life and sees that she received graces, especially motherhood, conversion and compassion for those who suffer.
After her marriage was dissolved, she discerned and made private vows to live a life of celibacy for the Jesus and the church. On a retreat, it became clear to her that she should spend her life praying for priests as she went about working as a nurse, tending her Salem home and doing charitable works as an active member of St. Joseph Parish.
Her father, who had been living with her, died in 2008. She underwent surgery and treatment for her own cancer. It was while recuperating that she discerned God’s call to the hermit’s life.
She remodeled her Northwest Salem home into a holy hermitage but it slowly became clear that what God really wanted was that her heart become like a house of prayer.
In the spring of 2009, she wrote to Archbishop Vlazny, seeking his guidance on becoming a diocesan hermit. She met many times with Mary Jo Tully, the chancellor of the archdiocese, and with leaders of religious communities. In 2012, the archbishop granted her the privilege to profess vows and become a consecrated hermit.
Sister Mariam’s day begins at 4 a.m. with matins from the psalm-based Liturgy of the Hours, plus meditation and prayer for others, especially priests.
At 6 a.m., she prays lauds from the Liturgy of the Hours and attends Mass at 7 a.m. She has breakfast at 8 a.m. with spiritual reading and by 8:30 is doing what she calls “hermit work,” chores, study and exercise “with little burst of prayer as I putter.”
She prays from the Liturgy of the Hours at 10 a.m. and noon and has lunch at 12:45 p.m. with more spiritual reading.
By 1:15 p.m., she is studying, corresponding or buying groceries. Two days a week, she works as a nurse.
At 3 p.m., she prays the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the rosary for families and priests.
At 4:30, she takes a prayer walk, followed by more psalms and intercessory prayer.
Dinner and spiritual reading start at 6:30 p.m., followed by leisure time and letter writing. She does use email.
At 8:30, she prays again, remembering other people. By 10 p.m., she is asleep.
“This is the schedule, but really the life of the hermit is to be in the sacred moment, in union with God, continuously throughout the day, gazing, walking, praying, being,” Sister Mariam explains.
She calls her vocation “amazing grace.” It allows her to be more aware that she spends each moment of each day with God.
“Hermits do not do it for themselves. They do it for God and for the church,” she explains. “They do it for all those beloved brothers and sisters who have been called to a different vocation, who long to be with God, but who in their vocation are with him differently.”
If the life sounds like all sweetness, Sister Mariam issues a caution: “Being a hermit is not for the faint-hearted.”
Ancient hermits, the pioneers of Christian consecrated life, often said they went alone to the Egyptian desert to battle their demons. Sister Mariam puts it this way: Being away from distractions and alone with God makes it clear to a person that it’s time to confront vulnerabilities, temptations, emotional wounds and dysfunctions.
“Basically our broken humanity needs to undergo a deep cleansing and purification process, especially if we desire to dwell in deeper union with God,” Sister Mariam says.
On the other hand, she says, it’s a relief to know we’re not perfect.
“I was broken, but I learned that our God is the most tender, most gracious, most loving God and spouse,” she says. “If we don’t run away and if we continue to say ‘fiat,’ (so be it), he gently, ever so gently, takes us through our bumbling, our vulnerability, our dysfunctions and our woundedness and creates us anew, into the image and likeness that we were first created in. Believe me, this is no easy work. It is the cross.”
There are two other hermit sisters in Oregon, one in Beaverton and one who works at Mount Angel Seminary.”
“Catholic Sentinel” Monday, September 28, 2015


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