Even at low volume, traffic zooms through Pevely, unabated, on Interstate 55.
At all hours of the day or night, cars and trucks by the thousands create the unique hum of freeway life. Just passing through, commuting to work or otherwise, drivers careen toward an unknown future, adding to the din of 2017.
Yet, peace and tranquility await, if only they'd take Exit 180, at Highway Z.
About a mile and a half off I-55, the Vision of Peace Hermitages offer respite from the cacophony of daily life and the distractions of always-on social media and ubiquitous smartphones, never mind the real world. On a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, the hermitages might as well be in the middle of nowhere rather than being so close to the noise of the highway.
"You get the illusion of really being out in the wilderness, but you're five minutes from the highway," caretaker John Gresham said.
In the hectic pace of day-to-day living, "we're plugged into our phones and computers and TVs, the radio; we're just buzzing with constant noise," he said. "But here, you can get away from it and get into that silence."
The peace and quiet allows guests — "hermits," as Gresham calls them — to pray, reflect and otherwise decompress in the beauty of God's creation. For a donation of $40 a night (or $20 for day visits), nine hermitages, including one handicap-accessible, offer views of the river, the woods or both.
The units have just enough room for a single person to hunker down for a night, weekend or week — a single bed, nightstand, desk, rocking chair, kitchenette and full bathroom. Though the hermitages are built into the bluff, tempering the outdoor climate, heating and air conditioning make for a pleasant stay.
And there's no mistaking Catholic identity: A crucifix hangs on the wall of each hermitage; a handy rosary awaits in each nightstand; and there's a New American Bible — not Gideon's — in each desk.
Outdoor stations, a crucifix overlooking the river and the recently built Msrg. William J. Lyons' Spirituality Center housing the Blessed Sacrament complete the scene. All manner of flora and fauna merely add to the tranquility, which invites walks along the property's paths and hikes down to the river — though the path is extremely challenging and taxing at times.
If hermitage chaplain Msgr. Edmund Griesedieck is unavailable for daily Mass — he's associate spiritual director at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary — Mass is available at nearby parishes: Sacred Heart in Crystal City, St. Joseph in Imperial and Our Lady in Festus. The parishes represent the Big Three of the Holy Family: Jesus Christ, His father and His mother.
Spiritual direction is available through Gresham's wife, Mary Jane, who has a certificate in spiritual direction. John will earn his certificate soon, after three years of study. Either or both can give talks or presentations, as well. Sister Paulette Patritti, a Dominican Sister of Sparkill, NY, also is available for guided retreats.
Mostly, though, hermits have the opportunity for prayer in the solitude amid the beauty of God's creation.
"Which is exactly what we're striving for, to make this a place where people don't have to be inundated with the noise of life," Mary Jane said. "We know everybody needs this."
The American Institute of Architects, St Louis recently honored the Msgr. William J. Lyons' Spirituality Center and St. Benedict's Chapel at Vision of Peace Hermitages with its Small Projects Distinguished Award. Designed by architect John C. Guenther and completed just two years ago, the center honors Msgr. Lyons (1930-2011) for his 55 years of ministry, including 27 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Newman Center, nine at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and eight at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
St. Benedict's Chapel gives a nod to the hermitages' Benedictine roots. Vacated in 1984 and sold to a private developer, St. Pius X Benedictine Abbey was on adjoining property (the ruins are still there) and Benedictine Father Wilfrid Tunick helped Sister Miriam Stoll of the Sisters of Providence in St.-Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., develop the property. According to the website, Sister Miriam "felt inspired by God to open a prayer house with hermitages" and spent three years searching for the right spot. She settled on the former summer home of Frank and Marie McNaughton. According to the website, "after the death of her husband, Marie McNaughton was holding out for the right buyer for the property. ... (She) wanted someone to buy the property who would have a religious affiliation."
A converted garage served as the first hermitage, and Vision of Peace evolved into nine solitary units, including one handicap accessible, with an award-winning spiritual center to boot.
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