BELLE PRAIRIE -- Sister Maristell Schanen and Sister Therese Lenz live together in a quaint, two-story house just outside of Little Falls.
Beside the house is a small church surrounded by grass and trees. Every day, the nuns walk down a trail through the woods to admire nature's beauty and speak with the Lord.
Nearly five months ago the sisters moved into the vacated house that was once a rectory and vowed to live their lives in solitude.
"We are answering the call to live the life of hermits ... we're being a prayer for the community, the church and a service to the world," Sister Schanen said. "To us, solitude and prayer serves God."
Their days are spent in silence, talking to each other only during their noon meal. The sisters keep a tight schedule, which includes studying, meditating and praying for more than seven hours per day.
Sister Schanen said in most cases hermits live alone, but when the rectory just off Highway 371 was vacated last fall, both she and Sister Lenz felt the call to rid themselves of all other distractions in order to focus on prayer and God. The sisters also felt it's best at their ages, 83 and 76, not to live alone.
"At first it was difficult to not talk to each other, but now we're used to it. If I have something to say, I just wait until lunch and then we talk," Sister Schanen said.
Inside the modest rectory-turned hermitage, the sisters have a few luxuries among the necessities. They have a telephone, a computer and a television.
"We only watch the local and world news because we need to know what's going on in the world in order to know what to pray for," Sister Schanen said.
Although the sisters consider themselves hermits, they leave their house daily to pray at Holy Family Catholic Church, which is right next door. Four days a week they attend Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Little Falls.
Sisters Maristell Schanen (left) and Therese Lenz have been living as hermits since October in order to concentrate on prayer. The sisters sit in the same pew each day at Holy Family Catholic Church in Belle Prairie where they pray for the community, the church and the world. (Dispatch Photos by Nels Norquist)
The hermit lifestyle has been a Franciscan tradition for hundreds of years. Sister Schanen said last year there were more than 640 hermits living in the United States.
In the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi created a rule that directs people who feel called to live as hermits not to isolate themselves from the community, but to continue to serve others.
Sisters Schanen and Lenz do just that.
Sister Lenz, originally from Waconia, used to be an elementary school teacher who was always interested in massage. In 1986 she became a certified massage therapist and enjoys working with people. Currently, Sister Lenz gives massages to fellow sisters one day a week and serves the public once a week at St. Francis Health and Recreational Center in Little Falls.
Through the years Sister Schanen has traveled the world as a teacher. Originally from Grand Rapids, she uses the computer in the hermitage to study theology and reveal what she has learned to other sisters.
"I could do this research at the convent, but there are a lot of people. ... I don't want to spend most of my day away from (the hermitage)," Sister Schanen said.
She believes living in poor countries and experiencing other cultures has had a tremendous effect on her life.
The sisters said they plan to continue to live as hermits for as long as they feel called.
"God has given us the spirituality, emotional and physical strength to do this," Sister Lenz said. "Only God knows how effective this (lifestyle) is."
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