KINGSTREE — A dream came true for Father Stanley Smolenski on May 27 when he formally professed evangelical vows that placed him in the eremitic state, meaning he may live as a hermit recognized by the Catholic church.
Father Smolenski’s limited ministry as a hermit will be working with people who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina — Our Lady of Joyful Hope. Father Smolenski has served as director of the shrine since its inauguration in 2006.
“This is absolutely a fulfillment for me,” he said in a phone interview with The Miscellany. “It’s really something to be entering into this new state at the age of 73.”
He stressed that hermits are not recluses, and are permitted by canon law to conduct limited ministry because they are ordained for ministry.
The profession ceremony was held at the St. Katherine Drexel House in Charleston. Bishop Robert J. Baker presided, and witnesses were Msgr. Joseph Roth and Deacon Jerome Remkiewicz. Deacon Philip Meyer of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist also attended, along with Deacon Robert Lambert and his wife Ellen, who visited from Father Smolenski’s former parish in Enfield, Conn.
Both lay people and religious can take eremitic vows. Priests and other religious work in a specific ministry, while the laity are permitted occasional service at a parish and, if necessary, a secular job to support their life as a hermit.
Father Smolenski received the Baptistine eremitic confirmation, which places him under the patronage of St. John the Baptist. He pledged to live according to the scriptural model of John the Baptist. His vows included the promise to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Also, he accepted a plan of daily life which includes prayer, spiritual reading and study, penance and a commitment to limit social contact in order to further develop his spiritual life.
Hermits are permitted to wear symbols of their consecration, such as a ring or some form of habit. Father Smolenski has chosen a cassock as a recognized sign of the priesthood, a frontal tan scapular which signifies the Baptistine charism, and a leather belt to symbolize the austerity of the Baptistine rule. He also will carry a rosary to symbolize the mysteries of salvation, and wears a ring bearing the image of Christ’s face.
“A lot of people ask if I’m stepping out of the eremitic boundaries because of my work with the shrine,” Father Smolenski said. “I tell them John the Baptist is my model, and people came to him, therefore I’m not stepping out of my boundaries. I’m bringing people into the eremitic experience. If I went around parish to parish, that would be stepping out of the boundaries. My ministry is limited to working with the pilgrims to the shrine.”
Father Smolenski has been interested in shrines since childhood, and his interest in eremitic living started when he first made a devotion to St. John the Baptist while studying in Rome from 1970-1973. His interest increased when Canon 603 was issued in the early 1980s, and he said he made the final decision to take vows as a hermit after he started working with the diocesan shrine in 2006.
Father Smolenski first came to Kingstree in 1957 while serving as a Dominican brother. Then, while helping to establish the Dominican retreat house at Springbank, he received his vocation to the priesthood and was ordained in 1968. He has studied in the United States, Canada and Rome, and served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Hartford, Conn. While there, Father Smolenski taught courses in Catholic spirituality and scripture, and also wrote more than 75 articles.
He has been in the service of the Diocese of Charleston since 2002, and served at St. Michael Church, Garden City Beach; St. Mary Church, Yonge’s Island; and Sts. Frederick and Stephen Church, Edisto Beach. He composed and designed the icon of Our Lady of South Carolina — Our Lady of Joyful Hope, which is on display at the shrine.