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Mansion to be Catholic hermit's new home, retreat for Chicago priests

When one imagines the humble dwelling of a prayerful hermit, a $700,000, 17-room lakefront mansion probably doesn’t come to mind.

Despite Pope Francis’ view that the Roman Catholic Church should be poor and focused on serving the poor, Brother Sebastian Glentz, who has lived at Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago for about a year, will soon live in the luxury Sheboygan, Wisconsin, home.

It was bought last month by his Cullman, Alabama-based Christ the King Abbey, and Chicago priests from Canons Regular will make use of the mansion at 2528 N. Third St. in Sheboygan.

Glentz is a 50-year-old Benedictine hermit and the last remaining monk from Christ the King monastery, he said.

Canons Regular is a Chicago-based religious community living “under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,” according to its website.

Glentz said the purchase of the mansion, made in November, doesn’t fly in the face of Francis’ vision of the Catholic Church “because of the purpose that it will be used for, a hermitage for myself and a private retreat” for Canons Regular priests.

But it raises questions, according to church experts.

“Pope Francis put the burden of anyone taking a vow of voluntary poverty to justify their own lifestyle in light of that commitment,” said William Cavanaugh, professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University. “He is calling on the entire church … to look at their lifestyle. It seems the burden of proof is on those who would move into a lakefront mansion and call it a hermitage.”

Historically, hermits have lived solitary lives and sought to avoid the distractions of daily life to commune with God through prayer and fasting, explained Brian Schmisek, director of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.

Brian Schmisek is director of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies. | Provided photo

The word hermit comes from a Greek term, meaning “of the desert,” Schmisek added.

Hermits date back to third-century Egypt, according to Cavanaugh.

“The idea is to give up certain physical goods, like family and luxurious food and other kinds of luxuries, to strip away the search for those sorts of things in order to concentrate on God,” Cavanaugh said. “You go off by yourself, deny yourself human company, sex and family to concentrate on a life of prayer … and usually voluntary poverty comes along with living a solitary lifestyle.”

Schmisek said there are few hermits today, and “most don’t live in the desert, but instead live simply in small rooms or ‘cells.’ ”

Glentz’s new home is more than 7,000 square feet. It includes a sunroom, garden room, six bedrooms, six bathrooms and four fireplaces, with one in the master bedroom and one in an office.

Christ the King Abbey, founded in Alabama in the 1980s, for years was not recognized by the church. The abbey included traditionalists, who celebrate Mass in Latin and hold dear pre-Vatican II traditions of the Church. It also included sedevacantists — a minority of traditionalist Catholics who believe there has been no valid papal succession since Pope Pius XII in 1958 or Pope John XXIII in 1963.

Christ the King at one time had as many as 11 monks and five sisters, according to the National Catholic Register.

Christ the King reconciled with the Church in 2011 with help from the Canons Regular, who were granted permission by Cardinal Francis George to provide that assistance.

The Rev. C. Frank Phillips, founder and superior of the Canons Regular, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Canons Regular was founded in 1998 with the approval of George, according to its website.

Archbishop Blase Cupich could not be reached for comment. But the Sheboygan mansion purchase appears out of step with his recent action.

Cupich, who in November succeeded George as head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, opted to forgo living in the traditional home of archbishops in Chicago — the North State Parkway mansion — and to instead live in more modest quarters at Holy Name Cathedral rectory.