Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
McDERMOTT — In our times of trouble, many seek spiritual comfort and guidance. But where can clergy turn when it is they who need care and comfort? St. John’s Hermitage in McDermott will be the first facility in the United States where Catholic priests can retreat for their own quiet reflection and prayer.
In 2002, Jerry and Janet Henderson’s 18-year-old son, Jon, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Trying to cope with their son’s illness, Jerry and Janet, of Columbus, sought guidance from Fr. Steven Virginia from Portsmouth, who was speaking at their church one morning. Virginia is also a Ph.D. psychologist with the Columbus Diocese, and he became a close friend of the family and sat with Jon in his hospital room many times — even while his own health was getting worse. In 2006, Jon and Virginia were both in the hospital at the same time, and Jon died on Nov. 20, 2006 at the age of 22.
“In early 2007, sometime in January, we were talking with Fr. Steven. He had been in hospital and was recovering at home, and we noticed he didn’t really get a whole lot of visitors,” Jerry Henderson said. “We were lucky that we had family and each other to get us through what we went through, but what do priests do in time of crisis? We started the conversation, and Fr. Steven shared with us his vision of place where priests could go for fraternity, contemplative prayer, reflection, and personal refreshment.”
The problem was, no such place existed anywhere in the United States.
So the Henderson’s made it their personal mission to create that for Catholic priests, and found 116 acres for private sale in McDermott. The family purchased the land and has devoted 70 acres to build their non-profit St. John’s Hermitage. The land is ideally located, he said, at the convergence of six Catholic Diocese: Columbus, Cincinnati, Steubenville, Covington, Ky., Lexington, Ky., and Charleston, W.Va.
“On April 27, 2007, which is my son’s birthday, we erected a cross on one of the high hilltops, and Fr. Steven blessed the land and dedicated it to St. John’s Hermitage,” Henderson said. “The bishop fully supports it. He said there is a need for a place where priests can go to keep healthy priests healthy, because there are no priest-only facilities in the U.S., other than rehab centers.”
Henderson envisions cottage hermitages looking into vast wooded ravine where priests can retreat, for free, for quiet reflection and prayer.
“We think of it as ‘Habitat for Clergy’,” Henderson said. “We’re hoping we can find organizations that want to build and sponsor one of these hermitages for priests. After we get two of these built, we’ll work on the community center which will be the place where they can congregate and have meals together; there will be a library and whatever priests need and want.”
Henderson said the land will be open for a public tour on Saturday, allowing people an opportunity to see the property, ask questions, and learn more about St. John’s Hermitage. The land will be open for visitors from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday, and it is located at 962 Arion Road in McDermott.
“There’s about four miles of walking path that I’ve cleared out, so they can get an idea of the beauty of the land,” Henderson said.
More information about St. John’s Hermitage can also be found online at www.stjohnshermitage.org.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or email@example.com. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.