The spirituality of the Hermits of Bethlehem is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ as lived in the spirit and teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church. The desert wilderness experience is in the realm of the human heart. It puts one in touch with the reality of the false self and the truth of God. The hermit is lead by Jesus, the Lord of the Desert, to wait and listen in silence to the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit and to find therein the forgiving and healing love of the Father.
Our Prayer Life is nourished by daily Eucharistic Liturgy, Eucharistic Adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina (Scripture Reading). Solemn Vespers (Evening prayer) is celebrated on Saturday evenings and the Vigils and Solemnities.
On Wednesday we enter into a Day of Reclusion. Bread is ceremonially blessed and individuals are anointed to prepare the Laura for a day of fast on bread, water and prayer in contemplation.
A Hermit is one called by God to live a life of unceasing prayer and penance in the silence of solitude by a consecrated life of obedience, poverty and celibate love for the praise of God and the salvation of the world.
This ancient tradition is being restored through the canonical establishment of the Hermits of Bethlehem as a Laura of Consecrated Hermits of Diocesan Right, an eremetical contemplative group of Catholic men and women under the ecclesiastical authority of Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, Ordinary of the Diocese of Paterson, NJ.
The laura was founded by Father Eugene Romano, a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, who is now the Desert Father of the Hermits of Bethlehem.
The word “hermit” comes from the Greek word “heremus” which means “desert” or “solitary” and its focus is on the solitary life given totally to God. In the third and fourth centuries God called many men and women into the deserts of Egypt and Palestine that their lives of prayer and penance might be a witness of God’s presence and a witness against the sin and corruption that plagued the urban areas of that day. These men and women came to be known as “hermits” in the Christian tradition.
Although solitary, the hermit is by not isolated or removed from the mainstream of life. Rather, s/he is consecrated for the “salvation of the world,” a world where people are isolated from each other and from God by hatred and sin. United with God and suffering humanity, the hermit is a person whose life is a deepening of “a life hidden with Christ in God,” (Col 3:2) thus furthering His kingdom of love, justice and peace. The Hermit of Bethlehem follows Jesus who goes apart “to pray to our father in secret” Mat 6:5) and who “often retired to desert places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). The hermit stands before the Face of God to render Him service of loving and prayerful attentiveness.
"In solitude God takes off our masks. The bad news, or so we may think, is we have nothing to hide behind. The
good news is we are now face to Face."- Deacon Joseph Moscinski, Notes from the Desert - A Canticle of Prayer
Father Eugene Romano
Desert Father of the Hermits of Bethlehem.
Born on Valentine’s Day 1930, Father Eugene Romano found his way to God at an early age. Heavily influenced by his devote parents – Pasquale and Anna – he was the eighth of nine children raised in Madison, New Jersey. The large Italian family grew up experiencing great love, sacrifice, prayer and a strong faith in God. Eugene was called to the priesthood at a very young age. In sixth grade the Sisters who taught him encouraged daily Mass – especially on Feast Days. On February 11 th , the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, despite a snow and ice storm that had closed school, Eugene ventured out to morning Mass. The slug through the snow and downed power lines made the trip take much longer than expected. By the time Eugene arrived at St. Vincent’s, Mass was already over. He was greeted by Father Scully’s shock: “Gene, whatever are you doing out in this storm?” Upon hearing the reason for his long, unsuccessful trip Father invited him in for some of the Housekeeper’s warm chocolate and a bun before starting the trip home. It was the first time Father Scully broached the subject of the priesthood with young Eugene. A dedicated alter server for years, the thought had crossed Eugene’s mind but he had never spoken of it. It was the beginning of a great conviction Eugene never lost. It was a seed that was planted and nurtured in many ways throughout the years. Before leaving for the trip home, Father Scully gifted Eugene with a statue of Mary and told him to pray to her for help with his vocation. Running through the snow, feet barely touching the ground, Eugene arrived home breathless to declare to his family “I am going to be a Priest!” While his brothers and sisters were extremely skeptical, his parents were more supportive. “If you are going to be a Priest be a good one or none at all!” his mother declared. And so the journey began. From Seton Hall Prep to Seton Hall University to the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, New Jersey Eugene followed his heart into the priesthood. Throughout his life and years in school, Father Romano maintained a deep, contemplative nature and a strong desire for solitary prayer. Even as a very young boy he had favorite places in the woods where he would go off to pray for hours, and then later build small shrines to his some of his favorite Saints. Upon completing his studies at the seminary, Father Eugene Romano was ordained to the Priesthood on May 25, 1957. He spent his first years as a Priest assigned to several New Jersey parishes among them Blessed Sacrament, Saint Michael’s, and Our Lady of Pompeii in Paterson, as well as St. Andrew’s in Clifton. Throughout the many years of pastoral ministry, Father felt the Lord calling him more and more to a life of solitary prayer and silence. While is the seminary and in his early years as a priest, Father had explored the possibility of becoming a Trappist or Carthusian monk. Neither way of life seemed to quiet be the answer to his prayers so, after many conversations over the years with then Bishop Casey, Father Romano received approval to start the Hermitage on March 25, 1974. A generous donation of an 18 ½ acre parcel of land from Mr. Frank Van Alen in Chester, New Jersey was where the first hand carved sign spelling out “Bethlehem” was hung.