By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 21, 2017
CONYERS—After a spiritual journey filled with “beautiful challenges,” Sister Mary Beatrice Raphael made perpetual vows to live as a hermit, the first in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
In the sacred ceremony, Sister Beatrice vowed to give herself to God “in silence and solitude, in preserving prayer and joyful penitence, in humble labor and holiness of life.”
The profession of vows took place Nov. 21, at the Abbey Church at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers. The rite concluded the three-year span since she took temporary vows.
Sister Beatrice said the experience left her with “incredible joy and gratitude; it was so huge.”
The service included a blessing of the simple garment Sister Beatrice wears as a symbol of her life. There were readings from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and from the Gospel of St. Luke.
The congregation prayed the litany of the saints as Sister Beatrice lay face down on the stone floor, calling on the archangels, the apostles and other saints and asking God to “bless your servant Beatrice, make her holy and consecrate her as your faithful hermitess.”
“When I walked into the church, the feeling of love and support from the people was immense,” she said.
More than 120 people filled the church for the ceremony.
This milestone marks a distinct turn from years past when Sister Beatrice had a horse farm that she loved and a condominium in a tony Buckhead neighborhood. The hermitage where she now resides, on the edge of the monastery property, has a picture window overlooking lush trees and a water fountain.
“I am not seeking to escape anything. It isn’t that I found the world a terrible place. I found the love for Jesus called me to his place. In the silence and solitude, I’m never alone. I never experience loneliness,” she said in a phone interview.
Sister Beatrice’s vocation as a hermit outside a religious community is found in church law, but is rare. In the Atlanta Archdiocese’s history, she is the first to seek formally life as a hermit.
Hermits in the past were usually members of a religious order, but people drawn to this vocation can also make perpetual vows before a bishop. Sister Beatrice made her promises to live as a hermit to Bishop Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger III, who received the vows on behalf of the church.
Sister Beatrice asked to make perpetual vows in “an eremitic life for the glory of God and the service of his church.”
In his homily, Bishop Shlesinger noted that the mark of a monk or hermit is to create hospitality of the heart and to take in the needs of others. While an eremitical life is lived apart, he said, the hermit is never totally separated from others or indifferent to their needs.
Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM, the archdiocese’s vicar for religious, accompanied Sister Beatrice during her discernment process.
“It’s not a departure from the world. The focus is on prayer for the world and the church. The ministry is one of prayer,” said Sister Margaret.
The daughter of an Air Force veteran, Sister Beatrice grew up in the Marietta area. She retired from a medical career as a dermatologist with offices in Athens, Augusta and Atlanta. She practiced dermatology as Bette Potter. Her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild live in Chicago, Illinois, and visit a couple times a year. Her oldest brother was ordained a priest for the archdiocese. Father Joe Cavallo died in 1990, after 20 years of ministry.
In 2007, she felt moved to foster a deeper relationship with Jesus and began receiving spiritual direction. A few years later, she researched life as a hermit and began talking with Sister Margaret. In 2013, she retired from medicine and began to move toward a solitary life.
To begin her life as a hermit, she took a new name inspired by St. Beatrice, a 15th-century noblewoman of Portugal, who founded an order of contemplative sisters, and Raphael the archangel, patron of physicians.
Potter lived a life of solitude for a few years before making temporary simple vows in 2014. Now her day begins around 3 a.m. and ends by 8 p.m., with the day split between times of prayer and reading and work.
“I do think of my entire day as prayer,” she said.
Sister Beatrice spent this past year focused on returning to the roots of her vocation, to ensure she was following God’s intentions. She’s experienced moments of great joy, where she felt her vocation was “too good to be real.” At times, fears and doubts caused her to pay attention.
“Just by silence with Jesus, those were easily dispelled. I came with peace and joy to yes” in preparation for perpetual vows, she said.