STEVENS POINT, Wis. — When people think of hermits, the image is often a man living far from society — a silent, stoic figure who shuns his fellow human beings.
For the Rev. James Genovesi, however, the life of a hermit is far different. He lives by himself — at the end of a winding driveway in the town of Sharon — and spends much of his day alone, but he doesn’t avoid human contact. In fact, he embraces it, offering daily Mass and spiritual retreats at Blessed Sacrament Hermitage, a tiny chapel about the size of a small bedroom, attached to his home.
The offering of Mass is part of his call from God, a call that will soon result in the construction of a larger place of worship.
A county committee recently approved Genovesi’s request to construct a 4,500 square-foot chapel about 40 yards from his home. The chapel is expected to be completed by early October.
Having taken a vow of poverty, Genovesi, 64, survives on donations and the money he earns from hosting retreats. Much of the $489,000 needed to build the chapel was donated by his supporters over seven years.
Genovesi, a diocesan priest from Michigan, said he felt the call to become a hermit in the mid-1990s while caring for his ailing father. In 1996, with the permission of his bishop and then Bishop Raymond Burke, Genovesi transferred to the Diocese of La Crosse.
After living for a year as a hermit, he was permitted to dedicate his life to the Franciscan Hermits of Perpetual Adoration, an order he created. While clergy must gain approval from a diocese to start an order, orders are not considered part of a diocese.
In 2001, he built the small chapel and hermitage he now calls home on 40 acres donated by a local farmer.
Genovesi was excited as he talked about the new building and the chance to expand his one-man religious order. Dressed in a gray woolen habit, he playfully scolded his two rambunctious dogs, Titus, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Snickers, a shih tzu. Inside the chapel, two frequent Mass attendees prayed silently surrounded by colorful religious statues and sacred paintings.
He said people have the wrong idea about what the life is like for a religious hermit. While he would like to devote every moment to praying or saying Mass, he said he has other things that require his attention, such as writing thank you cards, answering prayer requests and restoring religious statues.
“Hermits can do all different things to support themselves. I know a woman who is a hermit who makes beautiful pottery. I know others who are artists,” he said. “Hermits can live alone or in communities of hermits.”
What all hermits share is their mission, Genovesi said, which is “to live solely for God.”
When asked what it feels like to have the chapel so close to construction, the reverend said, “like a dream.”
“It’s very exciting.”