Our Lady of Tenderness closes with poustinik’s death

Advocates commit to reopening hermitage

Death came suddenly for Lucille Claire Dupuis Jan. 27. But the poustinik was ready.

As keeper of Our Lady of Tenderness Poustinia (hermitage) in Estes Park, the 79-year-old had been cultivating her heart as a sacred place where God could dwell, and helping others to do the same. For 31 years, she prayed for her own salvation, that of the world, and for the Archdiocese of Denver.Lucille Dupuis, founder and caretaker of Our Lady of Tenderness Poustinia, died Jan. 27.

Poustinia, Russian for “desert,” refers to the tradition of going into the wilderness, alone, to fast, pray and listen to God. Dupuis felt led by God to establish the poustinia on the secluded 80-acre site in 1983. As caretaker and spiritual director of the poustinia, Dupuis was a “poustinik,” one who lives permanently in the “desert” much like a hermit.

With her death, due to complications associated with pneumonia, Our Lady of Tenderness is closed. Anthony Lilles professor of spiritual theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and close friend of Dupuis said he and the other members of the poustinia’s board of directors are praying and discerning how to continue the apostolate.

“We think it’s vital for our times,” Lilles said, “because Christians now more than ever need places where they can find solitude and silence to listen to God.”

Poustinia adherent Father John Nepil, parochial vicar at Queen of Peace Church in Aurora, agreed.

“(Theologian-priest) Karl Rahner once said, ‘The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.’ Lucille’s life is an example of this response to our post-Christian world, as well as a radical witness against the ever-increasing activism of the new evangelization. Quietly and lovingly she is calling us to cease our work and return to the source of the Christian life—the poustinia of the heart, where the presence of Trinitarian love abides and invites us to ‘come away and rest awhile.’

Poustinia rest is unique, said Lilles, author of a book on prayer, “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” and an advocate of poustinia. A spiritual tradition of Eastern Christians, poustinia differs from the outward, action-oriented piety of Western Christians.

The poustinia experience

“I will lure her out into the wilderness and there I will speak to her heart,” Dupuis told the Denver Catholic Register in 2002 quoting Hosea to describe the spirit of poustinia.

At Our Lady of Tenderness people could go for a minimum 36-hour stay in a rustic cabin to fast on bread, water and tea and feast on the Scriptures—the only reading permitted.

“Not everybody can go off into the wilderness and fast on bread and water for two to four days or longer,” Lilles said, “but I do think that as part of our regular Christian lives we need to make it a priority to withdraw from the world to enter the silence of God—to renounce and to fast so there’s space for God in our hearts, so we can see the truth. We as Christians can only thrive when we live by the truth, the truth that God has for us.”

Lilles goes on poustinia a couple of times a year. The first 24 hours he simply “crashes” from exhaustion and the overstimulation of modern life.

“The second day that you’ve been fasting you get used to the silence and you begin to feel more alert,” he said. “The Lord begins to speak to you through the Scriptures in more acute and forceful ways.

“There is a monotony (to poustinia), which is part of the solitude and silence,” he admitted, “but hidden in the monotony are moments of grace where God reveals truths about yourself, things that need to be changed, and God reveals things about himself and his great love for us.”

Lilles said the experience has helped him confront sin his life and has deepened his relationships with others, particularly with his wife and children.

“When you step back you see some of the broken ways you relate to each other and you realize that’s not really what you want for life. And as you submit that to God, he begins to disclose new ways of relating and a deeper way of being with each other,” Lilles said. “That’s one of the greatest blessings for me.”

Dupuis and Catherine Doherty

The founding of the poustinia and Dupuis’ ministry here was the last chapter in a faith-filled life that ended being offered in intercessory prayer for the archdiocese, her friends said.

Born Aug. 6, 1934, in New Haven, Conn., to French Canadian immigrants Herv’e and Marie (Arsenault) Dupuis, she attended St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford where she met Catherine De Hueck Doherty, founder of Madonna House Apostolate in Ontario, Canada, and proponent of poustinia.

“I went to Madonna House for four days in 1954 and it changed my life,” Dupuis told the Register in 2002.

She became a 20-year member of the apostolate, which is a house of hospitality where celibate laypeople and priests live in community. She was present when Doherty, a native of Russia, introduced poustinia to the members as a way for them to deepen their prayer life and relationship with God.

“(Poustinia) means, geographically, a place like Sahara, but it also means more,” Doherty told them. “It means the lonely place that souls sometimes have to enter, to find the God who dwells within them. Or it means a wild and lonely place to which a hermit would go to seek God in solitude and silence.”

Doherty, whose cause for canonization is being considered, later wrote a book, “Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man,” which is now a spiritual classic.

When Dupuis left Madonna House, she was uncertain about what God was calling her to, Lilles said.

“She was alone at a lake and cried out ‘O Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!’   It was a kind of prayer of the heart, which expressed both love and trust, but also sorrow and heartbreak,” Lilles said. “Then she said she heard an echo across the lake—not an echo of her own voice, but another voice that called to her ‘O Lucille, O Lucille, O Lucille.’ She had already entered into what many of us seek, a deep love affair with God. It is this profound love of God that opened her up to come to Colorado and live a life of solitude and prayer.”

Dupuis’ legacy

Popular among contemplatives, those who frequented Our Lady of Tenderness and received spiritual counsel from Dupuis included laity, clergy, seminarians and non-Catholics. Many of them attended her vigil and rosary at Our Lady of the Mountains Church Feb. 3, and her funeral Mass in the poustinia chapel and burial on the mountain the next day.

“Now the Lord has lured Lucille to another place,” professor Joel Barstad of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary said in a eulogy for her Feb. 3. “For most of us, death still looks like a journey into a bleak wilderness, but Lucille looked forward to it as a voyage to the hidden garden that her Beloved began cultivating for her long ago, which was reserved for her at her baptism and for which she longed all her life.”

The Our Lady of Tenderness Poustinia board and those who benefited from the apostolate hope Dupuis’ death is not the end of poustinia here, but the seed to even greater life for the ministry they said enriches the faith-life of many and provides essential prayer support for the multitude of good works in the archdiocese.

“The islands of Christian contemplation are disappearing from the landscape of our technocratic world,” observed Father Nepil. “May Lucille Dupuis be the grain of wheat that ‘if it dies, bears much fruit’ for only this fruit of renewed contemplation can restore the soul of our apostolic endeavors.”

For more information, contact Lilles at Anthony.lilles@archden.org or 303-715-3218. Memorial contributions may be made to: Our Lady of Tenderness, P.O. Box 4311, Estes Park, CO 80517.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”