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Fr. Trinkle becomes the Diocese of Arlington's first hermit

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Father Clarence M. Trinkle made diocesan history by becoming the first consecrated hermit in the Diocese of Arlington Feb. 21. 

Now known as Father Joseph Mary of Jesus Crucified, the 77-year-old Virginia native and avid sportsman has been a diocesan priest since 1992, but said he has felt a strong call to live as a hermit since he was 14.

"I feel like God has placed me in a situation. I’m a modern day version of a desert hermit." Fr. Clarence M. Trinkle

He  was born to Clarence and Bertha Trinkle Nov. 28, 1940. According to his sister, Nancy O’Shea, she can’t remember a time when her brother didn’t want to be a priest. His call to the priesthood became a call to the eremitic life after reading Thomas Merton’s book, The Silent Life, in high school.  

After graduation in 1959, he entered the seminary for the Diocese of Richmond but then left to enter the Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur, Calif., run by the Camaldoldese Benedictine Foundation, in 1964.

“I stayed there for a while and realized this life was way beyond me,” said Father Trinkle. “I had a lot to work on.” 

Instead of returning to the seminary he enrolled in Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where he was a football standout. He left college before graduating and signed as a free agent rookie quarterback with the Washington Redskins, but was cut in 1974 before the season started.

While continuing to discern his vocation, he moved to Killington, Vt., to teach tennis and skiing. He taught tennis to Americans working in Saudi Arabia, and it was there that he made a decision to join the priesthood.

After graduating from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., he was ordained a diocesan priest in 1992, but still felt a strong call to live as a hermit. In 1997, he approached Arlington Bishop John R. Keating about his dream and was allowed to live in a cabin in West Virginia with no salary. Six months into his solitude, Bishop Keating died in Rome. When Bishop Paul S. Loverde was installed in 1999, he permitted Father Trinkle to continue living there for the next three years. 

During this time, he remembers receiving a letter for the annual Bishop’s Lenten Appeal and decided to give the same amount he gave while he was an active diocesan priest. Two days later, he received a check from a family that was the exact amount he had given to the appeal.

“Once a person turns over their whole life to God, He takes care of anything you can’t,” said Father Trinkle.

After three years in West Virginia, Father Trinkle was called back to active parish life and assigned to Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission in Basye. After three years, he was placed on medical retirement because of a muscle disorder around his eyes that prevented him from driving. 

During his retirement, he read in the Catholic Herald that a group of cloistered Dominican sisters were building a monastery in Linden. He asked the sisters if they would let him live on their property, and they welcomed him.

“It’s a great blessing to have him here with us,” said Dominican Sister Mary Magdalene, novice mistress. “We feel sure that his presence here is God fulfilling a desire that He planted many years ago. It is an encouragement for us.”

For the past nine years, he has lived a life of prayer and solitude in a house he built on the monastery property and has ministered to the sisters and those who come for spiritual direction. 

“People started coming to see me. They find me through word of mouth,” said Father Trinkle. “I’ve had men hermits and women hermits, married people and college kids. I will share what I learn from this life with others to give them some consolation.”

While many people already considered Father Trinkle a hermit, he wanted to make it official through consecration. The Code of Canon Law allows bishops to accept hermits not affiliated with religious orders.

After more than 60 years of waiting, Father Trinkle professed his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in St. Dominic’s monastery chapel Feb. 21.

“Today through this beautiful ceremony we consecrate that daily ‘yes’ that you give to God,” said Bishop Burbidge during the homily. “How blessed are we to be part of this ceremony especially in this Lenten season, because it speaks to all of us in our own spiritual lives and faith journey. Thank you and the sisters for reminding us of the need to be prayerful and silent and still before the Lord, trusting that only in Him will our joy be complete and as we continue this Lenten journey to give Him and one another the precious gift of our time.  When we do so, dear friends, the Gospel is true — the Lord will produce abundant fruit in and through us.” 

The day of his consecration, the chapel was filled with family and friends, many who have been coming to him for spiritual direction for many years, including Sheila Bertrand, a parishioner of Precious Blood Church in Culpeper. They discuss spiritual books and he answers her questions. 

“I feel he has really helped me on my journey toward holiness,” said Bertrand. “I think many blessings are going to flow from this event today.”

During the profession of vows, Bishop Burbidge presented Father Trinkle with a lit candle. Father Trinkle then prostrated himself before the altar before reciting his new name — Father Joseph Mary of Jesus Crucified. 

“When you make vows, your mission in the church changes,” he said. “I had named my hermitage Holy Family Hermitage because the evil one is trying to destroy the family and the priesthood.”

He added Jesus Crucified to his name to honor his cousin, Mother Maria of Jesus Crucified.

He recalled how he would often call his cousin during his turbulent 20s. During one conversation, his cousin, who suffered from cancer at that time, stopped him and said, “CM … I would give my life for you.” He credits her prayers and sacrifice for helping him find his vocation. 

Father Trinkle’s new mission as a consecrated hermit is to pray for diocesan families and vocations to the priesthood. Now that he is consecrated, his hermitage will be considered a sacred place, similar to a cloister. He is having an office built next to his hermitage so he can give spiritual direction to those who need it. 

His daily schedule, in accordance with the new rule he wrote for his life, begins at 3 a.m. with the Divine Office and Morning Prayer. The rest of the day is divided into prayer, spiritual reading and reflection, leaving time for appointments with people and chores, such as mowing the grass.

“I feel like God has placed me in a situation. I’m a modern-day version of a desert hermit,” he said. “I just love doing what I’m doing and I am so grateful to Bishop Burbidge.” 

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018