LEWISTON — Rex Anthony Norris once spoke to a group of sixth-graders at Mount Merici Academy in Waterville and asked them, “What do you all know about hermits?” To which the children responded, “They steal things.”

Meet Brother Rex — a real hermit who doesn’t steal.

After Mass, he can be seen at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, greeting parishioners, listening intently and laughing heartily, a welcome figure in a traditional cowl.

“It all just sort of unfolded,” said Rex, who left his career as a firefighter at Bangor International Airport, converted to Catholicism and became a hermit.

“It’s a mystery really, I think every call is a mystery,” he said, recalling how he kept saying yes at each step of his calling — first in the consecrated life, then to the solitary life he has lived for the past 13 years.

Like the Air Force veteran’s previous commitment to serve his country, Brother Rex took two vows to serve the church for three years before facing former Maine Bishop Richard Malone for the final vows.

Rex said of Malone at his final vows, “His one question to me was, ‘Are you sure this is what the Lord is calling you to do?’ and I said, ‘Bishop, I cannot imagine my life any other way,’ and he said, basically, ‘That is all I needed to hear.'”

He said from that moment on, he’s never looked back.

It may be a solitary life, but not as solitary as you may imagine. Brother Rex is a high-tech hermit, both mobile and on the Web for your prayer needs.

Some hermits remain secluded except for doctor’s appointments and groceries, but Brother Rex said his inspiration, Saint Francis, “spent a great deal of time in hermitages and occasionally would go out and preach the gospel to people.”

Brother Rex had to go out into public perhaps more than he wanted until two years ago. As he is not financially supported by the church, he once had to work in town a couple of days a week as a counselor to pay for essentials such as food and the modest rent the church requires for his current home.

Brother Rex lives at the Little Portion Hermitage, a rental in an otherwise empty rectory in Oakland where he has been living since 2005.

Understanding that the rectory will eventually become a home to priests or will be sold by the church, Brother Rex understands the need for a more permanent hermitage, one that will allow him to continue his work and provide a retreat where people can stay for a weekend of silence and solitude.

Enter the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage, a nonprofit-pending group established to raise money to help support the ministry of the Little Portion Hermitage.

Brother Rex attends daily Mass in Waterville but celebrates Sunday Mass at the basilica in Lewiston. Upon his first visit to the basilica, Rex said, “I loved it, I just fell in love with it. It takes my breath away. This was built for the glory of God and I sit up front just so I can take it all in.”

In daily life, Brother Rex said he gets up early each day for prayer, receiving many of his prayer requests via email.

“I’m praying for a marriage in London right now,” he said. “I’m praying for a family that’s just having struggles in Australia right now.”

The prayer request for the marriage in London, Brother Rex said, came from someone in France, who is also on his prayer list.

“So the word gets out that, hey, there’s this person up in Maine who his job or his ministry is to pray for people,” he said. Most of his prayer requests came from word of mouth until he went online through the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage.

“The idea of the contemplative life is one lives alone not because I hate people, because I don’t. I love people,” he said, “I live alone so I can concentrate my energy on prayer, concentrate my energy on my relationship with God and my relationship with other people.”

It’s no surprise that Brother Rex describes himself as an introvert, gaining much of his energy from solitude. He said that after Mass, he must go back and “recharge” his battery with God so he can continue to pray for people.

“I’m overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world,” he said, surrounded by broken marriages and those suffering from illnesses.

He also takes part in the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, official prayers of the church. “All around the world, 24/7, someone, somewhere is praying the Liturgy of the Hours.”

The prayers are spread throughout the day: morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening and night. At these points throughout the day, he stops whatever he is doing and prays.

Although he said he believes in the presence of God all around him at all times, he feels he is, “in a very special way, in the presence of God,” praying in the presence of the Host. This is when Brother Rex prays several times a day and at least an hour daily for those who reach out to him to pray for them, locally and all over the world.

Other than that, he has the same chores as the rest of us. He cooks, cleans, goes to doctor’s appointments and shops — prayerfully. “It’s living mindfully in the presence of God, in the silence of solitude, praying for people” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

No matter what the religious tradition, the act of contemplative prayer has a powerful effect on people’s lives, he said.

He quoted C.S. Lewis: “Human beings were created to run on God.” Brother Rex likened it to cars running on gas and if you were to put any substance into it other than gas, it would not function correctly. “(With humans), if we put anything in the place of God, we don’t run correctly,” he said.

Connected to the Internet himself, he said he believes our wired age has made us lonelier.

He said he spoke before the Knights of Columbus in Skowhegan where the room was full of union members. One of the members told him, “You know, it took unions 80 years to get a 40-hour workweek and it took smartphones about 15 minutes to get us back to 80 hours a week.”

Brother Rex quoted St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless so they find their rest in you, oh Lord.” Technology is “just one more distraction, so we’re restless” surfing the Web, he said. “At least from the Christian perspective, God is always trying to find a way in — always talking, but with smartphones and iPods, we can’t hear God.”

He said the contemplative life of the hermit is to witness that God is around us and impinging upon us, to be removed from the workaday world to call people to slow down and listen.

“I think (prayer) is what holds the world together,” he said. “We just don’t know it.”

Those who live with no Internet or smartphone, “they’re the people who other people come to for the wisdom,” he said.

“I don’t consider myself wise by any stretch of the imagination, but my hope is that if I can continue to give myself to this vocation and in ever deeper ways keep saying yes to God, that God can use me to help people — I just want to glorify God and help my brothers and sisters,” he said.

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