Shared from the 11/18/2017 Midland Daily News eEdition

Peace and quiet: Local woman shares prayer house


Midland resident Jeanne Schaller poses for a portrait inside the small prayer house in her backyard. Catherine House is very rustic, with no running water or electricity, but has welcomed many visitors over the years and is the focus of Schaller’s new book, “Desert in My Backyard: One Woman’s Journey into Silence.” (Katy Kildee/


A wooden cross hangs on the outside of the small prayer house in Midland resident Jeanne Schaller’s backyard. (Katy Kildee/


Midland resident Jeanne Schaller’s new book, “Desert in My Backyard: One Woman’s Journey into Silence,” features artwork from Schaller’s granddaughter on its cover. (Katy Kildee/


Midland resident Jeanne Schaller and her dog, Jazzy, begin the short walk back to Schaller’s house from the small prayer house in her backyard. (Katy Kildee/

Tucked away in the back corner of Jeanne Schaller’s 10-acre property rests a little house of prayer. Catherine House is very rustic, with no running water or electricity, but has welcomed many visitors over the years and is the focus of Schaller’s new book, “Desert in My Backyard: One Woman’s Journey into Silence.”

“My passion for peace and nonviolence has been deeply influenced by my connection to this sacred space and the time I spent in or near it,” Schaller said.

Catherine House is named for Catherine de Hueck Doherty, a Russian baroness who introduced the concept of a poustinia (“little desert.”)  The baroness founded in 1947 a poustinia – a quiet place for people to retreat to and contemplate their faith – called Madonna House Apostolate in Ontario, Canada. Schaller visited Madonna House 20 years later.

Schaller was intrigued with the idea of the poustinia, but didn’t have the proper space to build one until 1978 when she moved to the country. In the spring of 1981, she realized that a vacant house that had belonged to a neighbor’s mother would be ideal for her prayer house. The neighbor, Paul Owens, explained that he was going to bulldoze the building, but Schaller was welcome to salvage any materials she wanted.

“Almost all of it is recycled,” Schaller said.

In December 1981, Schaller held an opening ceremony. Thirty people came to Catherine House and participated in prayer and music to celebrate to occasion.

“I’m glad that we did that. I like having rituals for things … It was good to have those people we knew, who were interested in having something like this be there.”

Schaller describes Catherine House as a community house, built and furnished by the generosity of friends and neighbors. The windows, most of the wood and some of the brickwork came from the Owens’ house. Friends from Hope donated the front door and a small wood stove that keeps the space cozy in the colder months. Another friend built a small bunk and Schaller’s husband provided a comfortable rocking chair. A simple, yet colorful desk holds religious tomes including a Qur’an, Book of Mormon, Bible, Baha’i prayer book and a Quaker songbook that visitors have generously left behind.

“We have a lantern if people come when it’s dark here. It’s very simple,” Schaller said.

The prayer house is also communal in that everyone is welcome to visit. Over the past 36 years, hundreds of people have walked the short forest path to Catherine House and stayed anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks. Along the way they are encouraged to visit the Mary Morrison Glade of Forgiveness as well as a  labyrinth. No matter how much time a person decides to spend at the house, Schaller hopes that all visitors have an “experience in a quiet, simple space within the beauty of Mother Nature that is soothing and healing.”

Some, like Marge Darger, made regular trips to the prayer house. According to Schaller, Darger would come for three hours once a week, April through October.

“These are the words that surface as I reflect on my countless visits to the prayer house over 30 years: serenity, quiet, peace, nature, beauty, joy, joy, joy. Inside and outside of it: simplicity, an invitation to just be, grace, goodness, lead me to the more... the more ... the more,” Darger stated.

There are only two requirements if someone is interested in a visit: contact Schaller to let her know about the visit and to sign the guestbook.

“It’s not that we are concerned,” Schaller explained. “It’s that we just like the idea of people stopping in and just leaving their name and a little message.”

In addition to providing a quiet retreat for all people, Catherine House is the basis for Schaller’s book, “Desert in My Backyard: One Woman’s Journey into Silence.”

Schaller began writing when she was in her 30s on various subjects. She explained that her original plan was to write about raising kids, living in the country and her faith journey. Once Catherine House was built, Schaller’s writing began to focus on the prayer house and how it affected her life. For a 10-year period she set aside writing, but never forgot about the idea. In 2010, after she went through her old journals and decided to make a dedicated effort to finish the book.

“Catherine House and the writing of this book have changed me in that I am slowly becoming more quiet and rested within,” Schaller reflected. “I also better understand as I age, given all the challenges in today’s world, that these are key elements that can make a positive difference.”

Schaller self-published the book this autumn and asked her granddaughter, Chloe, to provide the cover art.

“When I asked my 15-year-old granddaughter to draw the cover for my book, I told her that even though land/ trees are lush back there, I wanted her to create a ‘desert-like’ picture.”

The majority of the book’s proceeds will go toward two projects that are dear to Schaller and Chloe: Midland Food Pantry and Midland Quiltmakers.

“It’s a relief but it’s a joy also to have it in print. I love books. We grew up reading in the library. So having a book in hand is still so important for my generation,” Schaller said.

“Desert in My Backyard: One Woman’s Journey into Silence” is available for purchase on Amazon. To visit Catherine House, contact Schaller at 989-832-7876 or

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