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Sister of Mercy leading interfaith place of prayer in LR

Sister Deborah back in Little Rock after six years working in Maryland

Published: August 21, 2018   
Aprille Hanson
Sister Deborah Troillett, RSM, sits peacefully in the fountain garden Aug. 8 at the Arkansas House of Prayer. She was named the executive director of the interfaith ministry beginning July 1.

In Matthew 6:6, Jesus encouraged the faithful to “go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

But a room can be anything but peaceful — children knocking, laundry overflowing from the hamper, dogs squeaking their toys, a cell phone lighting up with each text.

But tucked off in the woods in west Little Rock is the Arkansas House of Prayer, a true oasis of silence for the past 11 years.

Though it’s a ministry of the Episcopal church, founded by the Rev. Susan Sims Smith, it is interfaith.

Sister Deborah Troillett, RSM, who for six years served as councilor of the five-member Institute Leadership Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in Silver Spring, Md., started July 1 as the executive director for the House of Prayer. She remains on the board of directors for the new Mercy Education System of the Americas.

Previously, she served 22 years as a Mount St. Mary Academy teacher and administrator, with the last 14 years as president, ending in 2011. The House of Prayer will also have an associate director, the Rev. Stephanie Fox, who recently graduated from seminary.

“I felt a strong attraction to the mission and to the role of executive director,” Sister Deborah said, adding Bishop Anthony B. Taylor was “fully supportive.”


Heaven meeting earth

A solid pebbled pathway leads away from the road at St. Margaret Episcopal Church to a sloped-roof building, designed to rest gently in the natural space. Silence begins in the courtyard and upon entering, guests are greeted with a reading room, with literature from major faith traditions.

Cell phones must be silenced and shoes either covered or removed to enter the large prayer/meditation room where people from all walks of life — faith leaders, parents and children, people of various faiths or no faith — come to rest the mind. In the garden, visitors can sit in rocking chairs surrounding a flowing fountain. A new addition is a walking trail that leads to a labyrinth.

“People just say how refreshing it is, how restorative … and healing,” Sister Deborah said. “… It’s the space that doesn’t have an agenda. Just be with God.”

Sun rays from the skylight beam on the circle of soil in the center, signifying “heaven meeting the earth,” she said. The 16-foot deep circle includes dirt faith leaders brought from church grounds or from places that represented their faith when the House was established in 2007. Sister Deborah, at the time, put in soil from the Religious Sisters of Mercy convent in Ireland.

It was just one way that connected Sister Deborah to this part-time ministry position. In the 1980s, then-Abbot Jerome Kodell, of Subiaco Abbey, introduced her to Christian meditation. In 1985, as a college student, she journeyed around the world for seven weeks to study religions in their native lands, places like Turkey, Italy and Thailand, which opened her eyes to interfaith dialogue. An eight-week Fulbright seminar in India gave her a blessed meeting with St. Teresa of Kolkata, a saintly example of compassion for everyone. 

The experiences were “real extraordinary gifts that hopefully I can draw on in this ministry for the sake of promoting the kind of prayer, meditation and respect for interfaith prayer programs,” she said.

Sister Deborah will hold a retreat for board members in September to solidify the House of Prayer’s future goals.

“I see us going out to where groups are initially to talk about it, teach about it and then hopefully they’ll be some interest in coming,” Sister Deborah said, adding her first talk was July 12 with Pax Christi Little Rock, a Catholic social justice group.


‘Experience Jesus’

Though multiple people can be praying in the main room on pillows or chairs, there are also three niches for more privacy, with large windows to view the five acres of woods. People do not need to call ahead and groups are welcome, but nothing is reserved. Retreats and education on centering prayer are conducted at St. Margaret.

Visitors can access the House of Prayer 24 hours a day, seven days a week (see sidebar).

Though Catholics can find peace in adoration chapels and parishes, the House of Prayer is an interfaith opportunity — a Catholic could be praying the rosary silently next to a Buddhist practicing meditation.

“Why would Catholics go when we have the Real Presence? I think one of the things is that we do give witness to the interfaith dimension of our faith … to find unity where we can. Seeking the Divine, seeking peace for the world that’s so polarized,” Sister Deborah said. “ … It goes back to God telling us we need Sabbath rest. Rest is restorative; God rested.”

Sister Deborah said her mother, Mary Jean, a cradle Catholic, found the peace she needed at the House of Prayer after her husband of 71 years, Raymond, died in January.

“She started crying,” Sister Deborah said, adding her mother explained, “‘I felt God, I felt Raymond.’ And it kind of overwhelmed her. It was just a moment of grace.”

Bill Rausch, a member of Pax Christi Little Rock and parishioner at Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said he and his wife Joanne first visited the House of Prayer last year, when Buddhist monks visited St. Margaret Church. The monks blessed those who came to learn, gave them a prayer shawl and the group all prayed at the House.

“It was awesome. It’s very inspiring, very emotional. It fills you with the spirit in a way that you don’t get in a crowd of people,” Rausch said. “I would say faith is like a big buffet — why not take a piece of everything? Why not come and experience Jesus in a different way?”

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