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Sister Seraphim, a Russian Orthodox nun, founded The Hermitage Cat Shelter in 1965 as a sanctuary. She later moved the shelter to its current location in 1969 and it is where The Hermitage has remained ever since. The remarkable Sister Seraphim passed away in 1990.
Sister Seraphim’s devotion to animals represents the foundation of our commitment to The Hermitage’s mission.
Sister Seraphim Museum
This museum is dedicated to Sister Theresa Seraphim, a Russian Orthodox nun who settled in Tucson, Arizona and founded The Hermitage Cat Shelter in 1965. The result of a deal she made with God earlier in life to care for any animal He put in her path as long as He provided the means, The Hermitage was the first no-kill, no-cage cat sanctuary in Arizona. In fact, the concept of “no-kill” was new and not practiced in most animal shelters throughout the country at that time. Sister Seraphim had the support of several prominent people who assisted in establishing her animal sanctuary, such as Doris Day, Mrs. Will Rogers, Jr. and socialite Carolyn Hyde Woodin. However, much of the funding for the care of her cats came from numerous animal lovers from all over the world who had read her book All God’s Creatures or heard about her award-winning work from various magazine and newspaper articles.
Sister Seraphim was a staunch advocate of animal rights and used her unique cat sanctuary and prominence to further promote these ideals and educate the public about responsible pet ownership. She believed she could communicate with animals and in particular, cats. She championed spay or neutering of all pets, adoption of animals from shelters rather than purchasing from breeders and vegetarianism.
Prior to becoming a nun, Sister Seraphim had already experienced a full and interesting life, but had not found the inner peace that would allow her to settle in one place for very long. She firmly believed that her life’s journey which took her all around the world to ultimately settle in the Southwestern desert and create The Hermitage Cat Shelter, was a divinely orchestrated fulfillment of her destiny.
Born Veronica “Vere” Lowe on August 12, 1903 in Exeter, England she spent her early life at her family’s estate called Crossmeads. Her parents were free-thinking intellectuals who believed in a “Universal Spirit” whereby all matter is connected. They inspired young Veronica to be inquisitive, thoughtful and respect all living creatures. Her father’s work as a botanist brought the family to South
Africa when she was a teenager, until she left to attend boarding school in Switzerland. In school, she was a bright student and discovered she had a talent for art and languages. After returning to South Africa, she married and had a child, but later divorced and returned to England. There she married a second time to a Scottsman named Alexander Stuart and had two more children. Veronica and her second husband separated, but never divorced and she retained her name as Veronica Stuart-Alexander until the time she took her religious vows.
Regardless of the social mores of the 1930’s Veronica suffered from wanderlust and as a single mother, she and her children moved around quite a bit. They lived for short periods in various exotic locations such as Greece, Spain, the West Indies and Paris where she supported her family usually by teaching or painting. While living in Paris, Veronica became acquainted with Charles de Gaulle and subsequently joined The Free French Forces during WWII. Though a pacifist, she felt she had to fight against the horrors of Nazism and was able to do so by procuring supplies for the French Colonies. This brought her to America where she worked in the office of the Mission Des Colonies Francaises in Washington D.C.
After the war, with her children grown and her estranged husband deceased, Veronica felt a calling to join the church. In 1949, at the age of 46, she became a Russian Orthodox nun and took the name Sister Theresa Seraphim. She lived in a convent in Calistoga, California for several years before relocating to Tucson in 1961 due to crippling arthritis. Here, her new life as “Tucson’s Patron Saint of Homeless Cats” began. Sister Seraphim personally managed The Hermitage Cat Shelter, which was also her home, until just prior to her death on March 26, 1990. Her cremains are buried on the premises among those of her many beloved cats, and a few dogs, who preceded her in death. Today, The Hermitage Cat Shelter continues Sister Seraphim’s work as a cat sanctuary and adoption center through the efforts of dedicated staff and volunteers . It operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supported entirely by private donations.
The Sister Seraphim Museum at The Hermitage Cat Shelter commemorates the remarkable life of this woman and the creation of her unique cat rescue sanctuary through a collection of original artwork, photographs, newspaper interviews, letters and other memorabilia. The collection is housed in the reception area of the shelter where the many resident cats freely roam about as a living tribute to the Good Sister. The Hermitage Cat Shelter is located at 5278 East 21st Street in Tucson, Arizona 85711. The phone number is (520) 571-7839. The museum is open during normal shelter hours. There is no admission fee, but donations to help the cats are appreciated.