Last week, North America’s first community of contemplative, cloistered Norbertine nuns broke ground on the site for their new convent in Tehachapi, California.
The Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph, a community currently consisting of 25 nuns in various stages of formation, was founded in 1997 with five members, including Mother Mary Augustine, the prioress. In January 2011, nine sisters of the Bethlehem Priory made their solemn profession of vows, which, according to a press release, “marked the community’s formal transition to full integration in the Norbertine Order, the Diocese of Fresno, California, and the Roman Catholic Church as an independent canonry of Norbertine Canonesses, the first in the United States of America.”
The new convent, which will house up to 48 nuns, will replace the “leaking and damaged modular trailers” currently serving as the sisters’ dormitories and novitiate, according to the press release about the groundbreaking. It will also house the nuns’ income-generating activities, which include making artisan cheeses, biscotti, and jam, as well as sewing priestly vestments, running the convent gift shop and bookstore, and selling wreaths at Christmastime.
The press release describes the Bethlehem Priory’s mission thus:
The Canonesses of the Norbertine Order are Roman Catholic cloistered nuns and their lives are devoted to liturgical prayer, officially deputed by the Church for the solemn and reverential celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, interceding for the needs of the Church and the world day and night during Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and their other community and private prayers. The Canonesses of Bethlehem Priory each day perform the full daily cycle of the divine office, sung seven times a day in community in both Latin and English.
The sisters also have an e-mail prayer request line, receiving many prayer requests daily which are shared with the community for prayer: firstname.lastname@example.org