The contemplative nuns who live “at the heart” of the Church

The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration are living a secluded monastic life in the middle of the Arizona desert.

Some of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration who live at Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah, Arizona. The community's superior, Mother Marie Andre, is in the center. (Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery)

Mother Marie Andre is the first abbess of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah, Arizona. She became a Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration in 1994, joining Mother Angelica’s Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama.

In 2005, Bishop Thomas Olmsted invited the community to start a new foundation of contemplative nuns in his Diocese of Phoenix. It became the first community of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration west of the Mississippi, and the first contemplative order in the diocese. Mother Marie Andre was installed as the community’s abbess in 2016.

The community’s focus is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; visitors are welcome to come pray with the community.

CWR: Why was Our Lady of Solitude Monastery established, and what work do you do?

Mother Marie Andre: We had a very large community in Hanceville, Alabama. It is written in our constitutions that flourishing monasteries should favor making new foundations, especially where such a community would serve the spiritual needs of the local Church.

The sisters who came out to Arizona each felt a particular call from the Lord to cast out into the deep, knowing that he wished for our cooperation in this endeavor.

Today, we have four final-professed nuns (and a few discerners in the works!). Our main apostolate is adoration of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Our whole life revolves around him. Our daily duties include computer work, cooking, cleaning, working outside, and the upkeep of a 40-acre site with a large chapel, sisters’ house, and a priest retreat house.

CWR: What is your site like at Tonopah?

Mother Marie Andre: It is situated in the heart of the desert, about an hour west of Phoenix. The land was donated by a generous couple. We have a chapel (also built through the generosity of a deceased benefactor) that seats 150 people, a priest retreat house that can accommodate four (seminarian, priest or deacon), and a sisters’ house that can take in a total of four vocations along with the sisters already living there. We have plans, architectural and otherwise, to build an actual monastery edifice that will house 16 nuns total. It will be directly attached to our chapel.

CWR: What is your typical day like?

Mother Marie Andre: We rise early, and meet in our chapel as a community where we pray the Rosary and the Divine Office and have morning Mass. We have a light breakfast, work until 11:30 am, and pray mid-day prayer and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. After lunch at noon, we have free time until 2 pm, and go back to work until 4:30 pm, when we have our spiritual reading until 5 pm. We pray Vespers and end our day with Compline and dinner. We also have a spiritual lesson or lessons throughout the week, and take a monthly day retreat. During the day we each take an hour of adoration before Our Eucharistic Lord. Even if a monastery cannot actually hold adoration every hour because of lack of sisters, still it has perpetual adoration, if the hours are distributed throughout the day and above all, if the heart remains in adoration.

CWR: What kind of woman would be a good fit for your community?

Mother Marie Andre: We look for women who are willing to give their all for love of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament; those who no longer think whether they are to gain or lose but are looking to serve and please Our Eucharistic Lord, and those who don’t mind being pioneers in the call to contemplative life. We will never have it as arduous as our forbearers did a 100 years ago or even 50, but our life here is one of reparative thanksgiving and we should be “specialists” in the apostolate of sacrifice, as it says in the book Divine Intimacy. St. Teresa of Avila told her sisters: “if you wish to collaborate with Jesus in the salvation of mankind, you have to mix a little bit of your blood with His Precious Blood if you want to save souls…because they cost dear and the contemplative nun must pay with herself for those she wants to win.” Every call of life has particular challenges, and we are no different, but the benefits are eternal and it doesn’t get any better than that!

CWR: Tell me about the clothing you wear (and how it works with the summer heat!).

Mother Marie Andre: We love our habits! And, believe it or not, they are practical and conducive to our contemplative life, even in the desert. We are covered from head to toe (as most people who live in dry, hot, and arid lands are), but our habits are comfortable to wear, and when we work or do manual labor, we adjust accordingly by wearing a work habit. At that point, it’s all about functionality. One thing that drew me to the Lord when he called me was knowing that he is a realistic Spouse and won’t ask of me anything I can’t give him or do for him, and that even means being able to live, work, and pray in 100-degree weather, and yes, we do have air conditioning…so you see what I mean, the Lord provides for us in a pragmatic way.

CWR: What led you to enter Our Lady of the Angels Monastery?

Mother Marie Andre: I am the third of four daughters. My father is a former US Navy fighter-attack pilot and retired rear admiral. My mother was a grammar school teacher. I had a wonderful life growing up all over California, in Northern Virginia, and overseas in England and France. I give thanks daily for my family and friends and all the opportunities that were given so generously to me. My youngest sister is also a Poor Clare nun and we are blessed to be together in our religious life. I always wanted to work for the CIA or the FBI or the DEA, and I interviewed with all of them after graduate school while working in a law firm. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that is not what the Lord was asking of me. His call came like a bolt out of the blue when I was 28 years old. I knew about Our Lady of the Angels Monastery through my best friend from sixth grade who had entered there, and from then on, the Lord opened one door after another, and I have been very happy and blessed in the 23 years that I have been a Poor Clare nun.

CWR: Tell me about what it was like living in Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and working with Mother Angelica.

Mother Marie Andre: Most people would think that living a hidden and enclosed life would be dull and monotonous, but it has never been so….not when I entered OLAM and not now. Although living in the cloister, the sisters were on the cusp of all that is going on in the Church, especially for us as we lived in close contact with Mother Angelica as the foundress of Eternal Word Television Network. It seems to me, looking back on those days, that our very existence pulsed with a vibrancy that is astounding. Mother Angelica was an amazing woman, given totally over to doing God’s Will, whatever it was. Living with Jesus 24 hours a day, seven days a week is extraordinary, but we also witnessed many miraculous happenings in the life of Mother and the network. These events I never forget or take for granted.

CWR: What needs does your community have?

Mother Marie Andre: We rely totally on the Lord’s providence through the generosity of friends and benefactors that support us prayerfully and financially. We do have a wish list on our website with day-to-day items that we need and use as a community. Of course, our biggest project is the construction of our monastery building. We know that the Lord will provide this for us in his timing. We also do a lot of upkeep on our grounds with landscaping and keeping things looking beautiful on the outside for the benefit of our guests and visitors. (And special thanks to all who kindly support us.)

CWR: Do you welcome visitors?

Mother Marie Andre: We welcome daily visitors for Mass and desert days. The laity is also welcome to spend time during the day in prayer in the chapel. We have overnight facilities for priests, deacons, and seminarians to make retreats, for one day or for several.

CWR: What else would you like to share about Our Lady of Solitude Monastery?

Mother Marie Andre: Mother Angelica always would say that everyone is called to holiness, although not everyone is called to religious life. There is a beauty in having the nuns always on site, adoring the Lord and welcoming all to join us in prayer, the Mass, and particularly adoration, thus integrating all walks of life. We are at the heart of Holy Mother Church, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, remaining where we are but also reaching out to all peripheries and embracing the whole of humanity by our sacrifice of praise.

I think it is important to share too that the interior apostolate of our purely contemplative life can subsist by itself, and that our state of life does justify the absence of an exterior apostolate. Pope Pius XII defined our way of life as universal and apostolic not limited by boundaries of place, time, or circumstances. Our veiled existence is lived for the honor of the Heavenly Spouse and for the salvation of souls.

About Jim Graves 134 Articles

Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.

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