A blessing ceremony of
the recently completed monastery expansion building was held this past Saturday,
marking another milestone in the life of the growing community of
The Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph's new extension was designed to
suit the growing needs of this first North American community of
cloistered contemplative Norbertine canonesses on their sacred ground
in the mountains above Tehachapi, California.
“The new building, two stories tall with a half-basement
(principally for the aging of our artisan cheese), provides
much-needed living and working space for up to 48 women, gratefully
replacing the leaking and damaged modular trailers that served as our
dormitories and novitiate and which are literally falling apart,”
said Mother Mary Augustine, Prioress of the Bethlehem Priory.
Kern County Building Department awarded the Norbertine nuns an
occupancy permit for the new building in April 2013, and, following
some interior finishing works done by the sisters, the 26 women
moved into the expansion in mid-May on Pentecost Sunday,
providentially a very special feast day for all Norbertines who
follow the Rule of St. Augustine, which is modeled on the life of the
first disciples of Christ as in the Acts of the Apostles.
The blessing ceremony at the Priory was officiated by the sisters'
Pater Abbas (“Father Abbot”), The Right Reverend Eugene
Joseph Hayes, O. Praem., of St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado/Trabuco
Canyon (Diocese of Orange), the sisters' founding and “Mother
Abbey”, and was attended by about 50 guests, including the Fresno
Diocese's Chancellor, Teresa Dominguez; Father Alphonsus Mary Hermes,
O. Praem., Provost of the Priory, and other priest-confreres from St.
Michael’s Abbey; local Church clergy, including Fr. Michael
Cox, Administrator of St. Malachy's in Tehachapi, and Deacon Richard
Lambert from the Parish ; the sisters' major benefactors of the
project; and other special guests.
The building contractor, Tricorp Hearn Construction, Inc., out of
Gold River (Sacramento), was represented by one of its three
partner-owners, as well as the project and site managers, who guided
the construction over the past year under the prudent and watchful
eyes of Mother Mary Augustine, who acted as the “Owner's
Representative”, along with Sr. Mary Joannes Baptista, who had a
background in construction before entering the convent, and a very
giving local contractor, who helped them along with way with no
charge for his services. The sisters were also assisted in this
project by their construction advisory team, led by executives of
Hathaway-Dinwiddie’s Los Angeles office, who generously offered
their time and guidance on a pro bono basis.
Suiting Growing Needs
The population of the mountain-based Priory, which is nestled at
5,400 feet above and between the California’s Mojave Desert and San
Joaquin Valley, has grown from the first five founding sisters to 26
nuns in various stages of religious formation, of which the first ten
have made their Solemn Profession (final and perpetual vows). The
sisters have several young women discerning with them at this time,
with four new entrants possible in the coming months.
“We could not be more grateful to our family, friends and
benefactors who have made this expansion a reality with their
financial support and prayers. We pray that the Lord is blessing them
all a hundred fold,” said Mother Mary Augustine.
"The new expansion," Mother explained, "has a large
refectory (dining room) as well as two government-approved,
professional kitchens, which will be carefully equipped at a
level required to license the future production and selling of our
artisan cheeses, as well as our biscotti and jams at venues outside
the convent. The first floor also has a large Chapter Room for
meetings of the Prioress' Council, Canonry Chapter
(solemnly-professed sisters), House Chapter (all sisters), etc., and,
following in the great monastic and Norbertine tradition, for daily
chapter of all sisters, where the Church's martyrology and a part of
the Rule of St. Augustine are read daily, as well as confession of
faults by the professed sisters, one of the three things strongly
encouraged by St. Norbert if communities were to continue and prosper
in the Lord. The first floor also houses the infirmary (for sick or
future elderly sisters), a large recreation room which also serves as
a dining area when receiving special guests like the Abbot General of
the Order or the Bishop, and the inner cloister garden (garth), a
quiet and serene nature setting for prayer and meditation, following
once again in the great ancient monastic tradition. The upper floor
houses the monastic cells (two sisters to each room) as well as
prayer, art, study and other rooms for the Novitiate, Donatae and
Professed Sisters. And last but not least, the basement has, in
addition to housing the cheese aging rooms, a large supply/receiving
room, the vestry (clothing and personal storage), a mud room (for
sisters who come in after working outside), the laundry room, an
apothecary and gift shop room, etc.”
With both youth (some of the sisters entered at 18, 19 or 20) and
experience, the sisters bring with them various educational degrees
as well as a broad background of work experience and talents, all of
which the Lord knew would be beneficial to help build this
foundation. Most importantly, each has a deep desire to give all of
gifts and talents to God in the service of community, to have “one
mind and heart” on the way to God, as set forth in the sisters’
rule of life, the Rule of St. Augustine, all for His honor and glory,
and the salvation of souls.
The sisters continually strive to be self-sustaining and
self-sufficient, a requirement of all Norbertine communities.
They have a small “family working dairy farm,” with cows, goats,
and chickens, along with a large year-round greenhouse for organic
produce, and outdoor vegetable, berry and vine gardens. The sisters
are also involved in variety of income-producing works and activities
consistent with their cloistered contemplative life of prayer,
including sewing priest vestments, operating their Bethany Guest
House, running the convent gift shop and bookstore, and annually
selling Christmas wreaths, with last year being their best season
ever, with over 1100 wreaths shipped across the country.
About the Priory and the Order
On Saturday, January 29, 2011, nine sisters of the Bethlehem
Priory of St. Joseph of Tehachapi, California made their Solemn
Profession at St. John the Baptist’s Cathedral in Fresno,
California. The event 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 Norbertines, more formally The Order of Canons
Regular of Prémontré, are also known as the Premonstratensians, or
in Britain and Ireland as the White Canons (from the colour of their
habit). Premonstratensians are designated by O.
Praem (Ordo Praemonstratensis) following
their name. They are a Catholic religious order of men and women
founded at Prémontré on what is now northern France near Laon on
Christmas Day in 1121 by Saint Norbert, who later became Archbishop
of Magdeburg, Germany.
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. They also have an e-mail prayer request line,
receiving many prayer requests daily which are shared with all the
Sisters for prayer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mother Mary Augustine, a native of French New Caledonia, and four
other women made the first step towards full autonomy as an
independent canonry of Norbertine Canonesses on October 7, 1997.
They were founded on that date as a Public Association of the
Faithful by the Rt. Rev. Eugene Joseph Hayes, O. Praem., Abbot of St.
Michael's Abbey, their mother abbey, a community of about 70 priests
and seminarians in Orange, California, who have faithfully served the
community over the years.
The Norbertine community in Tehachapi is the only community of
cloistered nuns in the Fresno Diocese, having been welcomed to the
Diocese in May of 2000 by the late Bishop John T. Steinbock.
Men's houses of Norbertines have been in the US since the late 1800’s
and there are now full abbeys in DePere, Wisconsin; Daylesford,
Pennsylvania; and Orange, California, with houses of these abbeys
also in other parts of the United States.
For more information:
Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph
17831 Water Canyon Road
Tehachapi, California 93561