With a lot of prayer and a little holy water, the new monastery extension for the Norbertine Sisters in Tehachapi received its blessing ceremony Saturday.
The Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph's extension was designed to suit the growing needs of the nuns, the only female Norbertine order in the U.S. The new building has space for up to 48 women and replaces the leaking, damaged trailers the sisters had been using.
"Thank you to all of you, and of course let us praise the Lord," Mother Mary Augustine, Prioress of the Bethlehem Priory, said to the guests following the ceremony. "Without Him, nothing would have been done."
Augustine was all smiles as she walked through the priory with the sisters, who sang as they went from room to room during the ceremony. The sisters' Father Abbot, The Right Rev. Eugene Joseph Hayes, abbot of St. Michael's in Orange County, asked for God's mercy and grace as he led the procession from the cellar to art rooms, from gardens to prayer rooms.
Dan Scales, project manager for Tricorp Hearn Construction, said there were some difficulties in building the structure on the hillside. The priory is located 5,400 feet above and between the Mojave Desert and the San Joaquin Valley.
The building needed a cool cellar area, and since there's no air conditioning the structure needed proper ventilation throughout. Scales and other members of the work crew were allowed to talk to only a select few of the sisters, but that didn't prove much of a problem.
The sisters knew exactly what they wanted. Sister Mary Norbert was an attorney before joining the order, and another sister had worked in the construction field, Scales said.
By talking to them, Scales was able to determine what was needed and construction was begun in May 2012, finishing in April 2013. The $2.6 million cost was paid off entirely from donations.
"As Mother has said, it's all God's doing," Norbert said.
She added that she and the other sisters are very grateful, and pray for those who have helped them reach this milestone.
The building has two professional kitchens which will be equipped to license the production and selling of artisan cheeses, biscotti and jams at venues outside the convent. The cheeses and jams are part of the sisters' plan of working toward self-sufficiency.
The first floor houses an infirmary, a large recreation room that also serves as a dining room for special guests, a large dining room, and a Chapter Room for meetings and confessions, and where a part of the Rule of St. Augustine is read daily.
Included on the upper floor are the small monastic cells, with two sisters to each room, as well as prayer, art and study rooms.
The extension is the latest addition to the priory, which also has a small working dairy farm, a year-round greenhouse for organic produce, and outdoor vegetable, berry and vine gardens. In addition to the cheeses, the sisters' other income-producing works includes sewing priest vestments, operating their Bethany Guest House, running the convent gift shop and bookstore and annually selling Christmas wreaths.
Angelina Hudson said she travels from Laguna Hills to Tehachapi whenever she can to help the sisters. She said she prays for them every day and was happy to be a part in their moving to nicer accommodations.
"It was such a blessing to get them out of those trailers," Hudson said.
The sisters vary widely in age and background, but they've come together to devote their lives to God. They pray and work constantly, and now their work can continue with a little more space, plus room to welcome other women drawn to the order.
"Our hearts are filled with gratitude," Augustine said to the guests as she thanked those present and those who couldn't make it. "You have all been a part of God's plan in bringing this to reality."