‘Desert nuns’ welcome new novice

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Behind the grate to the left of the sanctuary, Jennifer Meissonnier knelt as her hair was cut, and she was given the veil and habit she would wear during her two-year Novitiate. By the time the investiture ceremony ended, she had shed not only her hair, but her name, as she is now known as Sister Augusta Mary of Our Lady of Grace.

During the June 6 ceremony at Our Lady of Solitude Chapel in Tonopah, Sr. Augusta Mary became a novice member of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, becoming the second young woman to join the order’s Arizona community — affectionately known as the “Desert Nuns” — since they arrived here.

“It was a really beautiful ceremony,” Sr. Augusta Mary said. “This last year of postulancy has been a really fruitful preparation for this moment.”

In his homily during the ceremony, the nuns’ chaplain, Fr. Anthony Phelps, a consecrated diocesan hermit, explained that the call of a contemplative nun is a response to the love of Christ.

“Jennifer has been discerning her calling / her vocation and the discernment process has brought her here today, to this very moment,” Fr. Anthony said. “What is she looking for? What is it that she seeks? Love. Then why leave the world and turn away from marriage and family? Because she seeks Divine Love.

“Jennifer has … freely chosen to take this path to enter the Novitiate,” he added. “In humility and love, Jennifer can say, ‘Oh Lord, You have seduced me, and I was seduced.’”

A native of Merced, California, Sr. Augusta Mary was baptized Catholic but was not raised in the Church. After an intense religious search, she returned to Catholicism and began discerning religious life.

The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration are a ­contemplative monastic community, dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration.

“Our life here justifies the absence of an exterior apostolate working out in the world by drawing down from Heaven an abundance of divine grace to assist the evangelical workers, especially priests and active-order sisters, in the field of their labors,” said the Desert Nuns’ superior, Sr. Marie Andre, PCPA, in prepared remarks at the investiture ceremony.

“No one realizes more than women who are consecrated religious that we are signs of contradiction in a very contradictory world, but God gives meaning to our lives because He is the center of our lives,” she added.

Sr. Augusta Mary first arrived at the Desert Nuns’ monastery “by accident.” She and a friend drove to Phoenix in December 2011 to spend a few days with another community, but that appointment had to be unexpectedly canceled.

Her friend had mapped out locations where they could pray in Adoration, and the pair went to Our Lady of Solitude. It was there she met the nuns and first entertained the idea of entering contemplative life rather than joining an active order. She later returned to the monastery to attend several discernment retreats.

“Originally I was only discerning with active orders,” said Sr. Augusta Mary, “but after leaving Our Lady of Solitude that first time, I experienced an intense longing to come back.

“It’s amazing to see how He took what I thought I wanted and brought it into line with what He wanted. In this I found my truest desire and peace,” she added. “Trust Him to lead.”