By Karen Mahoney
The Catholic Sun
TONOPAH — After 10 years in Arizona of living out their charism of praying in Adoration, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, affectionately known as the “Desert Nuns,” now have an autonomous monastery within the Diocese of Phoenix.
The Desert Nuns first remained dependent on their mother house in Alabama, but on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated an installation Mass and Abbatial blessing for Mother Marie André, who was elevated to abbess of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery. Sr. Marie St. Paul was named mother vicar and Sr. Mary Fidelis was named formation directress.
“Once we reached a certain number of sisters here, it is in our constitution to establish a new foundation, and with permission of the bishop, the door was open and we walked through it,” said Mother Marie André.
Because they are a rural order and the monastery building has yet to be constructed, the five sisters currently live a semi-cloistered life because they need to make visits to town for the doctor, and other errands.
“We are not strictly enclosed because of our location, but we live throughout the day trying to maintain silence; … we still speak to others, but live in prayerfulness,” said Mother Marie André. “In certain times of the year, we live more quietly, such as during Lent and Good Friday. Our sisters do communicate; they are smart, use computers and cell phones and social media to get the word out. We have a website and that is our part about spreading information on us.”
The sisters are sustained through prayer and donations, and depend upon the providence of God for their needs, she said. They hope to have a monastery constructed soon, to eventually house 28 Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, as well as common rooms.
The 50-year-old nun is the daughter of a Navy pilot, growing up all over the country and overseas. She attended University of California, Santa Barbara for her undergraduate school and earned her master’s degree in French from Middlebury College in Vermont. She was working in a law office, when her best friend from sixth grade entered a monastery.
“I didn’t feel the call at all, but then like a bolt out of the blue, I felt called to enter religious life,” she said.
Mother Marie André is grateful to the Congregation for Religious Life Institute in appointing her abbess of the monastery. She called it a natural unfolding to be picked for abbess because she had been the superior when they first moved to Arizona.
“I am just grateful to the Lord for our autonomy. He has seen us through so much, provided so much and really called us to establish this monastery from the beginning,” she said. “It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I have lived it and seen how if you say yes and follow His will, He provides for you and grants you 100-fold. It is not always perfect or easy, but faithful. I am overcome with gratitude for the ladies and St. Joseph. Our Lord loves the desert and loves Our Lady of Solitude.”
Calling it a great privilege by the Holy See to appoint Mother Marie André as first abbess of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery, Bishop Olmsted referred to her as a servant of stability and a spiritual mother to the sisters. It is a conviction of the Church and God’s will to give this gift of stability to the Diocese of Phoenix, the bishop said.
“It is also God’s conviction to you that God has given you His charisms and graces as a servant of stability in the desert,” he explained.The sisters’ fourth vow is that of stability, the vow to live in the same religious community for life, and Bishop Olmsted expanded on the meaning, saying, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
“It doesn’t come by willing. It comes from God’s plan that Christ the King wants for you as abbess and through this monastery — which is also not of the world, it is in the world, but not of,” he said.
Mother Marie André received the crozier of St. Claire, an unusual ceremony usually reserved for bishops, as a symbol of authority.
He also advised that authority in Jesus’ name requires intention not to be served, but to serve and surrender to God’s way and assist God in His plans.
“Be full of confidence in God’s grace, go to St. Joseph to intercede for you, and St. Francis and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” said Bishop Olmsted. “Trust our heavenly Father and His beloved Son, to teach you and through you to teach others not to see, but to take the royal road to Jesus in the path of the desert.”