Sr. John-Mark Maria professes perpetual vows, a first for ‘Desert Nuns’

Sr. John-Mark Maria stands in front of the tabernacle after professing perpetual vows with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. (John Bering/CATHOLIC SUN)

TONOPAH — Donning a floral bridal crown of over her brown habit, Sr. John-Mark Maria, PCPA, did not stop smiling as she professed perpetual vows. She was now a bride of Christ.

Indeed, after the Mass celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12, at the Poor Clares of Adoration Our Lady of Solitude Monastery, Sr. John-Mark’s father, Matt Shafer, was addressed as the “father of the bride.”

“We’re very joyful,” Shafer said. “We have joy in the Lord for her having a vocation being out here praying for us all.”

Shafer was among 22 family members and friends that traveled from Ohio to be with Sr. John-Mark.

Sr. John-Mark Maria is the first vocation for the Poor Clares in Tonopah, affectionately known as the “Desert Nuns.” Before discerning with them, she had worked as a parish director of religious education, served a year with NET Ministries — a traveling youth ministry program — and worked in campus ministry at a Catholic University. She started to feel a tug to discern religious life and at 33 she joined the Desert Nuns.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted receives Sr. John-Mark Maria’s vows during the Dec. 12 Mass he celebrated. (John Bering/CATHOLIC SUN)

“The sisters’ love of the Lord the first time I came was very apparent. There was a deep devotion and I wanted to share in that,” Sr. John-Mark said. “From there, I followed the path of being a member of the community, growing with them and being formed by their example and seeing them always having the Lord at their center. … Eight years later it’s brought me to this day.”

In his homily, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted — who celebrated the Mass — commended the bride for her love of her spouse.

“Love is the only thing that makes religious vows credible: the love of Jesus filling a human heart and, in turn, that human heart returning with joy this love to the Beloved.”

The bishop said that when God calls a woman to religious life, He speaks through Hosea: “I will espouse you to me forever … and you shall know the Lord” (2:21f). But when He calls her to religious life in Arizona, he again speaks through Hosea: “I will allure her, I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart” (2:16f).

Sr. John-Mark Maria signs her perpetual vows as a Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration in the presence of Mother Marie André, abbess of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery of Tonopah, and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, after her public profession. (John Bering/CATHOLIC SUN)

“This is the beautiful mystery we are witnessing today, a mystery wrapped in the rich mercy of God,” he said.

Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, RSM, director of the diocese’s Office of Consecrated Life, said it’s “crucial” for the diocese to have an order of contemplateive sisters praying for the diocese, and their service of prayer is “the heart of the Church.”

“Her profession of vows to be a spouse of Christ is a total surrender to be at service to Him,” she said. “In a world where prayer is not a value — it seems like a waste of time, in reality it’s essential for the holiness of the Church. It’s the most valuable gift she can give to the Church.”

Though the Poor Clares are a cloistered order, Sr. John-Mark Maria took a vow as an extern nun, meaning she will continue to serve as the public face for her order.

But on her wedding day, Sr. John-Mark Maria continued to exude that joy.

“That my whole life now is completely and totally for Him,” she said. “It’s a complete joy that what the Lord made me for has been fulfilled today.”