Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, told Friends of the Cathedral California pilgrims that “We bring nothing to someone else unless we are filled with Jesus,” in his homily at Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah June 23. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

California Pilgrimage Day 4: June 23

TONOPAH — Our final day was centered on the trip home. After a robust three days of visiting cathedrals, historic missions, churches and monasteries, it was time to focus on the drive back from the Southern California coast to Phoenix.

But along the way, we had one stop at a relatively small site that left many of us with a big impression.

Following checkout from the hotel in the morning, we boarded our bus and headed along the interstates through the Coachella Valley and eventually to the Arizona state line. After an hourlong lunch stop we were back on the road, before finally arriving at our last stop — Our Lady of Solitude Chapel and home to the Diocese of Phoenix’s first cloistered community.

The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration — the same order EWTN founder Mother Angelica of the Annunciation was a member of — were first invited to Arizona by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in 2005 to establish a contemplative cloistered order to the diocese. The community — known affectionately within the community as the “Desert Nuns” — took up residence in Black Canyon City, but the low mountain terrain there proved not conducive to the physical complex envisioned for the sisters: a site by itself with room to expand and allow the sisters to practice their charism of praying for priests and other religious. Eventually, a site in Tonopah was identified that proved to be perfect, and the sisters moved. With the gift of a single donor, the nuns’ chapel was built. Plans are moving ahead for construction to begin on their monastery in August.

“It’s been a fruitful journey,” said Sr. John-Mark Maria Schaefer, the extent — or public face — of the community whose other members live a life within the enclosure of their residence away from the outside world.
“This allows us to concentrate on that charism,” she told us.

The community is growing.

“The Lord is providing us in vocations,” Sr. John-Mark Maria added. “We need 12 sisters for a perpetual order. We have four fully formed (including Sr. John-Mark Maria), two postulants, two in one-month candidacy and one planning her first visit.”

After a variety of sights and sounds that filled the spiritual senses, the simplicity of this community and the dedication of its members seemed to speak to many pilgrims’ hearts.

“I think this is my new high point (of the trip),” offered Phil Lester, Ss. Simon and Jude parishioner and Friends of the Cathedral board member. “Just their overall dedication and commitment to prayer, and the priests, knowing they (nuns) are praying for them all the time — that really hit me.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted announced that next year’s Friends of the Cathedral pilgrimage will be to Poland, the homeland of St. John Paul II, June 17-26. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Debra Abel, parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert, agreed.

“They’re just remarkable. How they pray … and just keep that dedication,” Abel said, referring to the nuns.

Bishop Olmsted called the sisters’ prayers a “great encouragement. Every single day, they pray for us and offer sacrifices for us,” he added.

It was here we attended our final daily Mass of the trip. Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, urged us in his homily at one point to think of a personal burden, then imagine ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemane watching Jesus in agony and wanting to reach out to Him.

“When we focus on Him, our burdens become light,” he said, emphasizing the importance of being focused on and consumed by the Savior first and foremost.

“We bring nothing to someone else unless we’re filled with Jesus,” he said.

It may have been a fitting end to the pilgrimage. For over the course of time, our senses were treated to a variety of scenes and atmospheres, but it was here we were reminded of the focus of our trip and our journey here on earth toward heaven with the One who created both.

Watch for Jeff Grant’s roundup of the 2019 California pilgrimage and details of next year’s planned visit to the birthplace and homeland of St. John Paul II in THE CATHOLIC SUN newspaper.