TEHACHAPI, Calif. - It has been two years now since we first took you to the Norbertine Monastery in Tehachapi. And much has changed since our last visit. The sisters are patiently adding to what we showed you back in 2013. Lead by hard-charging Mother Superior Mary Augustine, the sisters are embarking on phase two- a chapel-a place of worship well suited to their cloistered lives, completely devoted to God, but also a chapel they can share with the rest of us.
When we were last on this hallowed ground in April of 2013, the sisters were just about to move in to their new 24-thousand square foot monastery. They were busy painting, plumbing, and building many of the basic furnishings for their new mountain home. That monastery was a major milestone, more than 15 years in the making for these Catholic prayer warriors, the first community of Norbertine canonesses in the U.S.
"Well, I think it's called the work of god," the Mother Superior told us in April, 2013.
they call themselves brides of Christ, and have taken a life-long vow of chastity, seclusion and prayerful purpose to serve God in the salvation of souls. Five sisters came here in 1997. 26 strong in 2013. 37 today. Five new sisters have answered their vocation, or call from god, this year. Sister Mary Oda came here 13 years ago.
"And the new building has been a great gift in that regard because we really couldn't have received anyone else in our old location," said Sister Oda.
Much has changed in two years. The raggedy modular dormitories are gone. In their place, a flower-laden path that leads to a tiny farm, where we found a roost full of hens, a healthy herd of goats and milk cows, and most impressively...gardens and a greenhouse full of fresh fruit, and vegetables.
Ingredients for self-sufficiency, a sacred obligation for the Norbertines.
"To work with the land and to have that connection with nature, we need to have that time to raise in prayer to God in thanksgiving for all that he's sharing with us," Sister Oda said.
Four hours a day, the sisters tend to their gardens and animals, also cooking, cleaning and maintaining the monastery. They get six to seven hours of sleep a night. But most of their waking hours are devoted to prayer.
"Our principal mission as Norbertine Canonesses is to give glory to God," Oda said. "We're cloistered so we can concentrate our effort and our prayers for the sake of the Lord and for the salvation of souls. And our prayers can reach...well...anywhere God can reach."
The Norbertines are now waiting for God's cue to start phase two of their mission on the mountain.
A chapel will one day replace their current sanctuary, once the living and dining rooms of an old ranch house on the property.
“We now we have 37 sisters," Oda said. "And we're running out of space."
The new chapel will give the sisters room to grow, and a sanctuary suitable for a cloistered life of divine devotion. It will be built into the side of a hill, standing three floors tall, with room for visiting priest's and more dormitories for the sisters. The design work given to well-known local architect Mark Russell.
"It's quite something to be involved with these women who will go to this chapel and intervene for us on a daily basis," Russell said.
The price tag is 10-to-12 million dollars. Russell said there are no frills, just a chapel built to last with room to grow. The sisters are waiting patiently for God's cue to break ground.
"Every time I talk to the sisters about the next step, she goes...'when it's time we will move forward' Russell said.
Meantime, there is unsolicited support. A growing number of people who live down the mountain in Cummings Valley, in and of themselves, are mobilizing to help the sisters.
Liz Wolfe is chair of this Saturday's fundraiser...a dinner and auction at Triassic Vineyards in Tehachapi, sponsored by Friends of the Norbertines.
"I was invited to a fundraiser in Orange County last spring, and I heard a message from the Lord," Wolfe said. "He said why can't we do this in Tehachapi. So I stepped out in faith. Just about anyone we've approached has come forward and opened their hearts to it," said Wolfe.
A Night in The Vineyard, a fundraiser for the chapel at the Norbertine Monastery is this Saturday night at Triassic Vineyards in Tehachapi. It all gets started with appetizers and wine tasting at 5:00. Greek cuisine will be served for dinner. And there's a silent auction as well. There are still a few tickets left. They're $100 per person. For more information, call the Friends of the Norbertines at 822-5341
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