Just a few minutes southwest of the city of Tehachapi sits a secluded patch of heaven hidden in the clouds. A peaceful atmosphere pervades the beautiful 470-plus acre property of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph, a convent of cloistered, contemplative Norbertine nuns.

The sisters are members of a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church which dates back to the 1100s when St. Norbert founded the Norbertine Order in the Prémontré Valley of France.

This young and growing community of 43 sisters (with several more young women discerning entrance) is led by Mother Mary Augustine, Prioress. Seventeen sisters have made their Solemn Profession, that is, final and perpetual vows of poverty, charity and obedience, becoming totally consecrated to God for His honor and glory, and the salvation of souls.

Within their enclosure, the sisters joyfully lead a simple life of prayer and work, striving through their daily activities toward ever greater self-sustenance. As cloistered Norbertine canonesses, their principal duty and mission is prayer, and especially liturgical prayer, interceding throughout the day and night for the needs of the Church and the world, serving as the “heart” of Christ's Mystical Body, pumping the sap of grace to all of His members through their hidden life of prayer and sacrifice.

They welcome visitors and guests to join them from their small lay chapel for Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and their daily Rosary. The Mass is always sung by the sisters in Latin Gregorian Chant, and is celebrated daily by a Norbertine priest from St. Michael's Abbey in Orange County, the sisters' “Mother Abbey.”

In their efforts toward self-sufficiency, a requirement of all Norbertines, the sisters engage in a number of activities within the monastery. They sew and sell priests' vestments, raise honey bees, have an annual Christmas wreath and gift box fund-raiser, and run their monastery gift shop and bookstore, and Bethany Guest House, as part of the Norbertine tradition of hospitality. They also have their own greenhouse and organic gardens, 150-plus chickens from which they daily gather eggs, and their own cows and goats, from which they daily use the fresh milk to make their homemade artisan cheese and dairy products, which they hope one day soon to sell to the public, after the necessary licenses/permits are received.

Visitors are welcome to browse the sisters' small monastery gift shop, open 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 to 5 p.m. daily, where you will find items for sale made by the sisters — such as five-decade and single-decade rosaries and other religious items, homemade jams and marmalades, specialty anise-almond biscotti, granola and macaroons, raw honey from their bees (in season), body care items, aprons, baby blankets, specialty greeting cards, their Norbertine Canonesses nun doll — as well as the sisters' chant CD, religious books and other religious items, including icons, statues, medals and more. The sisters also sell a number of their items through their online monastery gift shop (click on "Gift Shop" at the sisters' website: www.norbertinesisters.org).

The sisters' most pressing project at this time is Phase II of their Monastery Expansion Project: the construction of their future chapel and wing/accessory areas, estimated at about $12 million. Given the sisters’ growth and the nature of their canonical and ecclesial vocation, this project is of the highest importance. Putting all of their faith in God, the sisters trust that the funds needed will come in His time, as they continue to cooperate with His grace in bringing this need to friends and benefactors in a manner consistent with their rule and cloistered way of life.

To date, they have received about $1.8 million, with many new and long-standing friends contributing toward the project, as well as desiring to help in various ways, including through hosting local, Orange and Los Angeles fundraisers organized and carried out by Friends of the Norbertine Canonesses. When they receive about $8 million toward the goal, they will be able to begin with the bid process and construction. For more information, contact the sisters or to make donations, one may go to their website. An interesting recent blog post provides added insights: http://www.marcusallensteele.com/the-hidden-warrior-nuns-of-tehachapi/ 

Bethany House: Located right next to the monastery, the sisters' guest house is available for private retreats, day visits and overnight stays, for those desiring some time of silence and solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of the world, and an opportunity to share in the sisters' rich monastic and liturgical prayer life, including daily midnight Matins. For more information, to inquire about availability, or to make reservations, please contact our guest mistress at nsguestmistress@gmail.com or call us at the number below.

Directions: From Highway 58, take exit 148, Tehachapi 202 — Tucker Road. Go south on Tucker Road to Highline Road. Turn right; go 1.3 miles to Water Canyon Road. Turn left; go 2.3 miles to the big brown Norbertine Monastery sign on your right. Turn right onto the property, and then right at the white gate, going past the first buildings and the priests' log cabin. Continue up the road to the chapel, gift shop and Bethany House at the top of the hill.

Prayer requests and information: All are welcome to e-mail prayer intentions to the sisters at their e-mail prayer request line: pray_req@cybersurfers.net. To learn more about the Norbertine Canonesses of Tehachapi, visit the sisters' new website at www.norbertinesisters.org

For more information, call 661-823-1066 or e-mail MotherMaryA@aol.com or norbertinecanonesses@gmail.com.