Norbertine convents are branches on the family tree of the Norbertine Order that live according to the inspiration of St. Norbert (1080-1134) and the Rule of St. Augustine. Until 1997, Norbertine sisters and nuns (also known as canonesses) only had convents in Europe. Fortunately, since founding two houses in California, American female Norbertine communities continue to grow in numbers, faith, and spirit.
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By Rosemary Sands, DML, Director of the Center for Norbertine Studies at St. Norbert College


Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph

A Cloistered Community in Tehachapi , California

Founded in 1997 by St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange, California, the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph is the first community of Norbertine Canonesses in the United States. It began with five women, who initially lived together near the abbey where they helped on a daily basis. They were given permission to start a Norbertine community of cloistered nuns and now number more than 40 canonesses. They have outgrown their living quarters twice and are raising funds for an expansion project that will include a new chapel and additional cells for the sisters. The community devotes itself to prayer and manual labor. The sisters raise chickens, cows, goats and sheep, make their own cheese (not yet for sale to the public), and a variety of baked goods (macaroons, biscotti, granola), jams, and apothecary items (lip balm, lotions and soap), which they sell through their gift shop, in person and online. They also have a very successful dog breeding program, “Priory Puppies,” raising and training Labrador retrievers, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and purebred McNabs.


Congregation of Norbertine Sisters

An Active Community in Wilmington/Costa Mesa, California

In 2006 during the General Chapter meeting, Fr. Thomas Nelson from St. Michael’s Abbey in California met with two sisters who were at the meeting as representatives of the Congregation of Norbertines in the Slovak and Czech Republic. Fr. Thomas asked if the sisters would consider establishing a community of active Norbertine sisters in the U.S. The sisters visited California in 2009 for the first time and agreed to Fr. Nelson’s request, but first they had to learn English. 

As guests of St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin, three sisters from the community of Vrbové in Slovakia (Sr. Adriana, Sr. Benedikta, and Sr. Magdalena) studied in the English as a Second Language program at St. Norbert College during the 2010 fall semester. They lived in the campus priory during the week and at St. Norbert Abbey on the weekends. 

In 2011, Sr. Adriana, Sr. Benedikta, and Sr. Roberta moved to California to start the first community of active Norbertine sisters in the U.S. They started out at Ss. Peter & Paul Parish in Wilmington, and then expanded to St. John the Baptist Parish in Costa Mesa, also. There are now 12 members; some are still in formation. The sisters help in the parish schools, the parish bookstore, and serve the poor in Wilmington through their more than 700-family Poverty Program. 

Rosemary Sands, DML, is the Director of the Center for Norbertine Studies at St. Norbert College. Previously, she was she was an adjunct and visiting instructor in modern foreign languages and literature (Spanish and Italian), and later served as director of study abroad from 2002 until 2015.She earned her doctorate in Spanish and Italian from Middlebury College and has a special interest in the history of Norbertines in Spain (1143-1835).

Did You Know?

There are 225 female Norbertines in the World?

They have been in existence since the Norbertine Order was founded in 1121.

Communities of female Norbertines can be found in 15 houses in 9 countries; 13 are in Europe and two are in the U.S.

They are known as canonesses, sisters, or nuns.

Some live in cloistered communities and others have active ministries outside the walls of the convent.

All communities are expected to be self-sufficient.