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.