1st Norbertine Female Canonry Established in US

9 Sisters Make Perpetual Vows

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FRESNO, California, FEB. 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The first U.S. convent for the feminine branch of the Norbertine Order was established in the Fresno Diocese with the solemn profession of nine sisters.

The sisters, called canonesses due to the specific vocation of the Norbertines, made their final and perpetual vows on Jan. 29.

This marked the transition of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph of Tehachapi, California, from the status of an Association of the Faithful to "full integration in the Norbertine Order, the Diocese of Fresno, California, and the Roman Catholic Church as an independent canonry of Norbertine canonesses," a press release explained.

The prioress, Mother Mary Augustine, stated, "This is truly a sacred and landmark day for our young community, a day that we have been looking forward to ever since our founding back in 1997."

Mother Mary Augustine, a native of New Caldonia, joined with four other women to found a new community on Oct. 7, 1997. Father Eugene Joseph Hayes, the abbot of St. Michael's Abbey, their "mother abbey" in Orange, California, founded the community as a public association of the faithful.

In May of 2000, Bishop John Steinbock welcomed them as the first community of cloistered nuns in the Fresno Diocese. He set the date for the solemn professions on Jan. 29 along with the abbot general of the Norbertine Order.

The press release noted that the bishop "expressed on several occasions how much he was looking forward to the solemn professions." However, he was unable to be physically present as he passed away Dec. 5 of lung cancer.

Meanwhile, the community settled in the Tehachapi Mountains of California and increased to 20 members, some of whom entered as young as age 18.

God's timing

"We are all very happy; these years of prayer, work, challenges, joys and growth were necessary, as we know that everything happens in God's time," said Mother Mary Augustine. "And that time is now."

Sister Mary Norbert, one of the sisters who made her final vows that day, affirmed, "This day is truly the day the Lord has made."

She continued: "Looking back, you can see God’s hand orchestrating everything.

"It is as if our whole lives were created by God for this one moment in time, to be able to offer and dedicate ourselves totally, unconditionally to him, to give all to Jesus, who called us and loved us first."

Over 50 priests concelebrated the Mass that took place in Fresno's St. John's Cathedral. The main celebrant was the abbot general of the Norbertine Order, Father Thomas Handgrätinger.

The community's press release explained that liturgical prayer "is the essence and heart of their vocation, interceding for the needs of the Church and the world day and night during Holy Mass, the liturgy of the hours, and their other community and private prayers."

For this reason, the members of this order are called canons and canonesses to signify their vocation and mission "for the solemn and reverential celebration of the sacred liturgy."

Also known as the Premonstratenisan Order, it was founded by St. Norbert on Dec. 25, 1121 in the Valley of Premontre, France.

The order has houses in Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia and North and South America, and a third order component for lay people.

The male communities of Norbertines have been established in the United States since the late 1800s.

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