Many great early men and women saints left their lives behind to go and live a secluded life in the desert. In February of 1990, one group of Benedictine nuns in New Mexico followed these saints’ example, and this year celebrated their 25th anniversary as a formal community.
The Benedictine order began in the 6th century A.D., when siblings and Saints Benedict and Scholastica started the formal monastic community in the Church. Natives of Italy, Benedict began an order for men and Scholastica an order for women. From Benedict’s famous monastery at Monte Cassino, which still stands today, the Benedictine order spread throughout the world in the following centuries.
The call of Benedict and Scholastica to men and women was to “establish a school for the service of the Lord…[that by] persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13) and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.”
The seven nuns who founded Our Lady of the Desert Monastery answered that call. For several years the community moved between various New Mexico towns before the nuns were invited to share space with the monks of Christ of the Desert Monastery, a community of Benedictines settled in Abiquiu, NM in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Now, they live in a modest yet welcoming community, 30 miles to the east of Blanco, NM, in the Diocese of Gallup.
“We’ve come to the monastery to seek God, and well, have we found him?” asks Mother Mary Benedicta, the superior of the nuns. She laughs as she ponders the question.
Mother Benedicta and her sisters now have a convent, several guest houses, a small gift shop, gardens, and a chapel. The monastery has come a long way since 2008, when the Benedictines moved from Abiquiu to the Diocese of Gallup, at the invitation of the pastor at Aztec, Fr. James Walker.
“That’s what we wanted to celebrate. It’s a big undertaking, building this monastery from Ground Zero. Getting the water, roads, gardens, everything,” said Mother Benedicta. “We also wanted time to sit back and reflect on our lives – on what this past 25 years has been.”
Although the official founding anniversary was in February, the nuns decided to hold the celebration in the warmer months. The big event of the day was a Mass celebrated by Bishop James Wall, and attended by two abbots from Christ in the Desert monastery. Throughout the day, visitors were encouraged to walk around the grounds and buildings.
“We’re just so blessed to be here!” Mother Benedicta said, noting that the nuns now own all of the buildings and property.
But the most fervent hope of the sisters is to build a true monastery, a home on top of the mesa with a full convent, chapel, and retreat house. Just as the ancient Church Fathers went to live in the desert, Mother Benedicta says that a monastery on the mesa would help the nuns “to grow in our monastic life and holiness, and our search for God.”
In the meantime, they live in the moment. As the nuns tend the gardens, welcome visitors, and pray the Liturgy of the hours, they do the work of God.
“It’s not glamorous, but it is the real experience of God,” Mother Benedicta says. “It’s an oasis in the desert, I like to call it. And we never know who is going to come down the road.”
To learn more of the Benedictines and their monastery, or to view more photos from the celebration, visit them online at ourladyofthedesert.org