Desert nuns find an oasis in sisterhood

By Carol Schuck Scheiber. Photos by John Bering.

The bold step of becoming a nun is nourished by tradition, ritual, symbols—and hugs.

The night before the investiture ceremony, Jennifer Meissonnier and other women in formation had a vigil procession and celebration

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Image: The night before the investiture ceremony, Jennifer Meissonnier and other women in formation had a vigil procession and celebration, complete with a crown of flowers and even a rainbow.


After 15 months of living among the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, Jennifer Meissonnier became a novice member in June 2015. During the investiture ceremony, she took the name Sister Augusta Mary of Our Lady of Grace, putting her a step closer to full membership with the Poor Clares of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah, Arizona.

The new Sister Augusta Mary of Our Lady of Grace hugs a friend.
The new Sister Augusta Mary of Our Lady of Grace hugs a friend. 

First, her sisters cut her hair, a symbol of detachment from worldliness that dates back to Saints Francis and Clare in the 800s. Her new sisters also helped Meissonnier don the habit of the order.

Then she, her family and friends, and her new sisters emerged from the chapel into the bright light of the desert to celebrate with cake and punch.

“No one realizes more than women who are consecrated religious that we are signs of contradiction in a very contradictory world, but God gives meaning to our lives because he is the center of our lives,” Abbess Mother Marie Andre, P.C.P.A. recently said in an interview in The Catholic Sun.

Meissonnier first visited the community by accident. She was in Phoenix to visit an active religious congregation (one that does ministry outside the convent). Through a series of unexpected events, she stopped to pray with the Poor Clares. Stirred by the experience, she returned for several discernment retreats, all of which led her to the day in June when she took on new clothing, a new name, and a new way of life. 

Jennifer Meissonnier during the investiture ceremony
1.) Jennifer Meissonnier, in the section of the chapel reserved for the nuns, awaits the beginning of the investiture ceremony. 2.) Meissonnier prepares for a haircut, which is given in keeping with an 800-year-old tradition symbolizing detachment from things of the world. 3.) Meissonnier prepares to receive the habit, considered holy by the nuns. 4.) Meissonnier dons an inner veil called a guimpe. 5. ) Meissonnier receives the Franciscan crown rosary. 6.) The new novice embraces her abbess, Mother Marie Andre, P.C.P.A.
John Bering
John Bering is a photographer in Buckeye, Arizona, whose goal is to capture images that glorify God. Find him online at johnberingphotography.com.

Carol Schuck Scheiber
Carol Schuck Scheiber is an editor of VISION Vocation Guide and HORIZON, both publications of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
2017 © TrueQuest Communications

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