Quiet Solitude in the Arizona Desert

This past Tuesday, I led a group of 12 parishioners on a one-day pilgrimage to Our Lady of Solitude Monastery located in Tonapah, Arizona.  The monastery was built and is cared for by the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA), originally part of Mother Angelica’s Nuns in Hanceville Alabama. Along with this monastery, there are other PCPA monasteries in the USA and around the world.

The pilgrimage was sponsored by the Porta Fidei Adult Faith Formation Program, which I oversee at the parish of Saint Mary Magdalene. Taking one day pilgrimages had been a goal of mine going back to late 2015. I was finally able to fulfill this goal this year and allow some of our parishioners to take time away from the everyday busyness of life. On March 6, we also visited San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona, but due to a conflict, I was not able to attend personally, so I asked parishioners to lead this particular pilgrimage for me.

Tuesday began with us meeting at the parish at 8:00am and then carpooling to the monastery, which is about an 85-mile trip one way from Gilbert, where the parish is located. We had to traverse our way through the Phoenix morning commute. Thank the Good Lord in Heaven Phoenix has “HOV” lanes for carpooling! Once we exited the freeway, we had to drive over 7 miles of dirt roads to get out to the monastery. Most of the parishioners were in cars, and I my trusty 2006 4Runner was in the shop, so my fiancée and I were in a rental car for the day. Although the road was bumpy, we made it over the roads unscathed.

As we pulled into the 40 acres of land where the monastery sits, we found ourselves transported to a place of distinct silence – it truly is a place of solitude (Think Superman’s Fortress of Solitude but not cold). That’s the one thing we all noticed very quickly…it’s so quiet. It’s so quiet that you find yourself whispering, especially as you approach the chapel, which stands out prominently on the property.

When we arrived, Our Lord was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament, and there were some other people there adoring Our Lord in the chapel as well. The sheer beauty of the chapel in connection with Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament, just takes your breath away. You are literally transported into the solitude of monastery life. After spending some time in Adoration, our group gathered back outside under the awning where Sister John-Mark Maria, the ex-turn, explained to us some of the history of how the PCPA arrived in Phoenix, how they settled in Tonapah, and the future plans of the monastery.

We then returned to the chapel for Holy Mass. I have been to countless Masses in my lifetime, but I don’t I think ever experienced a Mass like the one on Tuesday. The only way to describe it is to say that it was – intentional gentleness and attentiveness  You would have to experience it for yourself to truly understand. The pace of life at the monastery, along with the pace of the liturgy, is much different than my usual busy day – I would imagine many people, who have busy and full days would find it the same way.

After Mass, we gathered outside under the awning to eat lunch, in the quiet stillness of the monastery. Although we were talking, there was something different – it was the experience of being in quiet solitude in the Arizona desert. As we were having lunch, a group of tourists traveling through the desert in ATV’s and Polaris Off-Road vehicles drove into the grounds. They asked a few questions about the monastery, looked inside and even took a picture of our group for us. We then departed to head home.

From our conversation with Sister John-Mark, she explained that the monastery was only partially finished. Although the main chapel is in place, their living quarters are temporary. They would love to build a permanent structure that would house many more sisters. As of right now, there are only four PCPA at the monastery, with a few women arriving to discern in the upcoming months. For building to start, the goal would be to have 12 sisters at the monastery. The funding for the monastery is strictly from what they receive in donations and gifts from people in the Catholic world.

So, what can you do?

First, Pray, Pray, Pray for Vocations. Ask Our Lord to send young women open to living a contemplative life with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. We should always be praying for Vocations, but today, and maybe over the next week or so, focus on the PCPA. Take some time to read about their Vocations.

Second, if you have the financial means to do so, pray about donating financially to support the PCPA and their efforts to build. There are variety of ways to give to the PCPA. Visit this page to learn how to do so.

Third, if you live in the Phoenix Metropolitan area or a surrounding region, think about attending and fundraising for the annual Nun Run held on the first weekend of March each year. Furthermore, I would encourage you to take a day trip out to the monastery, you can learn how to do that here.

Saint Clare of Assisi…Pray for Us