Mother Benedicta Serna, left, and Sister Kateri Lovato point on Saturday to the area where the sisters wish to build a new monastery for Our Lady of the
Mother Benedicta Serna, left, and Sister Kateri Lovato point on Saturday to the area where the sisters wish to build a new monastery for Our Lady of the Desert in Gobernador. The sisters are fundraising to improve their facilities. Eventually, they hope to build a larger monastery atop a mesa on their property. (Photos by Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

GOBERNADOR — For the eight nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert, the day begins at 4:10 a.m.

Each day, Sister Kateri Lovato rings the bells outside the monastery in Gobernador to call the women to worship in the humble chapel. Throughout the day, the sisters gather six more times to pray and sing psalms. They sing 150 psalms, rotating through them on a two-week cycle.

The monastery consists of a small chapel, living quarters, a guest house and a gift shop.

"I think we're blessed to have this building," said Lovato, who is part of the Catholic Church's Order of Saint Benedict.

Although construction on the monastery began six years ago, the building continues to grow. Much of the expansion is funded through donations, and, to help with fundraising, the sisters are hosting an ice cream social on June 14 in Bloomfield.

The monastery's chapel can hold the eight nuns and six guests. When the weather cooperates, the sisters move Mass outside to accommodate more guests. Mother Benedicta Serna, the prioress of the monastery, said occasionally up to 20 guests attend Mass at the monastery.

The origins of the monastery can be traced to two women in 1990 who expressed interest in living a monastic life similar to the Benedictine monks at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert at Chama Canyon in Abiquiú.

"We're the feminine expression of Christ in the Desert," Lovato said.

Prior to receiving the land in Gobernador from José and Florence Florez, the sisters lived at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in a separate part of the facility.

On the Feast of St. Benedict in 2007, the sisters were given 40 acres to build their own monastery.

The next year, they moved to Blanco, where they lived at the St. Rose of Lima Parish for a year while construction was completed on their new building.

The ice cream social later this month celebrates that move six years ago to Blanco. It's also a reminder of the future. Construction continues, and the nuns hope to raise money through the ice cream social to improve their facilities.

Improvements they hope to make include adding insulation, improving the water system and enclosing a walkway for the St. Walburga building, which consists of rooms for the nuns.

The walkway and insulation are intended to help the nuns in the winter. Last year's propane bill reached $4,000, and the nuns hope the improvements will save money.

They also want to become more efficient with water usage by adding a rainwater collection system and gray water for irrigation purposes.

Mother Benedicta Serna reads a passage from the Bible on Saturday during noon prayers at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert in Gobernador.
Mother Benedicta Serna reads a passage from the Bible on Saturday during noon prayers at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert in Gobernador.

As their facilities expand, the sisters try not to remove trees or rocks from the property.

Right now, a single tree stands in front of the living quarters. While the monastery was being built, the sisters sat under the tree to "plan and dream," Serna said.

"We said this tree has got to stay," she said.

One of Lovato's favorite things about the monastery is the silence.

"It puts you in that frame of mind to think more about God," she said.

Lovato said she also likes the interaction between the nuns. Sometimes, she said, the nun you can't get along with is trying to teach you a lesson.

"It's like learning how to love," she said.

On the first Friday of each month, the nuns host what they call "Desert Day," a time to hike around on their property. The sisters often walk up into the piñon-juniper forest surrounding them.

From the top of the mesa, they can see to Arizona and Colorado. The Gobernador Knob, a sacred site to the Navajo, is one of the highlights of their view. Since moving to the monastery, the sisters have become familiar with Navajo legends about the Gobernador Knob, a nearby mountain that is the highest point in the area. It known to the Navajo as 'Asdzáá Nadleehe, or Changing Woman.

"How appropriate for us," Lovato said.

While walking on the mesa, the sisters also think about the future plans for the monastery.

Eventually, they hope to build a larger monastery on top of the mesa and transform the current monastery into a retreat center.

Serna said there is only one retreat center in the Diocese of Gallup, the territory that includes the monastery.

"It would be good to have another retreat in the diocese," she said.

IF YOU GO

What: Fifth annual ice cream social fundraiser for Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert

When: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 14

Where: St. Mary's Parish Hall, 307 N. Church St. in Bloomfield

Cost: $15

More info: 505-419-2938 or ourladyofthedesert.org

 

What: Look and See open house event

When: July 11 to 13

Where: The Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert, 10258 U.S. Highway 64. Look for the sign at mile marker 104 in Gobernador.

More info: 505-419-2938 or ourladyofthedesert.org

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.