While touring the southwestern United States, Homer Smith, a black ex-GI, encounters five nuns attempting to farm some barren Arizona land on the edge of the desert. He asks them for a day's work and learns that they are East German refugees who have come to the States to claim the farm which was willed to their Order. Homer repairs their leaky roof and performs other chores, but the Mother Superior persuades him to stay on to help clear the debris from a collapsed barn. Although he is astounded to learn that Mother Maria intends for him to erect a new chapel on the site, Homer so admires her determination that he agrees to take the job if she can provide the materials. He also goes to work for a local contractor, contributing his pay to buy food for the Order and teaches English to the nuns. When the materials run out, however, Homer leaves. He returns a few weeks later, drawn by the urge to finish the chapel, and the townspeople, ashamed of their negligence, finally join in and help Homer. The evening before the bishop is due to arrive for the dedication, Homer leaves as unceremoniously as he had arrived.