Having decided to travel about the country after his discharge from the army, Homer Smith has fixed up a bed in the back of his station wagon and headed west, his plan being to stop for a day's work here and there as the spirit moves him. Rolling through a parched valley in the remote Southwest he encounters a group of nuns working in the dusty fields, and his offer to help them for hire is quickly accepted. His job is to fix a leaky roof, but when the time comes to discuss payment the rather imperious Mother Superior seems to understand even less English than usual. Although he has every intention of insisting on his pay and moving on, Homer stays for supper, and then another day, and another. Almost without realizing it he is drawn into the life of the nuns—giving them English lessons, buying food for their table, driving them to Mass, singing to them in the evenings and, most important, coming to share the dream of building the chapel which is Mother Maria Marthe's fondest hope. But the project proves to be a burdensome and discouraging one and as the weeks wear on Homer, with no bricks, no pay and no real hope for success, loses heart and resolves to go. He leaves, but just as Mother Maria Marthe is convinced that God sent Homer to her in the first place, so does she know in her heart that he will return—and he does. With the help of the local farmers and the gift of many adobe bricks, the chapel becomes a reality and Homer, despite his staunch Baptist background, is invited to sit in the front pew for the first Mass to be said in it. But his work is done, faith has earned its reward, and he is free to go—this time for good. Yet even as he heads off into the quiet night the meaning of what he has accomplished begins to flourish and grow, creating a legend which, in time, brings fame and success to the nuns and instills in their hearts a lasting gratitude for the simple man who saw their need and gave unselfishly of himself to meet it.
The motion picture version of this touching, warmly humorous story won international acclaim, and brought Sidney Poitier the Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of Homer Smith.