New Catholic Order In Affton


Daughters Of Mary, Mother Israel's Hope based at St. George Church



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From left, Sisters-to-be Lois Brookhart, Della O’Malley and Rosalind Moss pray in the Chapel located in the convent at St. George. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
08/15/2008 - For those who miss the days of full-habited Catholic nuns, as shown in films like "The Sound of Music" or "Going My Way," the old order is making a comeback – at least in Affton.

Soon, a group of three women convening a religious community at St. George Church on Heege Road will don the floor-length duds worn for centuries by different orders.

Visiting local fabric stores and working with a few seamstresses, the order's foundress Rosalind Moss has designed an amalgam of several habits for her sisters-to-be, deemed the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel's Hope.

The resulting habit could be straight out of the Middle Ages: black gown covered by scapular cloth, coif (close-fitting cap), wimple (more cover for the neck and face), belt and rosary.

"My inspiration actually was a statue of St. Theresa of Avila, a saint from the 16th century," said Moss, who grew up Jewish and worked in Brooklyn before converting to evangelical Christianity and moving to Southern California.

While they won't be outfitted in their traditional garb yet, the sisters-to-be look forward to meeting members of St. George and those in the wider community at a holy hour celebration on Sunday, Sept. 14, 5 p.m. in St. George Church.

The ceremony recognizes the new order as an official body of the Catholic Church. A reception will follow. According to a recent article in the St. Louis Review Catholic Newspaper, once a new archbishop is installed (former Archbishop Raymond Burke has been reassigned to Rome), the nuns will be fully approved by the Holy See.

When they're official, the nuns will get new names – Moss will be Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God. Her first two recruits – Della O'Malley of Novia Scotia, Canada, and Lois Brookhart of Des Moines, Iowa – will be Sr. Mary Jo of the Child Jesus and Sr. Mary Timothy of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The new nuns are embracing an old-style Catholicism with the passion of newfound faith. Along with wearing full habits, the nuns will take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and observe a daily rule, with strict schedules balancing personal and public prayer, outreach and more.

The Convent

Newly settled in their convent attached to the St. George school building, now used by Special School District, the nuns move peacefully amid packing boxes and mostly empty rooms.

They're ecstatic that St. George Church members and supporters showed up in droves this past weekend to paint, lay carpet and help move the sisters in with style. Two area companies donated the carpeting that will cover old flooring throughout.

A neighbor and church member dug and planted a big garden outside the convent earlier in the summer. "We're enjoying the beans, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and more every day at meals," Moss said.

Moss enthusiastically showed off the large quarters. On the first floor is the office, lending library, chapel, sacristy (preparation room for the chapel) kitchen, dining area, meeting rooms and nuns' cells, she said. Upstairs are more cloistered rooms for the nuns' privacy. The basement will include guest quarters.

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Lois Brookhart waters plants donated to the convent. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Many of the rooms will be used for their ministry. In addition, Moss envisions classes, religious films, music and art lessons, dinner celebrations and more in the convent.

As a new contemplative/active, evangelistic and teaching community, the sisters will wander from the convent quite often.

"Our greatest desire is to be signs of God's mercy, love, presence and truth in the world where people live, work and play, regardless of age, race, religion or status," Moss wrote in the order's outline.

The convent has 21 bedrooms for the sisters. Moss said she expects no problems filling the rooms. Some 300 women have inquired into the order already, she said.

Recruits

Moss plans to screen new recruits soon enough, though she's intent first on welcoming a core dozen nuns, like the apostles who followed Jesus, she said.

Unique to her order is the lack of an age limit for entrance.

"I'll take anyone from 18 to 118, as long as they can keep the rules," Moss said.

"God has built into women in particular a desire and an ability to love, to nurture, to absorb the sufferings of others and to unite their sufferings to those of our Divine Savior," Moss wrote.

Nuns may be single, widowed or annulled. Many will indeed be mothers – and grandmothers. Brookhart is widowed and has five children, seven step-children, 16 grandchildren and 50 step-grandchildren. She ran a Catholic bookstore in Des Moines before embracing the new order earlier this year.

O'Malley is single and a returning Catholic. Before entering active ministry and beginning an undergraduate and graduate program in theology, O'Malley was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer and an IT worker with the Vancouver Police. She learned about the order over a year ago.

Way To The Church

The charismatic Moss, aka Mother Miriam, thinks long and hard before telling her story.

"It's full of near-miraculous occurrences," she said.

Moss said at 20, and still Jewish, she remembered thinking that nuns who were throwing off full habits were selling out to the world.

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“Our greatest desire is to be signs of God’s mercy, love, presence and truth in the world where people live, work and play, regardless of age, race, religion or status.” — Order’s Foundress, Rosalind Moss (click for larger version)
After becoming a Christian, she gained national prominence as a conference speaker and women's ministry leader.

In 1992, Moss retreated from the West Coast to New York to sort out her faith. She talked with a fellow Christian about becoming Catholic, and the friend immediately assumed she might become a nun.

When she did become Catholic – largely inspired by convert Scott Hahn – she quickly became popular as a speaker and spiritual leader in the Catholic sector. Moss has written two books since becoming Catholic, "Home at Last: Eleven Who Found Their Way into the Catholic Church" and "Reasons for Our Hope: Bible Study on the Gospel of Luke."

In her earlier years in New York, she'd been assistant publisher for a major magazine aimed at the apparel industry.

The urge to become a nun grew, especially after she laid out her vision for women four years ago at a retreat in Ottawa, Canada.

Surprisingly, a young boy of six had the biggest impact on her decision to become a nun.

"Five years ago, I met six-year-old John Paul at a conference. He said he was going to be a construction worker and a Trappist monk. He then asked me why I wasn't a nun," Moss said. "How my heart stayed in my body, I'll never know. I said, 'so you think I should be a nun?' and he said, 'Oh, yes.'"

Moss corresponded with former Archbishop Raymond Burke, and he invited Moss to check out convent space in St. Louis. He recommended St. George, since the convent had been empty for a few years.

St. George's Pastor Thomas Robertson said he fully supported the sisters' move into the convent there.

"The church members are really excited about it," Robertson said. "They think their presence will be wonderful for the community.

"We want to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the world from Affton," Moss said.

When their full habits arrive, no one will miss them.

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