Nun strives for peace in an imperfect world

July 4 was significant to Sister Denise Mosier not because of fireworks or hot dogs but because it represents the day the first Benedictine Sisters set foot on American soil 150 years ago.

Arriving from Eichstatt, Bavaria in 1852, they didn’t know it was a time of celebration and joy and instead thought the fireworks display was something to be feared.

To Mosier, being an American is all about being free to worship.

“I have the freedom to choose to worship and let my whole life be about religion,” Mosier said.

And that’s what she’s done since her post high-school days in Pennsylvania.

July 4 was a time for prayer, a special Mass for all Benedictine sisters, and a picnic.

She and the other nuns of St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow follow the Rule of St. Benedict. They are a distinct order of Catholic nuns who devote their lives to prayer, service and living in community with others.

Her job and that of several others at the Linton Hall Road monastery is to give spiritual direction to about 30 people who seek guidance.

“Everyone’s story is holy ground,” she said of her work, which is to listen and help others find spiritual truth. Most nuns in the monastery have a job. Some till the land, others counsel or teach.

The Bristow monastery also sponsors a transitional shelter for homeless women and children, some of whom have not met with extraordinary setbacks, but have found the high cost of living in Northern Virginia insupportable.

Mosier says while she is continually aghast at conditions in the United States such as homelessness, she considers it the best place in the world to be. She loves America for its spontaneous friendliness, which isn’t duplicated everywhere in the world.

“There are cultures that are fearful of each other, because of their prejudices and hatreds,” she said. But as an American, and a Benedictine, she hopes to teach that peace is possible.

The Benedictine Order stresses nuns living together in community. Although the ministry of St. Benedict of Norcia, Italy began as a hermit in a cave in the fifth century, it evolved into one with a strong community following.

Part of the task of a Christian life is learning to live harmoniously with others, he said.

Denying sin isn’t much of a test when you aren’t in contact with the real world, Mosier adds. Her monastery is not a place of perfect peace, she says, but almost so.

Mosier has also experienced firsthand that America is the land of opportunity. Because of her missionary work she spent six years in Africa, teaching math, English and Scripture. It has enabled her to travel in a way she never would have otherwise.

The events of Sept. 11 left her shaken but not despairing. “The more hope we have that peace is possible the more possible it will be,” she says.

Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703) 878-4723.

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