Nuns welcome nearly 1,000 visitors to the open house at their new monastery

photo by Amanda Mendez, Howell County News A long line of visitors waited patiently during a March 19 open house to enter the new St. Joseph's Monastery that's nearing completion in Douglas County a short distance north of Rockbridge.

On March 19, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, welcomed a large crowd of curious visitors to an open house at their impressive new St. Joseph's Monastery that's nearing completion off N Highway in Douglas County just a few miles north of the Ozark County line. When finished, the $18 million monastery will be home to a community of nuns that now numbers 16 but is expected to grow – just as it has done since the first six nuns arrived here in 2019. While they wait to move into their new monastery, probably in July, the nuns are living in a house on the grounds of nearby Assumption Abbey, a community of Cistercian monks that has operated since 1950 on OO Highway in Douglas County. 

Area residents' enthusiastic response to the open-house invitation last week made the nuns happy. 

“Many thanks to the nearly 1,000 friends and neighbors who came by to introduce themselves, see the progress of our new monastery and wish us well,” Sister Mary Josefa Holcomb said in an email to the Times. “We look forward to seeing you all again! May God bless you.” 

Sister Mary Josefa serves as superior of the nuns who will make their home at St. Joseph's Monastery. The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, got their start in 1995 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and in 2006 moved to Gower, a town within the Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. By 2018, the community's "motherhouse" in Gower was elevated to the status of abbey, and so many nuns had joined the group "that it became needful to branch out," according to the group's website,

Bishop Edward Rice, of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, invited the nuns to expand into this area, which they did. 


A contemplative, monastic life of prayer

In a Feb. 14 Times article about the new monastery's open house event, Sister Mary Josefa acknowledged that many people think of a monastery as a place for priests and a convent as a place for nuns, but she noted that both terms can be accurately used for residences of men or women. Generally speaking, she said, residents of a monastery have chosen a "contemplative, monastic life, dedicating themselves to a life of prayer," while those who live in a convent might be involved in vocations such as teaching or medicine. 

For the 16 nuns, who range in age from 18 to 39, the monastic life of prayer means gathering for Mass each day with their chaplain, Father Jeffery Jambon. They also pray the Liturgy of the Hours, primarily the Psalms, and sing the famous Gregorian chants at specific times throughout the 24-hour day. Except for a daily hour of "recreation," the rest of their time is spent in silence as they go about their work or spend private time in prayer and contemplation.

During their recreation time, the sisters "talk in a very familiar way, sharing things that have surprised us or excited us," she said. And while they're generally silent outside their worship or recreation times, throughout the day "we smile and enjoy being with each other," she said.

The nuns' smiles were plentiful at last week's open house, when they guided visitors on tours of the new facility, still under construction, and pointed out displays that explained different parts of the monastery, including a Fathers Shrine to be constructed on the monastery's grounds. The shrine reflects the monastery's namesake, St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, and will honor earthly fathers, grandfathers and priests. March 19, the day of the monastery's open house, was the day marking the Feast of St. Joseph in the church's calendar. 

At the open house, displays also explained different aspects of the nuns' daily lives outside of their prayer time; that includes work, both inside and outside. The nuns' primary income comes through their work making altar linens and priestly vestments worn by celebrants during Mass, but they also participate in various household jobs, including cooking, cleaning and gardening. The new monastery will eventually have a cow that will be milked and chickens that will be tended by the nuns, Sister Mary Josefa said, adding that a large garden is also planned, and maybe an orchard.


 A future welcome

Last week's open house lasted from 3 to 7 p.m., and as the last guests departed at sunset, the bells in the new monastery's bell tower "rang the Angelus," said Sister Mary Josefa, explaining that the Angelus "is a prayer that commemorates the Incarnation – Jesus being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is traditionally prayed three times a day: morning, noon, and evening, she said. 

In July, after the nuns move into their new home at the monastery, the bells will usually ring up to nine times a day. Besides the three times for the Angelus, they will also ring at mid-morning to call the nuns to Mass, and they'll ring again twice during Mass. They will also ring for mid-afternoon prayer (called None), for evening prayer (Vespers) and night prayer (Compline), she said, adding that, when the monastery's chapel is finished, the nuns will enjoy worshiping with area residents and other guests who join them to share the monastery's public worship services. 

"We'll have a schedule posted on the chapel doors," Sister Mary Josefa said. "After we move in, our neighbors are always welcome to visit our chapel."

Ozark County Times

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