St. Joseph’s Monastery near Rockbridge welcomes visitors to March 19 open house

Last October, Edward M. Rice, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, joined the nuns of the new St. Joseph's Monastery for the blessing of the two bells, photo above, left, that will ring from the chapel belfry. The nuns named the bells Maria, for the Blessed Mother, and Cecelia, for the patron saint of music.

Blue sky peeks through the openings in St. Joseph’s Monastery’s partially constructed tower several weeks ago. The $18 million monastery, just north of Ozark County in Douglas County, is expected to be completed this fall.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, gathered Saturday at their new monastery, still under construction, to celebration the day designated as the feast day honoring Sainte Solastica, the patron saint of Benedictine nuns. Front row, from left: Sr. Pauline Owen, Sr. Vayla Lamarra, Sr. Mary Pia Burns, Sr. Mary Josefa Holcomb, Sr. Sophia Eid, Sr. Gemma Rose Hoffmann, Sr. Elizabeth Ciresi. Back: Sr. Judith Marie Meier, Sr. Elassara Lane, Sr. Maria Battista Nyaga, Sr. Katherine Carter, Sr. Thomeissa LeBlanc, Sr. Mary Petra Kalinowski, Sr. Adrienne Leudeking, Sr. Miriam Esther Podlinsek and Sr. Veronica Oehl.

Work continues on St. Joseph's Monastery on Douglas County's P Highway north of Rockbridge. The facility will be home to a community of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The Douglas County group started in 2019 with eight nuns from the community's "motherhouse" in Gower, a town between Kansas City and St. Joseph. Currently, 16 nuns comprise the community, ranging in age from 18 to 39. Three other women hope to join the group when the monastery is finished this fall. The finished monastery will be large enough to accommodate 48 nuns.

Benedictines are known for their singing of Gregorian chants, and during Saturday's feast-day gathering, they demonstrated the acoustics of the sanctuary by singing in the church that will anchor St. Joseph's Monastery.

This architectural rendering of St. Joseph’s Monastery, now under construction just north of Ozark County, is taken from the website. When completed, the monastery will also include the Fathers Shrine to honor earthly fathers, grandfathers and priests.

It’s not every day that Ozark Countians and other nearby residents have a chance to tour a new, multimillion-dollar facility being built in our area, but that opportunity is coming March 19 a short distance north of the Ozark County line. 

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a community of Catholic nuns, will host an open house on March 19 in their impressive new Monastery of St. Joseph, an $18 million structure on P Highway in Douglas County a short distance north of Rockbridge. 

The monastery, being built by a Shawnee, Kansas company, is expected to be completed this fall, but construction is far enough along to let visitors see how the massive building will be used. Sister Mary Josefa Holcomb, who serves as superior of the group, said the resident nuns, along with church friends and co-workers, will happily give tours during the open house, to be held from 3 to 7 p.m. “We’ll show people around and explain the various parts of the monastery,” she said. “And we’ll explain about our life here and answer any questions our guests have.”

Refreshments will be provided as well, she said. 

No religious service is planned during the open house; the monastery’s chapel is not yet finished. “But it’s still a beautiful place to sing,” she said, hinting at the Benedictines’ traditional love of music and the famous Gregorian chants. If the open house guests want them to, the sisters might sing for them, she added with a laugh.  

When finished, the cross-shaped chapel will be big enough to accommodate about 200 people, Sister Mary Josefa said. By tradition, the nuns sit at the end of the long arm of the cross, and the laity, or guests, sit on the two shorter arms, “all centered around Christ at the center of the church,” she said.     

In October, the nuns celebrated the arrival of the two large bells that will hang in the church’s belfry. Sister Mary Josefa said she doesn’t know where the bells came from, “but one of them has Philadelphia on it.”

They promptly named the bells: “Maria, for the Blessed Mother,” said Sister Mary Josefa, “and Cecilia, for the patron saint of music.”

The monastery will also include communal rooms, where the nuns meet to talk about community matters and where they work at the sewing that helps provide income. Their specialty is making altar linens and priestly vestments worn by celebrants during Mass. 

In addition to a kitchen, pantry and large dining area, the monastery will have enough living quarters to accommodate up to 48 nuns. Currently, 16 nuns are part of the Douglas County group. In the new monastery, each woman will have a simply furnished room with a window; each “cell” is a small, private place where each nun can rest, sleep and pray. 

While all of the sisters can sew, Sister Mary Josefa said, 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, she said, adding that a large garden is also planned, and maybe an orchard.

The nuns hope to move into the monastery in July. During construction, they have been living in a retreat center on the grounds of Assumption Abbey, a community of Cistercian monks that has operated since 1950 on OO Highway in Douglas County a few miles south of where St. Joseph’s Monastery is being built. OO Highway intersects with N Highway, coming out of Ozark County, and P Highway, where St. Joseph’s Monastery is being built, intersects with N Highway a few miles farther north. 


‘A contemplative, monastic life’

While many people think of a monastery as a place for priests and a convent as a place for nuns, Sister Mary Josefa explained that both terms can be 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. 

The nuns at St. Joseph’s Monastery gather for Mass each day with their chaplain, Father Jeffrey 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 have fun, Sister Mary Josefa said. “We talk in a very familiar way, sharing things that have surprised us or excited us.” 

The nuns enjoy going for “long walks in the woods,” and, of course, they like to sing together. Sometimes on religious calendar’s feast days, “we might put on a play,” she said. “There are beautiful things we can do as expressions of joy.” 

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. 

When the monastery’s chapel is finished, the nuns will also 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.”

The monastery is named for Saint Joseph, and in consideration of his role as the foster father of Jesus, the monastery will also include the Fathers Shrine to honor earthly fathers, grandfathers and priests. March 19, the day of the monastery’s open house, is the day marking the Feast of St. Joseph. 

Individuals and families can make arrangements to honor a loved one or priest in the Fathers Shrine by contacting Sister Mary Josepha by email at


‘One step at a time’

The story of how a community of nuns came to build an $18 million home in the Ozarks was shared in a three-part series published by the Times a year ago. The series, published in the Feb. 1, 8 and 15, 2023, editions, described four contemplative religious communities and facilities that operate a few miles north of Ozark County in Douglas County: Assumption Abbey, the Nazareth Hermitage, St. Joseph’s Monastery and the Holy Archangels Christian Orthodox Retreat Center. 

The local group evolved from its start as the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in 1995 in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

In 2006, the community 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. It experienced such a growth in number of nuns joining the community “that it became needful to branch out,” according to its website,

Bishop Edward Rice, of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, invited the nuns to expand into this area, and in response, eight nuns moved from Gower to Ava in 2019 to expand the community and its mission. The monks at Assumption Abbey invited them to use a fully furnished house on their property for their temporary home as they searched for land. 

“We were looking farther afield,” Sister Mary Josefa said, meaning they were looking for land outside the area. But during their time here, the Benedictine nuns developed a close relationship with the nearby religious communities. “Our superior mother abbess [in Gower] knew how we loved being close to the other contemplatives in this area.” 

So, in 2021, when a privately owned 250-acre tract of land became available on P Highway, near its junction with N Highway, they bought it, and started plans for St. Joseph’s Monastery. After selling off parts of the original purchase that wouldn’t be needed, the new monastery now sits on 100 acres.

Originally estimated at $20 million, the construction has been divided into two phases, the first to finish the nuns’ living quarters and a temporary chapel, while the interior finishing of the church is on hold until further funds are raised. Sister Mary Josefa said, “We have raised over half of what we need. So we still have a way to go, but God is providing, one step at a time!” 

The number of nuns in the community is also growing. When the Times story ran a year ago, the original eight nuns had been joined by four others, bringing the total to 12. Last week, Sister Mary Josefa said their number has grown to 16, “with three more who hope to enter as soon as the new monastery is finished.”

In last year’s story, she credited the increase in number to young women who are “seeking a deeper union with God” and who “see that one authentic way to do that is through religious life . . . but need the time-tested ways to do that.”

Explaining the “time-tested ways,” she said, “The rule we follow is from the time of St. Benedict. There have been Benedictine nuns for 1,500 years. We keep the hours of prayer, and we alternate our prayer with work in silence.”

Looking back on the nuns’ remarkable Ozarks experience, Sister Mary Josefa said, “How beautiful, in God’s providence.” 


The open house at St. Joseph’s Monastery will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19. To reach the site from Ozark County, travel north on N Highway past Rockbridge, past the new Bryant Creek State Park and past the OO Highway to reach P Highway. Turn right (east) onto P Highway. Look for a construction fence with a sign that reads “Straub Construction” on the right. Another way is to travel Highway 5 north into Douglas County and turn right onto the northern terminus of N Highway. Then turn left on P Highway. Everyone is invited. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423