ST. LOUIS — Easter Gospels tell the stories of Jewish women who left aside their former ways to follow Jesus. Rosalind Moss can relate. A convert from Judaism, she is the founder of a new religious order of women who have done the same.
When the EWTN regular was asked to speak at a Catholic breakfast club in Sacramento, Calif., she did not expect her remarks to make international news.
Yet Moss, who co-hosts the network’s popular television show “Household of Faith,” and promotes apologetics twice a month on the radio airwaves of “Catholic Answers Live,” chose that meeting in February to unveil the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope: a new religious order of nuns to be based in St. Louis.
“I made one little announcement to a breakfast club and now it’s all over the place,” she said with a laugh, noting the proliferation of blogs enthusiastically spreading the news. Currently on a speaking tour, Moss — having secured Archbishop Raymond Burke’s permission — expected to return to the home of the Cardinals (the baseball version, that is) within a month to begin finding a suitable property for the convent.
Once she establishes that home base, so to speak, she looks forward to gathering novices and hitting the streets.
“Our charism,” she explained, “is to be active contemplatives, an evangelistic teaching order. Normally if you see nuns in the street it’s because they’re on their way to minister. When you see us, it’s because we have reached our destination, with baskets on our arms full of prayer cards, miraculous medals — you name it.”
And they will stand out. Having been profoundly affected even at an early age by the sight of nuns in full habit, Moss envisions the Daughters of Mary in full veil with everything covered.
“I realized that even if people think I’m a medieval wacko, they’ll see me in this habit that’s to the floor,” she said, “and they’ll have to think of God.”
Moss has done her fair share of contemplating God’s will in her life. Before entering into full communion with the Church in 1995, she earned a master’s in ministry from an evangelical Protestant seminary, and this after a full Jewish upbringing.
“It seems like God called me as a 20-year-old Jewish girl to this,” she reminisced. But, Moss added, “Our name [Mother of Israel’s Hope] is not about Jewish outreach. Jesus is the Messiah, and Mary is his mother; she bore the hope for the whole world.”
In that spirit, Moss will lead her novices to evangelize among both downcast and wealthy alike. “We’ll invite the poor in [to a separated section of the convent] and make dinner for them. And then we’ll [witness] in the Beverly Hills section of the city: Walk in the neighborhoods and be a sign of God to the world.”
As the newest religious order, the Daughters of Mary is one of several recent communities throughout the Church that, according to Michael Wick, executive director for the Institute for Religious Life, are gaining momentum by filling a need.
“The question,” he explained, “is this: What do you see is lacking that you can make present? There are many emerging communities in the Church doing exactly that: recapturing what was there from the beginning, and trying to bring it to an explicit need in the Church today.”
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said, “I am pleased to offer Rosalind Moss encouragement and support in what I believe to be a response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The beginning of the foundation of a religious community presents many challenges. I am praying for God’s blessing upon Rosalind and her first members, and I ask the faithful of the archdiocese to pray for the same intention. With the help of God’s grace, the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope will become what their title states: messengers of hope to those who are longing for a sign of God’s mercy.”
Yet new orders are not the only sign of what Servant of God John Paul II, in his 1994 apostolic letter “Toward the Third Millennium,” termed a “new springtime of Christian life.”
Near the end of February, the National Religious Vocation Conference published through its Vision Vocation Guide some eye-opening statistics: a 62% increase of inquiries into Catholic religious life, buttressed by a 30% leap in those in formation.
“We see that those communities that are clearly faithful with the Church are holding their own or are experiencing renewal or revitalization in their vocations,” Wick said.
Due to the jump — which hitherto has been explainable only through personal witness or anecdotal evidence — the National Religious Vocation Conference has commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) to conduct a formal study into where vocations are coming from and what’s drawing them. Executive director Sister Mary Bendyna reported that, while the study is in an early stage, CARA will “get some real, statistical evidence about these numbers. It’s fascinating because you hear in the media about the decline, but there are signs of life.”
Sister Mary, a Sister of Mercy, stressed that the perceived decrease must be kept in perspective. “If you look at it historically, the large numbers in the middle of the 20th century were the anomaly; we’ve had rises and falls throughout the history of the Church. And what strikes me anecdotally is that it’s young people. For the first time in a long time we’re seeing an increase at the college level for vocations to the priesthood.”
That sense gels — informally, for now — with CARA’s 2006 study of religious communities.
“When we replicated our 1999 study in 2006, we found that most of the 150 new communities since the end of Vatican II were maintaining or increasing,” Sister Mary said. “And what strikes me is that many of them are moving towards formal diocesan or pontifical status.”
The news of the increases was joyful but no surprise to Sister Susan Marie Krupp, vocation director for the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose 1,400 nuns on five continents serve in schools at every level and coordinate frequent discernment retreats.
“Religious life is alive and well,” she said. “Our order alone received 400 inquiries last year. What are these women looking for: communities that live and pray together; to live in faithful witness to the Church’s teachings.”
This flourishing springtime has not, however, happened in a vacuum. The prayers of the faithful have been powerful petitions, Sister Susan Marie said, adding that there is one particular thing every person can do to help.
“Almost everyone inquiring has had a personal invitation, someone who said to them, ‘Have you ever thought of religious life?’” she said. “A simple invitation is one of the most efficacious acts we can do in the fostering of vocations.”
Stephen Mirarchi is based in