Feeding Families' Souls

COLUMBIA, S.C.—When Tammy Simpson decided to leave her full-time job and stay home with her 4-year-old son and infant daughter, she realized she'd lost her support system.

“I wasn't getting pats on the back any more,” says Simpson, 36, a member of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Columbia, S.C. “I felt very isolated. I was so busy taking care of my children that I was neglecting myself physically and spiritually.”

At the invitation of a friend, Simpson joined the Ministry of Mothers Sharing (MOMS), a growing national ministry where she found friends, spiritual renewal and the zeal for her faith that launched her into other areas of service for her parish.

“My husband saw the change in me when I'd come home from MOMS,” says Simpson. “It made him want to get more involved in the parish, too, so he decided to sponsor someone through RCIA. Now we've accepted the invitation to coordinate our parish's upcoming evangelization program.”

MOMS is not a parenting class. It is a superb spiritual renewal program for women—whether they are single mothers, married mothers, stepmothers, foster mothers or grandmothers, according to Benedictine Sister Paula Hagen, who planted the seeds of the ministry in 1986 in Mesa, Ariz., and today runs the program from her office at St. Paul Monastery in St. Paul, Minn.

“I look at mothers as the window to the soul of the family,” says Sister Hagen. “When you renew them, you renew the family, and that energy flows out into parish life.”

A typical MOMS group has 10 to 12 participants, plus three facilitators—a presenter, prayer leader and “guardian angel” in charge of hospitality. Child care is often provided.

Prayer, sharing and writing in MOMS: A Personal Journal are key elements of the eight-session curriculum. A different topic is covered during each two-hour meeting: self-esteem and self-acceptance; stress, worries and anxiety; everyday spirituality; feelings; personal growth; expressing values in friendships; and discernment.

A “celebration dinner” is also an integral part the program. During the seventh session, participants dine with women from their parish who have supported them through prayer during their MOMS journey.

“We are realizing our God-given call to our vocation as mothers and responding to it,” says Ruth McNicholas, 51, regional coordinator of MOMS for the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn. “It's contagious. About 1,000 women in 20 parishes in eastern Tennessee have joined MOMS since 1999 and I'm working with six new parishes right now.”

“In my own parish of 207 families [Holy Trinity Parish in Jefferson City, Tenn.], 51 women have been through the MOMS sessions,” adds McNicholas. “We have 12 new women signed up for the next program.”

Called and Gifted

Spiritual formation in MOMS is based on the 1995 U.S. bishops' document “Called & Gifted for the Third Millennium.” Participants learn to discern their gifts and are encouraged to share their giftedness with their families and community. They also learn to make personal renewal a regular part of their spiritual lives.

“This is an introduction to a healthy spirituality,” explains Eunice Cheshire, 63, a facilitator-trainer for MOMS in Dallas and the associate director of adult formation at Prince of Peace Parish in Plano, Texas. “A woman who is formed in this can move on to a really deep spirituality.

“MOMS is very empowering to women, and it really boosts a parish,” Cheshire says. “When women are affirmed in their gifts, they say, ‘You mean I can be a lector or a eucharistic minister?’ I have seen so many ministries spring forth from MOMS. Women have formed a young married couple's group, a ministry to empty nesters and gone into hospital ministry.”

“This ministry is very solid, very good,” says Father Al Faesser, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in North Platte, Neb. “Typically, parents with young children are very wrapped up with raising their families and not necessarily active in parish life. Through MOMS, they reassess their values and priorities. They become more active participants in parish life and in sacramental ministry. It enhances the community in a wonderful way.”

To date, MOMS has touched more than 300,000 women from more than 3,200 parishes in more than 100 dioceses in the United States, Canada and Ecuador. Since 1997, the Sisters of St. Benedict have received grants of more than $50,000 from the Koch Foundation to develop this peer outreach ministry.

“The growth of this ministry shows what a tremendous need there is in the Church for it,” says Sister Hagen.

Many of the women's stories have been collected and published in book form by Resource Publications Inc. Titles include Instant Inspiration for Mothers, Quiet Contemplations for Mothers and Minute Meditations for Mothers. In addition, two training manuals are now in their third printing: MOMS: Developing a Ministry and MOMS: Facilitator's Guide.

“I'm very enthused about MOMS. I think it has a great future,” says Notre Dame Sister Eileen Tierney, pastoral associate at St. Daniel the Prophet Parish in Chicago, where MOMS has been active for three years. “The program sells itself. The women have such enthusiasm—they talk to other people about it so freely. It works best by personal invitation.”

“The first time I went through MOMS, I did it with a group of women my own age,” says Cheshire, a grandmother. “We all said, ‘We wish we'd have had this when we were younger—we could have avoided a lot of burnout. Let's start it for the younger women.’ We want it for our daughters and daughters-in-law. My own daughter-in-law attended session one last week.”

“The demands to be a good Christian woman without a support system are just too great,” says Sister Hagen. “Through MOMS, there is a tremendous network of women forming solid friendships. You can really see the Holy Spirit working through them.”

Dana Mildebrath writes

from Chico, California.