Mothers called as memory keepers and relationship builders


CHARLESTON — The rituals and values that mothers pass on as storytellers to the next generation were reflected upon at a Ministry of Mothers Sharing (M.O.M.S.) retreat at the Cathedral center last Saturday.

Benedictine Sister Paula Hagen, national director of M.O.M.S. from St. Paul’s Monastery in St. Paul, Minn., came to the Holy City March 31 to help Lowcountry women explore what stories tell us about gratitude, values, and ourselves.

Founded in 1986 by Sister Hagen and a group of women at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, Ariz., M.O.M.S. is a peer ministry for mothers of all ages and backgrounds. The program begins with a series of eight meetings, each focusing on a different theme. Topics include self-esteem and self-acceptance; stress, worries, and anxiety; everyday spirituality; feelings; personal growth; expressing values and friendship; and discernment.

Sister Hagen said that the ministry is firmly rooted in the spirit of Vatican II, especially the document Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium. “I believe each sister has a special call, each priest has a special call, and that there is a tremendous call to parents,” she said. “M.O.M.S. gives participants a new interpretation of the values in their lives. Of how sacred motherhood is, how sacred marriage is, how sacred a child is, and how they can pass that on to the next generation.”

The sister said that mothers pass on their beliefs by example and by the stories they tell their children.

“Stories are an opportunity for grace, such as when grandparents are telling stories to their grandchildren,” Sister Hagen explained, citing the example of faith given to her by her own grandfather and the stories passed down from him.

At the Charleston retreat, she handed the participants a children’s book, The Littlest Christmas Tree. After reading the story, Sister Hagen questioned the group as to what values the adults want to pass on from the selection and why. She also asked a couple of people to talk about what touched them in the story.

Prior to lunch, the nun from Minnesota, during grace before the meal, had the women take part in a lighting of visitation candles ritual. “We use a lot of rituals. Addiction is an unconscious ritual. The church has us have conscious rituals,” she said, adding that Mary and Elizabeth told each other their story.

Sister Hagen stressed that women better see their parish needs after this time of renewal. She said groups have often gotten into Bible study, and an example was given of a M.O.M.S. group at St. Peter’s Parish in Beaufort, which recently studied the new church document on reconciliation.

“In family ministry, the goal is to empower the people. These spiritual support groups come to fruition when they start to do that,” said the nun.

She called M.O.M.S. “an ecumenical program with Christ at the center.” In fact, the first M.O.M.S. group in Charleston was at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church on Sullivan’s Island, although that team has since disbanded. Nationally, the effort is in over 1,000 parishes, although Sister Hagen considers that number to be a low estimate.

In getting the program started on the local level, the sister said the first step is to bring about enthusiasm for the ministry. Next, the second step is to get the program integrated into the whole parish.

During her visit to the Holy City, Sister Hagen met with directors of religious education and other diocesan officials to see if a M.O.M.S. regional coordinator is needed for the Lowcountry. “We are interested in seeing what could happen here,” she said.

Currently, regional coordinators are located in Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Newark, N.J.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and three in Florida, situated in Orlando, West Palm Beach, and St. Augustine.

“We don’t see the monastery as corporate headquarters,” said Sister Hagen, who cited the increasing number of coordinators as a natural group process in leadership.

The nun’s trip to South Carolina was sponsored by the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant, and Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish on Folly Beach, all of which have M.O.M.S. groups.

The women’s group in Folly Beach has 11 participants and three trained facilitators. At the end of a gathering, each woman chooses the name of another group member to pray for until the next meeting the following week.

Also, during the duration of the program, an older woman prays for an assigned participant in an effort to build generational continuity. After a period of time, notes are exchanged between prayer partners, and, eventually, phone calls as well. The older women then meet the younger participants at a party during the seventh session.

This prayer network also extends up north, to the St. Paul Monastery in Minnesota, where retired sisters pray for each particular group.

The use of prayer to pass on Christian rituals was even incorporated into the retreat’s closing, when the women anointed each other to strengthen their commitment to Christ’s grace and go in peace.