'Into God's arms'
With song and joy, Benedictines remember Sr. Denise Mosier, killed in a head-on collision with an alleged drunk driver.
A solitary bell tolled from atop the little chapel of the Benedictine Monastery Friday afternoon as a line of mourners snaked its way through the Bristow-based grounds toward a quiet cemetery. A contradictory pair led the solemn procession: a white hearse, bearing the body of Sister Denise Mosier, and a young Benedictine novice, light on her feet, raising colorful ribbons toward heaven in a way that would have been sure to make Sister Denise, a liturgical dancer, proud.
Those ribbons made the sad walk for Sister Denise's family, friends and Benedictine sisters a little more bearable as they prepared to inter her casket among the graves of her fellow sisters. The 66-year-old’s funeral, after all, was really a celebration of life, built on the firm resolve of the Benedictine sisters that “our Denise” was looking down on them from heaven.
“We are bereft at the thought of life without Denise and yet we rejoice with her that she has found the Christ of her desire,” said Sister Cecilia Dwyer, prioress of the monastery, in a reflection during the funeral Mass.
Sister Denise was, as Sister Cecilia, put it, propelled “straight from the backseat of a car into God's arms” the morning of Aug. 1 when the vehicle she and two other sisters were riding in was hit head-on by an alleged drunk driver six miles from the monastery on Bristow Road near Wright Lane. (See full story from the accident.)
Sisters Charlotte Lange, 70, and Connie Ruth Lupton, 75, who had been traveling to the monastery from Richmond with Sister Denise for the sisters’ annual retreat, remain in critical condition at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church. Both sisters have had multiple surgeries to combat the many injuries sustained in the collision. As of Aug. 10, Sister Charlotte was showing signs of responsiveness.
“Keep those prayers coming,” said Sister Benedict Kesock, former principal of St. Charles Borromeo School in Arlington, at the funeral. “It's not over yet.”
According to Prince William County police officer Jonathon Perok, Carlos A. Martinelly Montano, 23, driver of the other vehicle, was charged with his third DUI offense in five years, involuntary manslaughter and driving on a revoked license. It since has come to light that Montano is an illegal immigrant with a long history of arrests and citations.
Despite their loss, the Benedictine Sisters said in a statement that the community is “dismayed and saddened that this tragedy has been politicized and become an apparent forum for the illegal immigration agenda.”
“While grieving and dealing with the death and severe injuries of our sisters, we would like to re-focus attention on the consequences of drinking and driving, and on Christ’s command to forgive,” it said.
“We all know Denise would have been the first to forgive, not excuse, but forgive, and she would have done so with compassion,” Sister Cecilia said in her reflection.
Father John Adams, president of So Others Might Eat in Washington, D.C., and a friend of Sister Denise’s for 42 years, celebrated the funeral Mass, which was filled with prayer and joyful music.
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde concelebrated, along with several other priests from the Arlington Diocese and beyond.
“Please know that our diocesan family is joined with you in prayer and support,” the bishop told those gathered.
In addition to the small chapel, two overflow rooms were filled to capacity, participating in the Mass via live video feed from inside the chapel. The cries of African music rang out — a nod to Sister Denise’s eight years of ministry in Africa — as two sisters sang and danced toward the altar to present the gifts prior to Communion.
The time spent teaching seminarians in Ethiopia and Tanzania “was an experience which defined her life,” Sister Cecilia said. Sister Denise became absorbed with the continent’s culture, as was evident in the tables covered with photo albums and memorabilia from her life.
Sister Vicki Ix, director of vocation ministry, read the intercessions, which included prayers for the injured sisters, Montano and his family, and that Sister Denise “dance forever in God's eternal glory.”
Sister Denise was an educator, dancer, missionary and poet, Sister Cecilia said — not to mention the designated “toaster” at the annual sisters’ council meetings. At the monastery, she was a spiritual director and mentored women new to the community.
“Often Denise showed us the face of love,” Sister Cecilia said. “Once she knew you, she knew you … she would not give up on you.”
The dozens of cards, phone calls and e-mails the monastery received during the last week were “testimony to an all-inclusive spirit whose heart never ran out of room,” Sister Cecilia said.
According to Susan Walker, president of St. Gertrude School in Richmond, where Sisters Denise, Charlotte and Connie Ruth had a presence, everyone at the school is “very saddened” by the accident.
“I think it’s just a shocking piece of news,” Walker said. “Not only that it happened … but how it happened. It’s just so hard to take in.”
Sister Denise was “very involved” with the community, Walker said, coming to prayer services and other events. She often shared her gift of liturgical dance with the school.
“She was just a very faith-filled woman, a fun woman to be around,” Walker said. She was “supportive in any way we might have ever needed her to be.”
Sister Denise is survived by her mother, Edith Mosier; two brothers, John and Bob Mosier, and their wives, all from Kane, Pa.; a sister, Mary Ann, from Erie, Pa., several nieces and nephews; and the 31 sisters of her Benedictine community.
In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for the Benedictine Sisters’ ministries and may be sent to St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Rd., Bristow, VA 20136.