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US nuns’ immigration woes may save historic English abbey

US Green Card

Artiom Photo | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 05/13/24

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, saw two members exiled due to a green card backlog, but this may have placed them in the most opportune position.

Two nuns’ struggles to obtain US permanent residence (the “green card”) may have been divine providence, as it has placed their religious community in a position to save a historic English abbey. While the abbey’s acquisition is still in the idea phase, as it would require some serious fundraising, the sisters have expressed their excitement over the possibility.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, known for their convent called Ephesus, outside the small town of Gower, Missouri, are a community of religious Catholic nuns who are quite well known for producing some of the finest albums of sacred music on the market. They are also one of the fastest growing religious communities in the US. The sisters recently opened a sister-house near Ava, Missouri, but with near daily vocation inquiries, they may soon need another location to house their growing numbers. 

In their Spring 2024 newsletter, Mother Cecilia, OSB, had a great many things to share, from the completion of the Ava house to the recording of two new albums of sacred music, soon to be released. She also noted that their fast-growing numbers have led them to accept the invitation of Bishop Joseph Mark Siegel, of the Diocese of Evansville, to use a fully furnished but unused Poor Clares Monastery in Indiana.

That’s when the letter became intriguing. Mother Cecilia explained that the community has recently had some trouble with US immigration, a problem that stems from a backlog for immigration form I-360 and one that is affecting many religious workers in the US. Two blood-related Dutch sisters in the community – Sr. Helena and Sr. Philippa – have been tied up due to this backlog, with Sr. Helena’s green card refused and Sr. Philippa’s renewal seemingly stuck in limbo. 

Sr. Philippa was required to leave the US by March 23, 2024, and Sr. Helena went with her, accompanied by Sr. Emmanuel as support. The trio went to England, where they were taken in by the Jordan family, whose four daughters are actually sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Mother Cecilia wrote: 

“Our Sisters in exile were welcomed by the Jordans, the English family that has given all of their children to God’s service, with their four daughters here at the Abbey, and their son in seminary. Left with an empty nest, they were able to house our Sisters in a beautiful, secluded section of their converted barns complex with its own ‘cloister’ in Gunstone, Staffordshire. They also have a lovely chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.”

As duty required, they informed Archbishop Longley that their exiled sisters would be in his archdiocese for the time being, but they didn’t expect what happened next. The archbishop welcomed the sisters to remain within his archdiocese indefinitely, going so far as to offer them a building for a more permanent home. Unfortunately, the sisters had to decline this generosity, because of the building’s location in an urban area. 

That was when they discovered that the historic St. Mary’s Abbey at Colwich, about 15 miles from the Jordan family home, was for sale. Founded by St. Thomas More’s great-great-granddaughter, St. Mary’s might be the most fitting place for Srs. Helena and Philippa, as its community was exiled from England during the Elizabethan persecution, only to be exiled back to England from France during the revolution. 

Mother Cecilia explained that she would soon travel to England to visit the exiled sisters, and while she was there she would explore the possibility of purchasing St. Mary’s Abbey, noting that it would be “a grace to save these beautiful buildings for their intended purposes.” 

She did note, however, that with the final months of construction at Ava still upon them, they are strapped for cash. She asked that interested parties help out in any way they can, from monetary contributions – the community is a duly registered 501c3 charitable organization – to simply streaming their music regularly, which they suggest “can carry on in the background throughout the day and night!”

Mother Cecilia concluded her letter: 

“We hope and pray that we are part of something much bigger in all of this, conforming to God’s master plan. He certainly is the Master of all, knowing how to draw great good out of difficult situations (aka making lemonade when life throws you lemons!) and Who teaches us to do the same! May God reward [all] of you for all of your support.”

While the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, have not yet set up a dedicated fund for acquisition of St. Mary’s in Colwich, as it is still just an idea, those who are interested in donating to the community can do so here.

Listen to the sisters’ masterful albums of sacred music on Spotify, YouTube, or your favorite streaming service. 

EnglandNunsSacred MusicUnited States
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