Donabelle Shepherd, one of the founders of the group at St. Andrew Church, said she knows that most women who come to MOMS are searching for the same things she is: spiritual growth and community.
And, said Shepherd, it doesn’t matter if you are a mom. You may be somebody’s grandmother or somebody’s aunt. You may be single or married. The focus is on being educated Catholics sharing in community, no matter your role in life. All women are welcome to join MOMS.
“In our culture, it’s nice to acknowledge that being a mom is not just a biological thing, but a matter of spirituality and nurturing. It’s a woman’s nature,” Shepherd observed.
The issues raised by the group are timely as Pope Francis has taken a keen interest in highlighting the role of women in both the church and society. In creating a new papal commission on sex abuse, he named women as half the membership, a sign that he hopes to create more leadership opportunities for women in the future.
At the same time, the pope has referred to women “maintaining their presence and preferential and entirely special attention in and for the family.”
Shepherd and Cathy Medland co-founded MOMS in 2012 at St. Andrew’s. Shepherd had been involved in the program at her parish in Ohio and when her husband’s military career brought the family to Alaska she felt inspired to begin the program in her new parish.
“It’s so fulfilling to be part of this,” she said. “You make so many friends you wouldn’t expect to make.”
Nationally, MOMS began as a program of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Paul’s Monastery in St. Paul, Minn. Their website notes that since 1992 over half a million women in more than 100 dioceses have been reached by the program.
Although the national office has since closed, new MOMS groups continue to form across the country.
The MOMS program begins with an eight-week parish-based peer ministry. The weekly sessions guide women through common concerns and struggles: stress and anxiety, everyday spirituality, discernment of one’s own spiritual gifts and the importance of friendship. Each session begins and ends with a prayer to instill the value of everyday prayer and reflection through personal journaling and community sharing. A new session will begin this fall.
Between sessions the group takes on other projects.
Over the past two years the group has studied the “This is Our Faith” book used as a refresher course on Catholicism, read and discussed the book, “Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire,” by Joseph Langford, and in March began watching the video series by Father Robert Barron, “Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues.”
The women have also studied “Walking Toward Eternity” by Jeff Cavins, “Defending the Faith: Faith Transforming Culture” offered by Franciscan University of Steubenville, and “Endow: Pope John Paul II Letter to Women.”
Although geared towards an academic study of Catholicism, MOMS includes prayer, reflection, and a chance for community building, with socializing built into every meeting. Babysitting is provided during the sessions.
“Everyone is welcome of all faiths,” said Medland, although only Catholic materials are used. The idea is to be welcoming and supportive, and a woman may join the group at any time.
“It’s a great support network,” Medland said. “We always take prayer requests. There are no dues, people just pay for their own books.”
Sue Leveque has attending the gatherings for more than a year, and has helped as a facilitator.
The community aspect can’t be minimized, she said.
“Now, I go to Mass and I know people’s names,” Leveque said. “Sometimes you go to church and it’s like you’re an island, rather than the Body of Christ.”
Eagle River has many resident military families, as well as families with one spouse working on the North Slope for parts of each month. The separations that come along with these professions pose special challenges to the one left at home, often a woman, and MOMS serves as a special support.
Group members bring meals to those who’ve had a baby or experienced surgery, both in the group and in the wider parish community. Every other month, MOMS members get together for a purely social gathering. During the summer months, the schedule is less academic and the group often meets with kids in the park.
Although the main meeting is on Thursdays at 10 a.m., a smaller group meets on Tuesday evenings at Gruening Middle School to accommodate women who work outside the home.
Shepherd said the group has about 100 women on their email list, although only about 20 or 30 register for each study, with about a dozen attending the Tuesday night session. October 10-12, MOMS is hosting a Marian retreat at Holy Spirit Center, open to all.
“I think so often we Catholics stop learning as far as adult catechesis goes,” Leveque said. “MOMS is a wonderful way to continue to walk with our faith.”
Those interested in finding out more about the October Marian retreat may call Shepherd at 702-994-9269.