Nuns at Virginia monastery find room to forgive while mourning sister's death

As sisters of the Benedictine order gather in Bristow, Va., for a five-day retreat, a crash blamed on drunken driving kills one nun and critically injures two others, adding gravity and emotion to the event.
By Michelle Boorstein, Kevin Sieff and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

About 8:30 Monday night, the doorbell rang at St. Benedict Monastery in Prince William County, and Sister Andrea Verchuck, the sub-prioress, rose from her desk to see who was there. On the slate front porch stood a man and a woman.

"They looked contrite," said Verchuck, 81, who has lived with other nuns in the wooded monastery for 66 years. The visitors' hands were at their sides, their eyes cast down, as Verchuck greeted them.

"They said, 'We'd like to talk with someone about the sister who was killed,' " she recalled.

The day before, Sister Denise Mosier, 66, riding in a car with two other nuns in Prince William, had died in a collision with an alleged drunk driver. The other nuns, 70 and 75, were critically injured. The man and woman at the monastery door were the parents of the driver charged with manslaughter in the crash. They had come to seek forgiveness for him.

The suspect, Carlos A. Martinelly-Montano, 23, is a Bolivian national whose family says he entered the United States illegally in 1996 but was currently working legally. His status has become a flash point in the heated debate over immigration policy. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security began deportation proceedings against Martinelly-Montano in 2008, after an earlier drunken driving arrest. But immigration officials, citing privacy laws, have declined to explain why his case still remains unresolved.

Amid the tangle of legal issues and cauldron of emotions surrounding Martinelly-Montano's recent case, a moment of simple purity unfolded Monday night, Verchuck said. Alejandro and Maria Martinelly stood sobbing, telling Verchuck how sorry they were, saying that their son, a father of two young children, is a heavy drinker and that they had tried to set him straight.

"I said, 'Please get help for him so he can stop, or he won't be a good parent,' " Verchuck recalled. And true to the spirit of her religious order, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, she said what they had hoped to hear:

"We wanted to let them know we hold no grudges."

'He's a good man'

Martinelly-Montano, who has a record of numerous motor vehicle offenses in recent years, including drunken driving convictions in 2007 and 2008, was not seriously injured in the crash near Bristow. Besides manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, he has been charged with drunken driving and driving after a license revocation. He is in custody at a hospital and has been ordered held without bond, said Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert.

When Maria Martinelly learned by phone Sunday morning that her family's Subaru Outback had collided with a car carrying three nuns, killing one of them, she thought of Carlos Martinelly-Montano, the oldest of her three sons, she said in an interview.

"Oh my God -- how did he find the car keys?" she said.

The parents, who live in Prince William, said they had been hiding the keys because of his drunken driving convictions. They said that after an early morning drinking binge, Martinelly-Montano found the keys in a closet and left.

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