Benedictine sisters bury Va. nun killed by accused drunk driver

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
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; 12:35 PM

A 66-year-old nun whose death in a drunk driving accident has fueled an already-heated national immigration debate is being buried Friday at the wooded Virginia monastery where she lived, in a service rich with the special rituals of her community.

Thursday night's wake and Friday morning's funeral for Sister Denise Mosier were closed to the public. The Benedictine sisters said they feared their small, wood-beamed chapel in Bristow couldn't accommodate the rush of people who have reached out to the tiny Catholic community since a suspected drunk driver hit a car carrying three nuns Sunday morning. Mosier was killed and two other women were seriously injured.

Sister Glenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the order, said Charlotte Lange, 75, and Connie Ruth Lupton, 70, had undergone surgeries Thursday and Friday at Inova Fairfax Hospital. They remain in critical but stable condition.

The driver, Carlos A. Martinelly Montano, 23, who entered the country illegally from Bolivia with his family in 1996, is being held without bond. He was just weeks away from a long-delayed deportation hearing because of two previous convictions for driving under the influence.

He has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, third-offense drunken driving within five years and driving after an alcohol-related license suspension. Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said his office will ask a grand jury to upgrade the manslaughter charge, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to second-degree murder, which carries a possible 40-year term.

The funeral for Mosier marks the end of a silent retreat that the 33-woman community had planned before the crash and voted to go ahead with afterward. For the past five days they have faced planning a funeral, hospital visits, a crush of national attention and the pain of three empty chairs -- all largely in silence.

Mosier is being buried on the property of the 120-acre monastery, which reflects the order's emphasis on community. When they become Benedictine nuns, they take a unique vow, along with chastity and poverty, of "stability," which to them means they will remain based here in Bristow, with one another.

In death they are together as well. Among the rituals they have created when one of their own dies, the sisters sing at the wake and the burial the same hymn a Benedictine nun sings when she first takes her vow to join the order: "Receive me, oh Lord, as you have promised that I may live, and do not disappoint me in my hope."

A bell is rung for the number of years the deceased had been a Benedictine nun.

Sister Andrea Verchuck, subprioress at the monastery, said earlier this week that 86 sisters had died during her 66 years at the monastery. When new nuns arrive, Verchuck, 81, said she takes them for a tour of the graveyard to meet the rest of the community they will hopefully join in the next life. Now that cemetery will include Mosier.

The crash has added fuel to the debate over immigration control in the United States and in Prince William County in particular.

Police statistics from 2009 show that 13 percent of people arrested in the county on drunk driving charges last year were illegal immigrants. Prince William is one of a few dozen communities in the country that participate in a federal program that deputizes local police officers to act as immigration agents and check the immigration status of people they arrest.

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