First Christmas soft as swaddling for new Island priest

MANATEE -- This morning marks the first Christmas service for a new local priest: the Rev. Dee Ann de Montmollin of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Holmes Beach.

De Montmollin, who was a priest in Miami earlier in her life, says she knew she was going to love her new assignment the instant her right foot touched Holmes Beach sand.

“I was barefoot and my husband, Phil, is a cook and it felt like he had scattered flour on the ground,” de Montmollin said. “It was so fine and wonderful. I instantly felt the wonderfulness of creation.”

The new priest has been scoring points not only on the beach, but in the sanctuary, in area nursing homes and private residences and in her personal outreach, church members say.

“Rev. Dee is such a blessing to our church,” said church member Barbara Vedder. “She has a peace and a calm about her that is comforting to all she meets, and a graciousness.”

“We’re an older parish that is used to doing things a certain way,” said church member Sue Wait. “I haven’t heard any static since Rev. Dee joined us. She’s very much a people person. She seems to be very caring and very interested in everyone.”

When de Montmollin heard about the church’s 5-year-old outreach at Christmas called “Be A Christmas Angel,” she jumped right in, just as she jumped right in deciding to take the Eucharist to church members if they were unable to make it to the church at 4408 Gulf Drive, church member Terry Hussey says.

De Montmollin quickly embraced “Be A Christmas Angel,” an annunciation program benefiting Sister Ann DiNicolo of Catholic Charities in Arcadia and her ministry for the rural poor in DeSoto County.

“I just felt isn’t this amazing that someone can do God’s ministry in such a tangible way that is responsive to the needs of people,” de Montmollin said. “It’s really beautiful.”

This year, members of Church of the Annunciation collected Christmas gifts for 42 children of 16 families in Arcadia. They also sewed and knitted clothes and blankets and made baskets for newborn babies to protect them.

“We make Moses baskets,” de Montmollin said. “The Moses basket is made out of a plastic laundry basket and the babies sleep in it. What Sister Ann discovered was that babies were being suffocated because the family all slept together.”

On Monday, de Montmollin, Vedder and church member Caroline Powers took the toys and other offerings to Arcadia.

Before she became a priest, de Montmollin was a nurse in an intensive care unit and, later, got a counseling degree.

All during this time, she was praying for the people she cared for.

“God wouldn’t leave me alone,” de Montmollin said. “I knew I was doing ministry.”

She eventually heeded the call and entered the seminary. She’s a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Berkeley at Yale Seminary. She was ordained in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Her previous assignment just before Holmes Beach was seven years as rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rutherfordton, N.C.

De Montmollin wrote a Christmas letter to her flock this year. One part read:

“As you open your gifts this Christmas, remember the most special gift given to you, the gift of Jesus Christ. Open your heart; open your soul to the beauty of who Jesus is: the splendid majesty of the love of God. Be still and know that God is with you. Surrounded by loved ones present and the memories of those who are absent. Thank God for the wonder of the miracle. Blessing and peace to each of you from the bottom of my heart. -- The Rev. Dee Ann de Montmollin.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.