Catholic Sentinel photos by Bob Kerns
The Edson brothers, Dave and Jeff, former body guards at EWTN, now own a landscaping business in Oregon — and have 10 children apiece.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Bob Kerns
The Edson brothers, Dave and Jeff, former body guards at EWTN, now own a landscaping business in Oregon — and have 10 children apiece.
This is the second in a series on family life. A Vatican synod on families is set for October.

TIGARD — They shielded Mother Angelica from anti-Catholic crackpots.  

Dave and Jeff Edson, built like refrigerators, once worked security for the nuns who run Alabama-based Eternal Word Television Network. The men's mission was to be a wall of protection. But the Holy Spirit breached their personal defenses.

Once nominal Catholics, the musclebound brothers now have large families, a serious prayer habit and a Tigard landscaping business, all of which reflect their unswerving embrace of faith and its demands. They say it all came from EWTN.

They were introduced to the broadcasting monastery when their sister joined the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, the order of the network's 90-year-old foundress, Mother Angelica. Traveling to Alabama from their homes in Denver, the men attended their sister's profession of vows in 1993 and while there were encouraged to go to confession.

"We kept that priest up most of the night," says Dave.

It was a life-changing moment for the men and their wives. They felt recommitted to Christ and they wanted to live the Gospel. They had been planning on having one or two children apiece. But that night of confession left them with a sense that they should not set a limit on God's gift of life.

Each Edson household now has 10 children. The two families live close to one another and attend Holy Rosary Church in Portland, a 24-member infusion of energy and reverence.

Dave, 45, and Jeff, 49, grew up Catholic in a family of eight children in Aurora, Colo. The extent of their involvement then was Sunday Mass. At the time of their first EWTN visit, Dave was an airline luggage agent at the Denver airport and Jeff had moved to Portland.

Not long after that night of repentance and conversion, their newly professed sister placed a call from Alabama. Mother Angelica was offering the men jobs as security guards, having been impressed with their gentleness — and size.

Being on television made the Sisters targets for misanthropes and conspiracy theorists. In the years before the Edsons joined the crew, a gunman fired a shot at the Sisters' outer wall.

Dave had been planning a job transfer to North Carolina anyway, so taking a job in Alabama seemed less zany than it might have. But still — bodyguards to nuns?

Despite questions, everyone remembered the thrill of the visit to EWTN and said yes.

The brothers and their wives rented a house together near the monastery, then in Irondale, east of Birmingham.

"It was the beginning of a journey," Dave says.

Among their duties, he and Jeff sat in the back of the chapel for Mass each day. The constant prayer cemented the decision to change their lives.

The brothers gently defused threats at the monastery, often from people with mental illness. One man thought he was St. Michael. They tailed one suspicious visitor and found him heavily armed and bearing anti-Catholic literature. They called the police for help on that one.

They spent time around the nuns, helping with grocery shopping, doctor visits and other errands. When Mother Angelica was hospitalized, they were there. Dave witnessed the moment in 1998 when the foundress experienced an apparent healing, shedding crutches and a back brace she had worn since an accident 40 years before.

One of the Poor Clares' charisms is to pray for babies.

"It worked," says Lisa, who became pregnant not long after the move.

When daughter Rose was to be baptized as an infant in the Poor Clares' monastery chapel, the Sisters opened the partition that usually separates them from the rest of the church.

"They love kids," Lisa says. With each additional Edson child, the Sisters would fawn over the family more and more. Meanwhile, Lisa was hired to help organize pilgrimages for EWTN viewers.

The Edsons' conversion radiated out to family members. Lisa's father, Bob Elmer, became Catholic just weeks before he died.

Franciscan Father Mark Mary Cristina, host of the EWTN show Life on the Rock, recalls another of the monastery's security guards coming forward wanting to convert. The priest inquired about the source of the man's renewal. Was it the constant Mass attendance? The homilies of clergy at the station?

"He said, no, it was the reverence he saw in the other guards, particularly Jeff," Father Mark says. "He and some others would pray and go in to get the Eucharist in their knees."

The priest says he has always been "edified" by the openness to life shown by the Edson brothers and their wives. He also admires their commitment to honest, hard work and their simple living.

Dave spent five years as a body guard at EWTN. When the Sisters and the network moved north to a new monastery with 12-foot walls at Hanceville, Ala., they offered him a landscaping post instead, aware he had worked as a landscaper's apprentice when younger. While Jeff stayed on security detail, Mother Angelica sent Dave to horticulture school. He would tend the Sisters properties and help them design and build outdoor stations of the cross.

People started to notice Dave's landscape genius. In addition to his duties with the Sisters, he was hired to landscape developments and businesses. He won an award for his work.

"I got to where I kind of liked having my own business," Dave says. "I enjoying taking something that is ugly and making it beautiful."

In large part because of the humidity and bugs in Alabama, Dave decided in 2004 to take his family and his business west. Mother Angelica reluctantly blessed their departure and they set off, not completely certain what would happen.

"We have always lived, and will continue to live, by divine providence," Dave says.

Income was thin at the start in Oregon. But trusting in the brotherly partnership, Jeff came to join the business in 2006. It has since grown so that it supports both families.

The company does employ others, but Dave and Jeff stay active, lugging boulders and pushing wheelbarrows themselves. Family, especially Jeff's sons, work for the company.   

Other Moss Rock employees tend to come from Holy Rosary or a homeschool group.

"My number one concern is to take care of the customer," says Dave. "It's not about making the most money. I have always run my business from a 'God provides' standpoint I learned from Mother Angelica."

The brothers don't want the business to get so large that they will be stuck in an office.

"If anyone were to look at my business model, they would say, 'You're crazy!'" Dave says. "I run my business to support my family. That's it."

The two families remain close, but respect each other's privacy. The cousins play and laugh together often. Lisa calls the bond between the houses "intense."

Dave admits the Edson homes can be chaotic. Mother Angelica had suggested home schooling. Dave and Lisa gave it a try and still do it. To start each school day, the family prays the rosary.

Four Edson children sing in Cantores in Ecclesia, a Catholic chant and polyphony choir, and a handful take part in an annual Catholic quiz bowl. Some have attended a large pro-life walk in San Francisco. The Edson kids go to confession and adoration of the Eucharist once a month. A whole corps of Edsons are Holy Rosary altar servers.

Dave and Lisa's home is covered in religious art. Bibles and books on saints sit on tables and shelves.

They worry about bad influences in culture and try to bolster their children for the day when they will set out on their own into the world.  

"We are not like the Amish," says Dave, explaining that the family attends movies often. "At the same time, there is no need to overexpose."

As he finishes, preschool daughter Mary wanders into the living room, chocolate hazelnut spread ringing her mouth. She is curious about all this talking.

Life has not been all smooth for Dave and Lisa. Some of their children have faced medical problems. They have suffered miscarriages.

"Through everything, they set an example of charity," says Dominican Father Vincent Kelber, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish. "They are cheerful, they are happy. You will see them step up if something is going undone. You will see them in the parish kitchen washing dishes."

Rose, Dave and Lisa's daughter, is on staff at Holy Rosary. If Father Vincent talks about an idea within Rose's earshot, pretty soon he will find in his mailbox a thorough report about the possibilities.

"They are all like that," the priest says.