Monthly Archives: October 2011

Snapshots from the Sisters: Title this!

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Halloween Praise!

Photo courtesy of Brian Mogren

On Saturday, October 29, 2011, the Visitation Sisters hosted one of the more popular neighborhood Halloween parties for children ages 5-12 from 3:00-4:30. This party, provided and run by Vicki Bailey, included games, prizes, treats, and a costume for EACH child! Joining the sisters were St. John’s and St. Ben’s students here for an “urban plunge” or immersion experience, along with Visitation School seniors from Mendota Heights, MN.

Click Halloween Party Photo Album to see the rest of the photos taken by Visitation Companion, Brian Mogren, at this event. Enjoy!

“Daughters of Prayer:” Sr. Mary Frances shares a bit of the Visitation History

How did the Visitation Sisters come to be in north Minneapolis? What prayer and discernment lead to the founding of this monastery 379 years after St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal first established the Visitation order in Annecy, France?

On Sunday, October 16, 2011, Sr. Mary Frances Reis answered a few of these questions as she spoke to a group of St. Mary’s students staying at the Visitation Sisters’ lay retreat space, St. Jane House, for an urban immersion experience. Sr. Katherine Mullin was on hand to record the question, answer, and story-telling period.

Excerpts from Sr. Mary Frances on the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis:

“Francis de Sales’ dream for the Visitation was that we would be ‘Daughters of prayer'” and also “those that reached out and took Jesus to the ‘other,’ and there’s where we have the mystery of the Visitation.”

“Sr. Mary Margaret, Sr. Mary Virginia, Sr. Karen are originally from St. Louis.  These three sisters in their prayer kept hearing:    ‘Take the Visitation to the poor.'”

“From 1979 to 1989 three sisters of Visitation St. Louis got together every Sunday morning from 9:30am – 10:30am and just said, ‘Lord, what would you have us do?'”

“What became very clear: we weren’t to establish a school, or a free clothing store, a soup kitchen, day care, shelter, no. …’Simply go and take your bodies to live your life of prayer and community, and when the door bell rings, you will get your agenda,’ says the Lord, ‘because I will be there.'”

Trusting Your Intuitions

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

“Trust your hunches and intuitions. They are closer to reality than your perceived reality, as they are based on far more information.”-Tor Norretranders, Danish author of popular science.

When you are in discernment, exploring two goods, and making a holy decision about which opportunity will

What will you let fall away? To make room for more?

What will you let fall away? To make room for more?

bring you more life, more energy, more closer to God, others and self, it is good to remember a tried and true guide: your intuition. It seems we hem and haw over rational pros and cons. Expend energy on is this the “right” decision? And too often ignore the subtle, persistent voice within, our gut responses, our intuition.

It is true, intuition unbridled can not lead us solely. But it can give us a good starting point. Intuition can give glimpses of things that are intangible, and yet to be seen. Couple our intuition with what our heart is saying and usually it does not lead us astray. It doesn’t mean to throw out the pros and cons list, it just is a gentle reminder that perhaps that is not the best place to start, nor a sole place to pour our energies when learning to listen to our life and how it is speaking, inviting and encouraging us to live in the world.

Happy discernments!

Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis Launches New Internship Program, Welcomes First Two Participants to a Year of Service in north Minneapolis

Sr. Karen and Vis Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde welcome Beth Anne Cooper and Kelly Schumacher

Sr. Karen and Vis Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde welcome Beth Anne Cooper and Kelly Schumacher

Minneapolis, MN—24 October 2011– The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis have successfully launched a new year-long internship program, the Visitation Internship Program, or VIP Program.   The Sisters are excited to welcome two young women as the inaugural participants to the VIP Program.  Kelly Schumacher, a Minnesota native and graduate of Augustana College in Illinois, and Beth Anne Cooper, a native of New York and graduate of Hope College in Michigan, are the first two participants to begin a year of service alongside the Visitation Sisters in north Minneapolis.

Schumacher and Cooper have already begun to make a difference on the north side.  They are involved in teaching English as Second Language (ESL) classes to immigrants and refugees, advocacy work, working with grade schoolers on both schoolwork and relationship building, coaching youth sports, learning more about restorative justice, service-learning planning for small groups that include urban immersion experiences, to name a few of their early involvements.

Beth Anne, Kelly and Northside friend at Valley Fair

Beth Anne, Kelly and Northside friend at Valley Fair

North Minneapolis is an economically challenged area of the Twin Cities, and the Visitation Sisters strive to create a prayerful presence in their neighborhood. Sister Karen Mohan, head of the Monastery, said that the Sisters are responding to a movement on behalf of young people who want to provide service in such a way: “The Sisters are excited to offer this opportunity for young adults to join us for a year of service to those who are often economically and socially challenged.”

Some additional information about the VIP Program:

  • Women and men between the ages of 20-35 are eligible to apply.
  • The VIPs live in an intentional VIP community and commit to community nights once a week with their house, and then also with the Sisters on a regular basis.
  • The VIPs serve in a ministry within the north Minneapolis community.
  • The VIPs learn Salesian spirituality through the Visitation Sisters, the Visitation Companions, north side neighbors, and through study and retreat opportunities.
  • The VIPs are offered spiritual direction, vocational discernment, and prayer opportunities through the Visitation Sisters.

To read more about Kelly and Beth Anne, click: Meet the VIP’ers.
For more information, click: Visitation Intern Program.


The Sisters of the Visitation of Minneapolis are centered in a dynamic, extended community in North Minneapolis where they strive to be a faith-filled and whole-hearted proclamation that “Jesus Lives!” They are committed to expressing their Salesian spirituality by offering neighbors peaceful presence, radical hospitality, and participation in regular, frequent prayer.  The Sisters live discerning lives in a community of mutual leadership responding to and expressing God’s love incarnated in a unique kind of urban monasticism.

On Retreat: Sr. Mary Margaret Reflects on her “Inner-Extrovert”

Sr. Mary Margaret

Sr. Mary Margaret

The following is the first in a series of reflections by Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie, as she is writing to me, personally, and has given her permission to excerpt and post these notes of spiritual guidance as mini-blogs. Let’s welcome Sr. Mary Margaret and the wisdom, inspiration, joy and creativity she brings to this website! –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion


The sisters and I recently returned from our annual eight day retreat.  As a side, I took “The Social Animal: Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement”  by David Brooks. I had heard the author speak during this last year.  The book was a gift from a friend –truly a gift.
I found a dear companion in the last two paragraphs of Mr. Brooks’ introduction–my “inner extrovert.”  To quote in an edited way:

“The Greeks used to say we suffer our way to wisdom…The essence of that wisdom is that below our awareness there are viewpoints and emotions that help guide us as we wander through our lives….The unconscious is not merely a dark, primitive zone of fear and pain.  It is also a place where spiritual states arise and dance from soul to soul.  It collects the wisdom of the ages.  It contains the soul of the species.  This book will not try to discern God’s role in all this.  But if there is a divine creativity, surely it is active in this inner soulsphere, where brain matter produces emotion, where love rewires the neurons….

Your unconscious, that INNER  EXTROVERT, wants you to reach outward and connect.  It wants you to achieve communion with work, friend, family, nation, and cause.  Your unconscious wants to entangle you in the thick web of relations that are the essence of human flourishing.  It longs and pushes for love, (for the kind that is fusion of being, shared).  Of all the blessings that come with being alive, it is the most awesome gift.”

During my retreat, then, I welcomed and embraced my “inner extrovert” which gave felt peace and a new sense of balance. I look forward to our efforts to communicate since consciously I rather markedly tend to introversion.

Even if this is not blog material, I know that you will  want to borrow the book.


Mary Margaret


Written by, Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Lately I have contemplated the dignity of the child. Their is much talk about dying with dignity, but how do we teach our young to live with dignity despite difficulties and adverse situations. I strive to find ways to teach and guide the young that encourages their authenticity and honors (and perhaps hones) some of their impulses without resorting to anger, or frustration or shame.

Sometimes I forget to place myself in the shoes of the child, how are they seeing their world, experiencing it? If I fall into the mad dash of an adult driven world where my pace is hurried, do I expect them to fall in step? But what if their basic needs aren’t being met, their need for food, clothing, shelter, sleep, love, for exploration? How can I slow down to listen with not only my ears, but my heart and eyes too?

When I looked at the photo gallery of the Warm Clothing Give Away Party, my heart is drawn to the pictures of a dignified child beaming at the photographer, and the lesson that the Visitation Sisters are once again teaching me, that we do not give things to our children, we give our hearts to them. When we give our hearts to them dignity follows. When dignity follows, children blossom, and behaviors fall away to heartfelt, dignified responses. Thank you Sisters. Thank you children who are patient enough with us adults to endure and hold hope that we will see rightly once again.

From the St. Francis de Sales Association I found a guide towards holy dignity.

“Many Salesian followers begin each day with ‘the direction of intentions’: My God, I give you this day. I offer You, now all the good that I shall do and promise to accept, for love of You, all the difficulties that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself this day in a manner pleasing to You. …”

“The following are some of the highlights from Salesian spirituality:

  • God is love, and all creation is an outpouring of that love.
  • All creation has been made for Christ, with Christ and through Christ.
  • All creation should be treated with respect and care.
  • Jesus is the model for all fully human living.
  • You possess divine dignity and are worthy of profound respect.
  • God has testified that you are good, worthy of divine love and mercy.
  • Despite your weakness and sinfulness, God loves you so much that He sent His only Son to become  human.
  • You are called to be holy, that is, to grow in union with God.
  • Pursuing a holy life is called “devotion,” that is, doing what is both commanded and counseled by God promptly, actively, and  diligently.
  • The  pursuit of holiness must be practical. It must transform your attitudes, attributes, and actions.
  • Acknowledge your sins and failing, learn from them, but do not dwell on them.
  • God gives you talents and abilities, gifts that should be discovered, developed and used for the good of others.
  • Relationships are essential to living a fully human, that is, a holy life.
  • Each moment of each day comes from the hand of a loving God and is graced for your salvation.
  • The only time you have is each present moment. Don’t live in the past; don’t dwell on the future.
  • Living each moment to the fullest with an eye to loving God must lead you to show compassion for others.
  • The challenge of each moment is discerning God’s will, that is, the  particular, unique way that God may be calling you to love Him, yourself, and others.
  • God’s will is frequently communicated through the events, circumstances, and relationships in which you find yourself.
  • God seldom requires you to perform great or extraordinary feats, but He always challenges you to perform everyday actions  with extraordinary attention and enthusiasm.
  • The “little virtues” of  patience, humility, gentleness, simplicity, honesty, and hospitality are powerful means for growing holy.
  • All prayer and meditation must lead to action.
  • The motivation with which you perform some action may be far more important and powerful than the action itself.
  • Freedom is one of the most precious and powerful gifts that God gives you.
  • You are to use that freedom to grow in conformity to God’s will.
  • Intellectual  learning, prayerful reflection, social interaction, work, play and all things creative should be valued as graced by God  and viewed as means for growing into a fully human person.
  • Each new day is a new beginning, a new opportunity for growing in holiness.
  • Let your passion be disciplined.
  • Let your discipline be passionate.
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Develop a sense of humor.”

And with the teachings and guidance of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, I stand poised and dignified. May we stand dignified and gentle with our young.


HWJL: How Would Jesus Lead?

Art by Michal Splho

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

We all know the expression “What would Jesus do?” abbreviated to “WWJD?” and made infamous through a rubber bracelet campaign. On Monday night at the Girard House monastery, Sr. Karen Mohan and northside resident Bianca Franks, a graduate of the first season of the Salesian Leadership program, took this phrase and creatively tweaked it for their Salesian Spirituality presentation: “How would Jesus lead?” With this query abbreviated to “HWJL?” and printed on a slip of paper for our wrists, our room of 25 plus participants set out to reflect on Christ at the center of our lives and service work as leaders.

The question has had me spinning ever since: How would Jesus lead? (How do I lead?)

In the spirit of our co-founders Sts. Francis and Jane, who embodied a simple, gentle manner of leadership in and through their faith lives, we can all find little ways that we, too, exemplify leadership traits.

In order to respond to this, I first have to embrace the notion that I am called to lead, right?   (This can be a daunting prospect, right off the bat, you know? Oh, the responsibility inherent in embracing a title or role as a “leader”!) In the spirit of our co-founders Sts. Francis and Jane, who embodied a simple, gentle manner of leadership in and through their faith lives, we can all find little ways that we, too, exemplify leadership traits.

For Marion, my partner in this reflective exercise, leadership was modeled through her simple act of driving two older parishioners to and from their appointments;  in providing transportation, she takes time to be with these elderly neighbors and model a kind of gentle Christian presence. This kind of leadership is aligned completely with our foot-washing leader named “Jesus” don’t you think?

I turn to ways that I might exemplify such traits. I am praying for my own role as a leader – specifically within my family and larger community. I am praying for the grace and guidance especially as I hold larger issues that compel me to act or think –or  lead? — in a new way.


I have been reading over a recent article in the Catholic Spirit about the theology of immigration conference that was held October 2 at St. Catherine’s University. This topic of immigrants -and how we frame the conversation using language that honors our common humanity — has me slowing down to consider the many facets of leadership in the US and reflect on the “HWJL” question.

Rev. Daniel Groody, C.S.C.

Rev. Daniel Groody, C.S.C.

In Julie Carroll’s article she writes:

“According to Catholic teaching, a community should distribute its resources with consideration for the needs of its vulnerable members — including immigrants, regardless of legal status. This is called distributive justice, Father Groody explained. At the same time, individuals are charged with contributing to the common good to the best of their ability.”

I have no answers at the end of the day, but a lot of questions around this important issue of our time, and the way we are all called to lead. In this particular case, I choose to lead by consciously engaging in the conversation and holding compassionate space for others to join with me. I close with the following HWJL questions, in the spirit of Salesian Monday’s presentation:

  • How would Jesus lead on this topic of immigration?
  • How would Christ refer to a person who has crossed a border without documentation? What would He say or do to embrace the border patrol agents?
  • What laws would our Lord of “forgive seventy times seven” enact or support?
  • What am I called to read or study or engage in learning as a Catholic?
  • Where are you in this litany of prayerful questions?

Choicest Planting

The following reflection is reprinted with the gracious permission of Deacon Dale from Ascension Church in North Minneapolis. It is where many of the Sisters attend church, a church that truly lives it’s motto life in abundance. It is based on the readings Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 4:6-9, and Matthew 21:33-43.
-Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna


Today’s vineyard stories are sobering readings, speaking of the judgment of God – for not responding to God’s action in our life – for not doing justice – for not bearing good fruit.  They beg the question, why am I here?  Why am I alive?  Why am I in my family, my work place or my school?  Or… “Why am I here at Ascension, in this North-side neighborhood?

Are you here to experience good liturgy, good preaching, a welcoming and loving community?  God wants us to have that.  It’s part of God’s preparation of the vineyard.  It’s part of the way God makes you a “choice planting” in the vineyard.  But it’s not the reason you’re planted here.  The reason you are planted here is to bear fruit – good fruit.

What kind of plant are you?  What kind of fruit are you producing?

As I’ve walked around the block I live on this summer and fall, I’ve watched grapevines growing on a neighbor’s chain link fence.  The vines cover much of the fence.  They’ve grown magnificently.  They have beautiful lush leaves.  But the grapes are small, sparse, mostly seed and very bitter.  The plants look good but they produced wild grapes.  The kind that came under judgment in our first reading because the owner was expecting abundant sweet delicious grapes.  What kind of plant are you?  What kind of fruit are you producing?

When you experience the welcoming love of this community of faith, don’t receive it as just a “warm fuzzy feeling” – but as nourishment to bear fruit.  When you pick up the bulletin, don’t read it like a chronicle of events – but as an invitation.  When you hear the preaching, don’t listen to the homily as entertainment – but as pruning and cultivating and fertilizing and nurturing of the choice plant that you are – a plant expected to bear abundant good fruit.

A funny thing about fruit – it’s not meant for the plant to use.  It’s to be given away to others.  And our fruit is to be given away, too. – Deacon Dale

A funny thing about fruit – it’s not meant for the plant to use.  It’s to be given away to others.  And our fruit is to be given away too – especially to those whose lives don’t seem to matter much in our society.  Whether it’s an unwanted child in the womb or a teen in a crisis pregnancy.  Whether it’s a homebound senior or a bed-bound nursing home resident.  Whether it’s someone on skid row or death row.

And in this North-side vineyard of Ascension, there are many lives that seem unimportant – sometimes even to the person them self.  There are children, who need someone to listen to them read, play with them, tutor them or mentor them.  To let them know how special their life is.  There are teens who need someone to show them there is another way besides the way of the street.  There are neighborhood moms and dads who need support and help to be a parent – to be the woman or man they want to be.  You may be the fruit they need.

Isaiah describes the vineyard and the owner like this; “He located it on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines.  Then he looked for the crop of grapes.”  God has planted us as “choicest vines” in this vineyard – not just good or great vines, but the most choice – and God has given us everything we need to bear good fruit.  The question is… Am I?  Will I?

-Submitted by Deacon Dale on the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time,
October 2, 2011

Praying for the Door to Open

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11: 9-10

I’m struck today by the assurances Jesus utters in today’s gospel.

Do I believe these words? “Asking? Receiving? Seeking? Finding?” — I pray and ponder. Really?

I wonder to myself: Where am I knocking? What doors am I drawn to? What am I seeking? How do I ask or seek on the hopeful path to finding? How do I stay true to God’s calling for me?

I pose these questions prayerfully, holding  recent stories of discernment and vocation that have been shared with me. I think of Maria who longs to be a sister but questions her calling given her age. I think of Daniel who has long thought of himself as a teacher, but has courageously departed from the classroom into the  messy open waters of wondering: “What’s next?” I think of my beleagured sister Ruth who feels on fire to preach and pastor a Catholic faith community, but is told this is not for her. I hold my gay friend Antonio in my heart, along with his questions about partnering and marrying his boyfriend in the church.

I return to the gospel’s text: Asking? Receiving? Seeking? Finding? Knocking?

I pray for the doors to open.

Young Adult Engagement: Call and Response

BYA Discernment Group*

Young Adults from the Basilica join the Vis Sisters for a day of prayer and reflection

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

On the heels of Sr. Katherine and my trip to Chicago for the “Catholics On Call” Partner Conference entitled, “Engaging Young Adults in Church Vocations” I started mentoring two young adults in their journey as Visitation Companions. It’s no small coincidence in my mind that God would have these ventures line up. The former, a powerful opportunity to glean information about the millennial generation of Catholics, hold looming questions about engagement in the church and posit best practices, all the while connecting on a national scale with others in outreach ministry; the latter, a real-life opportunity to live the complexity and gift of relational ministry and apply what feels to be some best practices in formation: sharing stories, unpacking structured prayer practices and Salesian teaching,  and living in the mystery of our Catholic faith.

I think of these experiences as both a call and response to deeply live my Catholic faith. I share a bit of my reflections here.


“The Millenial generation is living in a Web 2.0 culture.” said Paul Jarzembowski, Executive Director of the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA). This CAC panelist, a young adult himself, characterized his generation as one that’s plugged in, and living a “pressure cooker” reality. The response by outreach ministers both lay and religious is to “provide sanctuary to these young adults.”  A place of “silence, certainty and security” is what young adults are craving.

timone davis

Fellow CAC panelist, timone davis, from the archdiocese of Chicago and coordinator of ReCil, (Reclaiming Christ in Life, Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago)  invited all ministers to share their stories and to create spaces for young adults to likewise tell theirs. “We need to share our faith experiences,” she said,”[unpacking how we find God in our midst] and find our story within the Christian story.”

“Every baptized person has a role and we need to awaken a sense of call among all the baptized.” —Fr. Robyn Ryan, C.P., Founding Director of Catholics on Call

With the daunting statistics that 75 – 85% of young adult Catholics are non-practicing and not-engaged, founding director of Catholics on Call, Fr. Robyn Ryan, C.P. invited all conference participants to focus on ecclesial vocations – both lay and religiousand creating a culture of service in the church. Underscoring the invitation to all members of the church, he said, “every baptized person has a role and we need to awaken a sense of call among all the baptized.”

Embracing Young Adult Vis Intern Beth Anne

Embracing Young Adult Vis Intern Beth Anne

Two questions that Fr. Ryan posed during his talk really struck home with me in a prayerful way:
1) “Should we focus our energies on the minority group of more active young adults?” and

2) “Are the young adults who are open to vocational discernment those of a more traditional mindset? And if so, how do we respond?”

These inspired scholarly presentations, coupled with the vocational narratives of three featured young adults, (a sister, monk and lay campus minister) shaped my “take-away” points from the conference:

  • To engage all young (and old) adults within and without the Catholic church, the opportunity to be quiet, engaged in structured prayer so that the stories of God in our midst might surface and be shared, would be helpful.
  • Extending invitations to participate in service opportunities is essential for the dis-engaged to find ways back into authentic ministry and faith-filled expression. (The Visitation Internship Program is one larger example of this.)
  • Creating spaces for story-telling as well as direct instruction on the tenants of our faith are important for all participants, as the need for sanctuary and certainty are honored, and the presence of God as security is known.
  • Cultivating a safe community of critically-thinking, non-judgemental participants who can celebrate the tenants of their faith and church — as well as share their frustrations within the church, and work to heal, while serving — is a strategy or by-product of story-telling and service groups.
  • The compassionate embrace of the religious habit as both a literal and figurative marker for security and structure desired by young adult discerners is also helpful.  (Read: As a young adult in the church, I grew up without a lot of structure, ritual or form. I need a habit to hold me together.  I want this external sign of my faith, as well as the internal order of the day, to anchor me.)


At the invitation of Sr. Mary Frances, I discerned a call to this awesome role as Visitation Companion mentor, and after much prayer, a few tears, and a bit of assuaged fear, I said, “Yes.” I feel hugely blessed to be able to participate in the formation of Sonja and Fabio as two inspired people who long to live their faith more intentionally within a Christian community. Serving as a mentor is a humbling experience as I run smack into my own limitations and am lifted through the grace of God and the Spirit present with these two mentees to a new place of relational understanding and love of God.  It’s a call I have in the church, as well as a response to love and practice my faith. It seems to be a mutually beneficial experience that invigorates our Salesian presence in this world.