Madonna of the Streets

By Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

From the archives: Sister Jean and a community of friends at one of our first Christmas Liturgies in the 'Hood. The presider, Father Greg Tolaas, has also gone home to God.

From the Vis archives: Sister Jean and a community of friends at one of our first Christmas Liturgies in the ‘Hood. The presider, Father Greg Tolaas, has also gone home to God.

We first met Sister Jean Thuerauf in August 1989 at her first Cookie Cart Bakery she started in North Minneapolis. “If you are moving to North Minneapolis you need to meet Sister Jean,” advised our friend, Dick Rice. As we walked into the un- air-conditioned bakery that 90+ degree day, Sister Jean exclaimed, “Welcome, you’re here!!! I have been praying for 3 years that God would send a community of Sisters with whom I could pray. You’re here!!!” We had never met Sister Jean, nor she us. Thus began as 27 years relationship; she introduced us to the ‘Hood and we shared our life of prayer and community with her. Confirmation of the Holy Spirit on both sides!

“Welcome! You’re here!!! I have been praying for 3 years that God would send a community of Sisters with whom I could pray. You’re here!” – Sister Jean

Sister Jean, the “Mother Theresa of the Northside,” completed her earthly mission on the Northside on June 10, 2016, but her presence is felt and the miracles she lived by keep happening. Here’s one of them:

We had received word that Sr.Jean was dying the morning of her passing. That very day, at 12:00 noon, three men were in our chapel where we were anointing and blessing them for the work they were about to begin: meeting young teens affiliated with gangs on our streets, usually armed, and offering them friendship, love and jobs. When we shared the news of Sr. Jean’s imminent passing, the tears flowed. You see, these were Sister Jean’s 1st Cookie Cart kids.

(Desmond, Jimmy and Thomas had helped paint the first Cookie Cart — an actual cart built by a friend; baked cookies with Sr. Jean at her home, rolled the cart around the neighborhood, sold the freshly baked cookies @ $1.00 per 7, and earned enough money-$5,000- to help her open her first ‘real’ bakery on Emerson Avenue North.)

Upon hearing that Sister Jean was dying, the men accepted our invitation to take them over to Catholic Eldercare to thank her, before she breathed her last, for caring more about them than anyone they had ever known. We arrived an hour too late, but we did go up to her room and give our condolences to her nieces as they packed away the few belongings she possessed in a few brown paper sacks. Among these was Sister Jean’s ‘Star’ (a meteor that had fallen from the sky) that she had shown these kids many times, reminding them that we are all made of star dust.

These men had experienced the unconditional love of Sr. Jean, as did hundreds of Northsiders who met her on the streets, welcomed her into their homes, and, yes, baked those delicious cookies.

As one of the ‘Originals’ shared a prayer, one thing was certain. These men had experienced the unconditional love of Sr. Jean, as did hundreds of Northsiders who met her on the streets, welcomed her into their homes, and, yes, baked those delicious cookies.

desmond and thomas

Desmond and Thomas were among the first Cookie Cart kids. They are pictured here at Jimmy’s funeral.

The following week, Jimmy, Desmond, Willie and Thomas came to Sr. Jean’s wake, reminisced with her family and friends, and searched through photo albums to find their pictures and treasure Sacred ‘Sr. Jean’ Stories. “That’s the day she gave us all bikes!” “ That’s the day she gave me a birthday gift”….and on and on. There was energy throughout the Church that evening-an energy born of the LOVE Sr. Jean had for each of these kids and many like them- now 40+ years old. We re-lived it with them and praised the God Who was/is her first Love.

There is both a poignant conclusion to this short tribute to Sr.Jean. The day after her funeral, Jimmy died suddenly and tragically. Many questions surround his passing, but there is no doubt in my mind that Jimmy was welcomed into the Kingdom with unconditional love by Sister Jean. She cherished her Cookie Cart kids. May she and Jimmy know the full embrace of our Loving and Compassionate God.

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  1. Mary Frances, well written , exactly how it all ‘came down’- heart-felt and loving. SK2

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