Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Dollhouse in the Chapel

At Girard House, if you take the back stairs (the “servant stairs,” in the old days) from the kitchen to the second floor, you find yourself in a small alcove with chairs in a half-circle around an altar: the Chapel. You cannot rush through this quiet room: pause, bow to the tabernacle, and savor the peace. I always find myself thinking, “I’ll just stay here, please,” and I have to summon the strength of will to move on to the next room.

Across from the altar is a dollhouse. It is lovely, with elaborate furnishings and details like books on a table and a basket of toiletries at the foot of a bed. On the roof is a shiny plaque that reads, “In Loving Memory of Kerry: January 10, 1971 – November 17, 2012.”

Why is there a dollhouse in the Sisters’ Chapel?

Meet Priscilla, the dollhouse creator and a member of From Death to Life, an organization that seeks healing for parents of victims and perpetrators of gun violence. From Death to Life meets regularly at St. Jane House, the retreat home associated with the Visitation Monastery. That is how Priscilla came to know the Visitation Sisters. After the loss of her son, Priscilla found a beautiful expression of her mourning: a dollhouse model of the Sisters’ home. She created the dollhouse with her own hands and imagination, channeling the spirit of the monastery.

On the ground floor, the home features a kitchen and chapel, the two rooms we are most familiar with at Fremont House. Upstairs is the Sisters’ living area, a bathroom and bedroom, which remind me of St. Jane’s quote as she walked into her first monastery: “This is the place of delight and rest.” On the bedroom wall is Brother Mickey McGrath’s famous painting The Windsock Visitation, whose original version hangs in the living room of Girard House. My favorite part is on the chapel wall: a surreal photo of the Visitation Sisters themselves.

I reach out with prayers for Priscilla, her son, and all the members of From Death to Life. I cherish the dollhouse as a reminder of the gentle peace and beauty that the Sisters offer to neighbors in their home.

Stranger in a Foreign Land

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

I must admit that every time I go to our nation’s capital I do feel like a tourist…probably because even though I have been to Washington, DC, over two dozen times, there is always something new to see. Most of my visits have been a day or two or even only a few hours after a meeting and before catching a plane.  This year’s “must see” is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Just a stone’s throw from the Washington Monument on the Mall, it catches the eye of passers-by.  I heard many ask “What is THAT supposed to be?” as they see the three-storied silhouette of a corona representing faith, hope, and resiliency.

Guides directed us to elevators and escalators (there are 4 additional stores below ground level) and suggested we take the elevator to begin our journey.  As we descended we went back in time…exiting in the midst of the 1400’s Transatlantic Slave Trade.  I was beginning to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. As I moved past the horrors facing black brothers and sisters in colonial America, some things came back to me from history books. I realized the Revolutionary and Civil Wars had been taught to me from an all-white American perspective. Was this a fair deal for any American? Economics and the cotton industry governed the life of enslaved workers who often picked cotton from sunrise to sunset, and since cotton was such a sought-after commodity to make durable clothing for those who could afford it, often those who picked the raw material could not afford to purchase the finished product. Such economic enslavement was just the first of many surprises the Museum held for me.

Segregated drinking fountains

Emotionally, I struggled past stories of people I “knew” better like Thomas Jefferson, Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman.  The era of segregated railroad cars and lunch counters as well as Jim Crow featured a moving memorial to Emmett Till and one of the airplanes of the Tuskegee Airmen.  I was getting closer to home since one of our neighbor’s uncles was an airman.

Marching on through the museum with the Movement, I found myself in MY era: the 60’s, with its huge protests, student marches, and prejudice of every kind.  The memories of war, black classmates, and Kent State flooded my mind.  I stopped into a sound booth that invited museum goers to leave our own stories for future museum goers.  With an audience of another senior citizen in the room, I shared about a college roommate who was African American from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She was an art major and quite interesting. She was a good student but never went to the library to study with me after supper.  She often asked me to bring back a book for her or to Xerox a particular required reading assignment that was on reserve. She told me she never went out after dark.  In her town, she lived with a curfew and even her father came home from his job as a cab driver by 6 o’clock!  I found this unbelievable.  This was the first time I’d heard of “sundown laws.”  Growing up in Chicago and educated in Iowa, these were foreign concepts. My recorded story stopped at this point but the woman in the booth with me told me she liked hearing my story. We visited, and I processed my own hearing of my story.

She was an educator from Atlanta, and as we talked I realized my roommate had been a victim of systemic racism.  The existence of “sundown laws” not only prevented her from studying in a college library, they had prevented her father from earning a good living for his family because he was not allowed to drive his cab after dark when there were higher fares charged and perhaps more people out for a “night on the town.”  My own life has been touched by systemic racism that shows itself in the economic, political, and educational facets of American life.

I am no longer a stranger in a foreign land but am finding myself a stranger in my own country!

From Cave to Cosmos: The Threshold of a New Way of Being

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Most of you have heard that we Sisters were able to take one day during Advent as a “Cave Day” — a time for going deep into ourselves to explore the stirrings of what might come with the Incarnation of Jesus this Christmas. The image central in my personal prayer space was a lace “wreath” which in actuality was a doily hand-crocheted for me by my great-grandmother in 1962.  At the very center of this wreath I placed a small leather box which was given to me by Sr. Katherine as I embarked on my 2016 trip to Rome. She had a few words on a small piece of paper inside with a message imploring the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be my traveling companion on the journey. This Advent I used that little box to represent the “Cave of the Heart.”

 

I felt called to spend some of my Cave Day allowing watercolor to speak my own heart to me. The accompanying photo shows the earliest stirrings of new life in me as I approached the third Sunday of Advent. The lovely pink emerging from the deep blue of the Sunday denotes the creation of the Universe, and the bright green signifies the movement and life found on our earth. The happiness of Gaudete Sunday colors the imminent birth of Jesus anew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is now three weeks after I began this painting and Jesus has come anew into my world. The three Kings arrived this weekend at the manger, and today Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan. WELCOME TO KAIROS TIME!!! This is the time when events of Jesus’ life and our faith life don’t necessarily coincide with the logical passing of hours, days or years…. Kairos time is the time when our lives are measured by the intensity of sacramental moments and the sureness of feeling God present with us. The watercolor of my cave time has given way to the use of acrylic paint on a wooden birdhouse to mark my commitment to pray for the homeless throughout this coming year. Our community members have all created these wonderful homes as signs that we are part of a village of people living in our own homes but sharing the village of the cosmos in very intentional ways. The photo at the end of this blog is not the end of a journey “from Cave to Cosmos” but the threshold of a new way of being in 2018!

A home with the cosmos for the roof and multi-ethnic people tumbling out of the heart-shaped door. On the back (unseen) are the homeless.

No Place Like Home

by Sister Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Greetings and, on behalf of all the Sisters, a most Blessed New Year to everyone “in the Cave and in the Cosmos”! Advent 2017 was a precious and sacred moment in our community (you can catch a glimpse in this blog). Believe it or not, we are now journeying with the Magi to the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and yes, we’ll be tucking away the decorations and décor of the Season for another year!

The month of December brought hope and joy to the children and parents of our neighborhood community.  Sponsor a Family MN, Visitation School in Mendota, the St. Thomas Beckett and St. Girard faith communities, and dozens of others made it happen.  All culminated with a combined prayer-service-and-Santa-visit at our Fremont house… which brings me to the New Year!

For the new year, we have chosen our overarching theme:

HOME

Home, in its many dimensions.

Each Sister painted a house in honor of their monastery and neighborhood homes

Wendy Wright, Salesian scholar and friend, puts it succinctly:

“The Home as an image can reflect a sense of identity and meaning-making that contains within itself a clue to the way we understand ourselves in the world.” 

This theme of home will begin with the living spaces of the Sisters at Fremont and Girard.  We want to make whatever adjustments necessary to ensure that we remain a place of unconditional welcome and prayer, and at the same time attend to the care of our Sisters.  What this means in reality is for the Holy Spirit to share! Keep tuned!

We are in relationship with many home communities in the neighborhood, with those who open their doors to shelter the homeless and those who struggle to have a roof over their heads.  As we look at our own living space, we need to be attentive to those who yearn for affordable housing for their families.

Early in the new year, we will begin to address issues surrounding our focus on home. Both through advocacy and through sharing of our resources, we hope to make a small contribution to the housing crisis in our own city. Please join us in prayer and action as we move forward. We’ll keep you posted on the unfolding. We are deeply grateful for your partnership with us!

Homeless Jesus Statue, St. Mary’s Basilica, Minneapolis
Representing everyone in need of a home.
Photo courtesy of http://www.mary.org/