Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Visitation Bridge between Multi-Cultural Communities

by Anna Dourgarian

 

Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, MN, has a special relationship with the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. They are two Salesian communities within 15 miles of each other. The students respect the Minneapolis Sisters, and the Sisters appreciate the School’s holiday gifts for their neighbors. But their relationship goes deeper: together, the communities inspire love for God by inspiring love between diverse people. With their inner-city monastery, the Minneapolis Sisters change the way the students engage with the world.

Last February, I had the privilege of interviewing four Visitation high school seniors: Sarah Koury, Mary Kenny, Bridget Hayes, and Jules Staelgraeve. It was the middle of the semester, a relentlessly stressful time, and yet there they were, taking time to talk with me about the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis. It was profoundly apparent that interacting with the Sisters and their North Minneapolis neighbors had changed the students: they had become more comfortable with people who are different from them, and they had learned to appreciate the importance of relationships.

Working with people who are different from us is challenging: it takes patience, inner strength, and empathy. It is so easy to avoid a situation that would require it! But the Sisters give the students an opportunity, and the students have embraced it.

Visitation Students help at winter coat drive

Visitation Students help at winter coat drive

  • Mary committed a week to the annual Visitation mission trip, and she appreciated it so much that Sister Suzanne invited her to North Minneapolis afterwards. Initially, Mary was intimidated by the neighborhood’s reputation, but the guidance of the Sisters transformed her perception, and she returned eagerly to help with the Thanksgiving food delivery, the winter coat drive, and the Christmas stocking drop-off.
  • Jules was also at the Thanksgiving food delivery, as well as the Halloween and Christmas parties. The influence of the Sisters became apparent after she left: she realized she was suddenly more accepting. She works with people of diverse ethnicities, where no one looks like her, and she noticed that it was easier to talk them because of what she had learned from the Sisters.
  • For Sarah, talking with North Minneapolis neighbors about their lives made her recognize her own comfortable lifestyle for what it is. Now, when she hears her classmates stress out about homework, she appreciates how fortunate they are not to be stressing out about survival.
  • Bridget witnessed the importance of recognizing and responding to others’ needs. She saw how the Sisters engaged with children on Halloween, inviting them out of the cold to sing songs when they had only asked for candy. She emulated their actions as a volunteer at Jeremiah House, a support program for single mothers, recognizing the needs of the moms beyond her explicit duties and delivering wholeheartedly, just like she saw the Sisters do.

These stories are a small peek at the transformation that Visitation School and the Visitation Sisters are instigating together. It started with a week-long high school mission trip. A Christmas party. A food delivery. It has turned into a bridge across cultural boundaries.

The transformation continues. Understanding and serving diverse people is a stepping stone to the core feature of the Sisters’ presence in North Minneapolis: forming a loving bond with their neighbors. The Visitation students have learned this precious art of building a relationship.

Sarah serves coffee at a Salesian Monday Night

Sarah serves coffee at a Salesian Monday Night and befriends Khalilah, one of the Sisters’ neighbors

  • At Sarah’s first service project, a Salesian Monday Night meeting, she walked into Girard House and instantly felt at home. The house was humming with conversation and laughter, and she was shocked about how instantly the community accepted her, a stranger. She felt like she was participating in the event, not volunteering for it. She filled some water glasses but otherwise spent the evening chatting away. She realized that this was the deeper meaning of “service”: participating in community.
  • Jules treasures a memory of the Sisters’ Christmas party for children, where she didn’t think much was going on, but the children were having the time of their lives. All she did was read them stories, introduce them to Santa, and pray with them. Apparently, these small displays of warmth were enough to inspire the joy of Christmas.
  • Bridget learned not only how to make people feel comfortable but also how to appreciate when someone else comforted her. She admired how the Sisters invited friends inside, sat them on the couch, and fed them, and she recognized the same openhearted generosity in a friend’s mom who, just like the Sisters, welcomed Bridget into her home. Bridget experienced a new sense of gratitude.
  • Mary was pleasantly surprised to encounter generosity from grocery stores who were more than willing to donate discounted turkeys to the Visitation turkey drive. Her eyes were opened to the potential for engagement with the wider community.

These stories speak to the Visitation School motto: Non Scholae, Sed Vitae (Not for School, but for Life). It reminds students that life is about more than books and exams. The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis have made this motto a reality by teaching the students to embrace the lifelong virtues of community and love.

Listening to these stories, I realized that the Minneapolis Sisters had transformed how the students relate to other people by transforming who they were as individuals. Sarah is a beautiful example. Her experiences with the Sisters changed her faith and who she wants to be. She prays more. She is more modest about how she dresses and what she posts on Facebook. Her faith is spilling over into her community, inspiring her family, her classmates, and even the little girl she nannies. She says that the Sisters and their neighbors helped her rebuild herself into someone she wants to be. She now lives a life more devoted to God and to service.

The Minneapolis Sisters inspire goodness in the students, who then embrace a vision of love for their diverse community.

Spring in North Minneapolis

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Spring has been a long time coming this year, and I particularly welcome the season at the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. Spring suits the homes on Fremont and Girard with their gardens, trees, and neighbors. Sometimes when I come over for evening prayer, I spend 15 or 20 minutes on the back step of the Fremont house, looking over the garden. It’s a peaceful and mindful place: neat rows, green shoots, colorful flowers. I love the contrast from Fremont to Girard, where mulch and flowers replace a lawn; in the shade of the afternoon, it looks like a forest floor.

The garden has always attracted my attention for its eclectic nature, from tulips to tomatoes. The cool thing is they’re all mixed together, in the same patch of ground. The garden becomes a metaphor for the neighborhood in its diversity of colors and cultures. The neighbors seem to respect the garden. It doesn’t get trashed or trampled. They volunteer to weed, mulch, and hoe under the guidance of Sister Katherine Mullin.

Around the side of Fremont house are Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie’s rose bushes. She has minded, nurtured, and observed the roses for more than a decade. This year the task falls to Sister Brenda Lisenby, probably with a little advice now and then from Sister Mary Margaret.

This spring, the vitality of the garden reflects the liveliness of the neighborhood.

Last weekend, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Home Tour featured the Fremont house (probably the only house with a chapel!). Hundreds of visitors enjoyed the old architecture and recent renovations: the engraved banister, the oak floors, the chapel that used to be a library with four motorcycles. Newcomers were introduced to the gentle presence of the Sisters, and old friends took the opportunity to drop by and say hi.

A few blocks away, Cookie Cart celebrates its 30th anniversary on West Broadway Avenue. Three decades ago, Sister Jean Thuerauf’s brainchild became a permanent bakery to provide teenagers with lasting and meaningful work. This year the non-profit Cookie Cart will employ 200 teens working 30,000 hours, and 65 of the young men and women will complete a leadership training course. Sister Mary Frances Reis spoke at an anniversary ceremony early last month, praising Sister Jean for her savvy and spirit. “We arrived a year after she got started,” Reis said, “and we were equally glad to see each other on the North Side.”

Down the street from the Cookie Cart is the Breaking Bread Café, a child of the Appetite for Change nonprofit. I can sit at a table on their patio and order a late breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon. I like to sit outside on Broadway, combining spring and the street. Like the Cookie Cart, Breaking Bread is about more than food: it creates a gathering place for neighbors, offers new jobs, and trains local residents.

I go back 30 years with the Fremont house, when Sister Mary Frances and I were asking a Minneapolis City Council committee for a conditional-use permit so four nuns could live in a single-family house. We were lobbying rookies, but we prevailed. Three decades later, so have the Sisters, so has their garden, and so has the neighborhood.

* Dave Nimmer, journalist for the Minnesota Good Age magazine, is a frequent contributor to the Visitation blog, especially in his series of profiles of Visitation Companions and North Side neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us in our ministry of mutuality.
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