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Will Wallace

Will Wallace and Dave Nimmer

Will Wallace and Dave Nimmer

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

A NOTE OF APPECIATION: Dave Nimmer has traveled with us the 27 year journey of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. His unconditional love and presence to our community from Day #1 moved us to honor him with our Cross of Affiliation. No one knows more profoundly than Dave the essence of the relationships we have nurtured and been nurtured by over the years. We so appreciate that in his retirement years, he continues to share his considerable literary gifts with us!  

                           Welcome to Blog # 7! Sr. Mary Frances and the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis

The relationship between Will Wallace and the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis is the stuff of a movie script: Former gang member meets up with a group of nuns and over the years they form a friendship, develop a bond and share a dream.

They’ve known each other for 15 years and, in that time, the Sisters have helped Will get a house, support his family, survive the setbacks, burnish his skills and nurture his soul. And Wallace has been there for the Sisters, talking to their supporters, distributing their holiday gifts and even providing bodies to shovel their walk.

 “No one does a better job in talking with [the Visitation Students] about the realities of life over here,” says Sister Mary Frances Reis.   “He can be spellbinding. He tells the truth and talks from his heart. He is not afraid to cry.”

It’s no exaggeration to call the relationship one based on trust, respect and, yes, love. “I do love the Sisters,” Wallace says.   “I mean, they talk about being respectful, being peaceful, being useful. That’s what they show me since the very beginning. When I’ve needed ‘em, they’ve been there.”

It was Christmas Day a few years ago when he needed comfort and consolation after his brother was shot and killed in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He went to the Sisters early in the morning, filled with grief and stoked with rage.   He lay on the floor, shed his tears, told the story and left with a little peace.

Wallace, a former Gangster Disciple who caught a break from a judge, got a high school degree from an alternative school and managed two years at The University of St. Thomas before succumbing to the pressures of a full-time job and four courses a semester.

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

The Sisters have celebrated his perseverance and invited him to talk with seniors from Visitation High School who spend a week with them, an immersion experience in life on the Northside. “No one does a better job in talking with them about the realities of life over here,” says Sister Mary Frances Reis.   “He can be spellbinding. He tells the truth and talks from his heart. He is not afraid to cry.”

“I do love the Sisters,” Wallace says.   “I mean, they talk about being respectful, being peaceful, being useful. That’s what they show me since the very beginning. When I’ve needed ‘em, they’ve been there.”

Will’s ability to relate to others was obvious at The City, where he got his high school diploma and then worked, starting as a daycare supervisor. “To everyone’s surprise,” wrote Tom Helgeson, a friend and supervisor, “Will thrived as a daycare employee. Later he was hired as the full-time supervisor of The City’s job training program.. Will is doing an outstanding job.”

Those remarks helped Wallace get into the University of St. Thomas and two years there helped him land a job with Emerge, a program reaching out to gang members, offering them training and helping them find jobs – and stay with those jobs. Will Wallace was available for “his guys” to talk with 24/7. His cell phone was always busy.

And it still is, in his job with GAP (Guadalupe Alternative Programs) working with young bothers in the Minneapolis Public Schools, grades one through eight. In effect, Wallace is a mentor, a (surrogate) father, a confessor and a counselor. His goal is to keep them in school, into their classes and out of trouble.

One of the messages is straight from his interaction with the Sisters (and their patron saint Francis de Sales). “’Nothing from violence. Do everything through love. I tell them. I really do. It’s what the Sisters preach and what I try to practice. Look, I know first-hand what violence does and how it can take families apart. I am not afraid to offer love – and a little patience and understanding.”

Wallace has developed that “softer side” with his wife, children and grandchildren. He can lay down the law, all right, but he can also ease up on the judgment. He figures he’s got the tools to be a new-generation leader in North Minneapolis and one day run his own program. The Sisters helped nurture that dream.

Will Wallace and Sr. Mary Frances celebrate the Northside Leadership Pilot Program

Will Wallace and Sr. Mary Frances celebrate the Northside Leadership Pilot Program

As long as he’s dreaming, Will would love to have his own place on a small lake where he can kick back and simply go fishing. He’s an artist with a rod and reel and something of a “fish whisperer” in a boat: “C’mon girl, come to Papa.” On a lake he exchanges problems and quarrels for peace and quiet.

He’d like to pass some of that on to his young charges in school, whose lives are often chaotic and contentious. Wallace tells them that life can be better – and bigger – if they can see a little further down the track.

“A lot of these kids have only known the north neighborhood,” Wallace says. “They haven’t been across the river, where Lake Street turns into Marshall Avenue. They’ve never seen a private college. They’ve never been able to sit in a boat on a quiet summer day and fish crappies, tell stories and laugh at each other.”

Will Wallace HAS crossed the river to attend a private college. While he hasn’t discovered the Promised Land, he’s blazed a promising path for others to follow.


* This is the seventh in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 

Sammy McDowell at Sammy’s Avenue Eatery

by Dave Nimmer*, Guest Blogger

Sammy McDowell:
Owner of Sammy’s Avenue Eatery

Sammy McDowell has been in the food business for most of his adult life, and he’s owned and operated Sammy’s Avenue Eatery at West Broadway Avenue and Emerson Avenue North since 2012. The Eatery is newly remodeled and reopened, and McDowell is hoping for a brisk business and profitable future.

But he also wants more from the restaurant. He wants a place where North Side neighbors can gather – to meet and eat, sit and talk, rest and enjoy life. He wants to make a contribution to the fabric of the neighborhood, and that’s what endears him to the Sisters of the Visitation.

“Sammy has a big heart and a gracious spirit,” says Sister Mary Frances Reis. “He’s got a vision of what this neighborhood could be. He knows people need a place to hang out and feel comfortable. And that’s what his restaurant has been all about.”

McDowell grew up in South Minneapolis but went to North High and graduated from Henry. He attended MCTC and then found his first job in the food business: eight years at Kentucky Fried Chicken, five more at Subway.

He learned how to run a business, and he knows how to put out good food. Just ask Will Wallace, who runs the North Four program for young men at Emerge; Wallace is in the business of turning kids from the street life to the good life, complete with training and a steady job. On a lot of days, he starts his morning at the Eatery with a breakfast sandwich.

Wallace and McDowell share a philosophy about what needs to happen to turn young men from gangs, guns, and drugs. “It’s all about education,” says McDowell, “about helping kids get out of a box. If you get educated, get a job, you can travel. You can make it out of the neighborhood. Some of these kids have never been out of North Minneapolis.”

McDowell hopes to add to the number of jobs (seven or eight) by opening a second eatery at Plymouth and Penn Avenues North. It will have the same format as Sammy’s on Broadway, with sit-down tables and a catering service, offering sandwiches, desserts, grilled meats, tuna and turkey melts, and garden salads. “I can do everything,” he says, “from sandwiches to brisket to catering big, fancy weddings.”

Sammy recalls meeting some of the Sisters shortly after the Broadway eatery opened. He says they held a few meetings at the restaurant and later gave gift certificates to some neighbors who came to their door with an empty stomach, in need of a good meal.

“Sammy offered this deal to us,” Sister Katherine Mullin recalls. “We would buy Sammy’s cards for five dollars to hand out to some of our better-known doorbell ringers. If the fellows went over five dollars, Sammy made up the difference. This is the kind of man he is.”

Of serving his guests at the Eatery, McDowell says, “I really want to infuse the neighborhood with great customer service.”

“I love the fact these women came over to introduce themselves,” he says. “The Sisters bring stability to the neighborhood. They are consistent in what they do. They are honest, and they are genuine. They’re a bridge between black and white.

“I guess what I’m saying is… they are doing their part.”

And Sammy McDowell is doing his part. “What I’m trying to do at the Eatery is to smile, to welcome, to help people if I can,” he says. “I want to stay in my lane, do what I do best.” That approach hasn’t changed over the years. Here’s what he told a reporter when he first opened the restaurant:

“I really want to infuse the neighborhood with great customer service. Even if you’re busy, it’s important to say hi and, ‘I’ll be right with you.’ People need to smile more, be happy to get up in the morning and get some coffee.”

When Sammy McDowell talks about “staying in his lane,” it’s hard to imagine that his lane doesn’t run down the middle of Broadway, and he admits he has a dream for the avenue. “I’d like my Broadway community to have more locally-run businesses. Some specialty shops, maybe even a tailor shop. You know, a place where people can look around, take their time, feel comfortable.”

McDowell says he’s thinking of keeping the Eatery open a little later at night to accommodate a few local musical groups, so folks could sit back and listen to some blues. The blues, breakfast, and brotherhood: they’re a good combination anywhere, and Sammy is trying to dial it up in North Minneapolis. The Sisters are not surprised: it’s in his nature.


* 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.


Sondra Samuels: Northside Pride and Hope

Sondra Samuels, CEO NAZ

Sondra Samuels, CEO Northside Achievement Zone

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Sondra Samuels is not a shrinking violet who wilts under pressure or withers from conflict or criticism.

That’s part of the territory when you’re the CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a partnership of community organizations and schools with a jaw-tightening task:  to prepare 2,300 children in a 18 by 13-block square of North Minneapolis to graduate from high school and go on to college.

“Sondra is an astute educator, a caring mom and wife and community advocate. She is a doer.  She brings pride to the Northside and our achievements on behalf of future generations.” Sr. Suzanne

If this job isn’t enough, add in her husband’s.  Don Samuels was the 5th ward councilman and is now a member of the Minneapolis School Board.  Sometimes the pace can be relentless, the criticism approaches nastiness and the goals can appear hopeless.

These are times when Samuels, the girl who grew up in Newark, appreciates the Sisters who live in Minneapolis. They share a belief in society where character, conscience and courage replace color, class and creed to measure a person’s worth.

“I knew these Sisters were different.  When I asked them what their day was like, they told me when the doorbell rings, ‘We know it’s Jesus at the door.’  And they really mean it.” — Sondra

Samuels remembers her first meeting with the Sisters, at a time when she and Don were grieving yet another gunshot death of a Northside teenager and confronting what they felt was unfair criticism from community loudmouths.

Click to hear Ms. Samuels interviewed by Dave Nimmer

Click to hear Ms. Samuels interviewed by Dave Nimmer

“I remember Sister Suzanne (Homeyer) met me at the door,” Samuels said.  “I fell in with a limp body and I think I shed a bucket of tears.  We went into the Chapel.  We prayed.  And I felt comforted and embraced when I left that house.”

Homeyer remembers that day, too.  “She particularly asked for prayers for her husband and neighborhood concerns, too,” she said.  “There were tears, sharing, laughter, tissues and hugs.  It was the way we meet so many of our neighbors and we both kept our promises.  Sondra has come back to visit with, and without, her family.”

Kind of amazing for someone who isn’t even Catholic.

“That doesn’t matter,” Samuels said. “I knew these Sisters were different.  When I asked them what their day was like, they told me when the doorbell rings, ‘We know it’s Jesus at the door.’  And they really mean it.”

The Sisters feel their support of Samuels is being repaid in full by the work she is is doing in their backyard through NAZ, which got its start with a $26 million federal grant over five years.  That funding is gone now and Samuels is working to raise $11 million a year from the coffers of the state, the city and corporate and private charities.

Part of her pitch she already outlined in an Op-Ed column published in June in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We also recognized that schools can’t do it alone so we surround students with a team that provides everything from extra academic opportunities, parent education and early childhood services to behavioral health counseling, housing and career support.  In partner schools where the supports are most layered for NAZ students, they are doing significantly better than their peers in reading.”

sondraSamuels gets animated and excited when she describes a recent 12-week program for parents on the resources, skills, tools and techniques they’ll need to better raise their infant children.  “We’re getting Dads to show up for this course,” she said, “and one of the women talked about learning that she doesn’t have to be ‘a screaming mother,’ yelling at her child.”

Samuels is finely attuned to the complexity of life for minorities in America, dealing with the realities of discrimination and prejudice while avoiding the passiveness and pessimism that comes from playing “the victim” role.

“I think Black Lives Matter, and the protests, cause me to say, ’They finally see us.’ They know we’re here,” Samuels said.  “And our problems are the problems of all poor people and we do have to be working for all people.

”But to the people of color, I say, ‘They aren’t coming to save us.  We determine how we’ll do.  I am not bent over.  We can help each other but you’ve got to show up and do your part.”

Will Wallace, who knows the Sisters and Samuels, uses the same message in his work with Emerge, trying to prod young brothers (and sisters) off the streets, out of gangs, into school and onto jobs.  “Sondra Samuels,” he said, “is the real deal.  She’s got the best interests of the Northside young people in her heart.”

The Sisters echo that sentiment, having watched Samuels in action – in good times and bad.   “Sondra is an astute educator, a caring mom and wife and community advocate,” Sister Homeyer said.  “She is a doer.  She brings pride to the Northside and our achievements on behalf of future generations.”

Samuels and the Sisters: a neighborhood partnership that gives hope to that future.


* This is the eighth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 

Visitation Monastery: Summer 2011 at a Glance

Will Wallace and Sr. Mary Frances celebrate the Northside Leadership Pilot Program

Will Wallace and Sr. Mary Frances celebrate the Northside Leadership Pilot Program

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

As they say in our neighborhood, we are “Blessed and Highly favored”; the list below of several of the summer events/happenings is not exhaustive, but gives a glimpse of the fullness and fruitfulness of our life “in the ‘Hood”—graced in so many ways!

  • May 13-14-Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, renowned artist and retreat director led 65 community women in a week-end gathering and retreat at Ascension Catholic Church. (see photo gallery album)
  • May 10-We ‘graduated’ 12 men and women from the community who engaged in a year long course in Salesian Leadership. (see photo gallery album)
  • Visitation Seniors with Visitation Sisters

    Visitation Seniors with Visitation Sisters

    May 23-June 3 – Six Visitation High Seniors joined us for an urban immersion experience which introduced that to the neighborhood and gave them multiple opportunities to serve. (see photo gallery album)

  • June 4-Our dear friend Vickie Bailey and her daughter Betsy provided a party for the neighborhood children to “Get ready for Summer”….Teens ran the games which included prizes like jump ropes, beach towels, chalk….everything “summer”!  About 50 participated.
  • June 5 – We joined the communities of Ascension and St. Phillips as the churches ritualized the merger of the parishes.
  • June 5 Visitation Senior Graduation– Sr. Mary Frances was honored to lead the invocation and blessing at this event.
  • Quinceanera! Sr. Mary Virginia, Sylvia Ochoa and Sr. Katherine

    Quinceañera! Sr. Mary Virginia, Sylvia Ochoa and Sr. Katherine

    June 11-Two of our sisters played honored roles in the Quinceañera of Silvia Ochoa. (see photo gallery album)

  • June 11-17-Three Teens from North Minneapolis joined 50 others at the Salesian Leadership Camp in Michigan.  Sr. Karen, who founded the camp 22 years ago, joined them for the week.
  • Mid June -YTM-Youth in Theology and Ministry – a two week experience at St. John’s University was attended by two of our teens. (see photo gallery album)
  • June 10-We were honored to join St. Jean, founder of the Cookie Cart-an employment bakery for youth- as she was celebrated for her selfless ministry.
  • June 12 – We joined From Death to Life, an organization of men and women who have lost children to violence on our streets, in a Peace/Prayer walk which circulated throughout the neighborhood.
  • June 19-24 – Ascension Church and Visitation Monastery sponsored 70 children for a week long camping experience at Catholic Youth Camp.  Even the rain did not deter them from having an experience of a lifetime!
  • June 20-24-The Sisters traveled to St. Louis to join 50 other Visitation Sisters for the last hurrah of our 400th Anniversary of the founding of the Order.
  • June 26– We Sisters have our annual Corpus Christi procession in which we take the Blessed Sacrament to places of violence and tornado destruction and pray for peace in our community.
  • Our Salesian friends and neighbors Linda, Bianca and Dorice join us for dinner

    Our Salesian friends and neighbors Linda, Bianca and Dorice join us for dinner

    July 6 -We will prepare an ethnic dinner for some of our neighbors and friends from Mendota Visitation. This dinner, which will be served at our monastery, is purchased by the latter and is an opportunity to bridge communities.

  • July 16-23 – Sr. Suzanne and 3 neighborhood teens join Visitation students from around the country for VISTORY: a week of sisterhood, Salesian spirituality and community service.  This event rotates cities each year and this year and is being held in the Twin Cities. (see photo gallery album)

    UPCOMING Dates; Consider Joining us…
  • July 29-30 – Catholic women ages 18-45, who are discerning religious life,  are invited to join the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis, MN for their Come and See Weekend.
  • August 3 Neighborhood Night of peace, an event that draws 400-500 people-will be held at Ascension Church.  We partner with Ascension, Basilica and Mas Jid Anur to provide a free supper, games,  prizes and community speakers.  As the title connotes, this is just one effort to bring people together in harmony and peace.  We’ll keep you posted…Perhaps you’d like to volunteer!
  • August 13 – We will have our annual “Back to School Party” for the children in the neighborhood and beyond.  Vickie Bailey and friends provide a fun way to get ready for school and to get all the supplies they need…
  • August 27-Last but not least!  SR. KATHERINE’S JUBILEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Video Gallery: Visitation Student Reflects on Service Experience

Posted by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

On the last day of the Visitation Seniors’ apostolic service experience,  they shared their thoughts about their two weeks among the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis. You can view these through our Video Gallery page. What follows are the written and video reflections of Kathleen Egan.

Kathleen Egan, Visitation School, Class of 2011

Saint Francis de Sales says, “Make friends with the angels who, though invisible, are always with you. Often invoke them, constantly praise them, and make good use of their help and assistance in all your temporal and spiritual affairs.” Although I have only been working the Visitation Sisters for a short time, I feel as though I have seen and experienced enough to last me a lifetime.

Through working with the kids at Northside Child Development Center I have been able to see God’s work through the innocence of children and the unconditional love they show towards kids, acults and strangers alike. The kids have reminded me that God wishes for us to trust our neighbors not doubt them or question their motives. When working at the Cookie Cart, I have seen how important community is to the development of kids and young adults. Through common interests and passion, we as people experience a new kind of love, one felt outside of our immediate family. When listening to Will Wallace speak, I was taught about the impact love can make. I think that we too often assume that our neighbor knows that we love them, and we forget to tell them so. However, it is in the expression of our love for one another that relationships progress and grow.

When listening to Constance and Princess speak to us about “Two Mothers,” I experienced something profound. Although I cannot even begin to imagine how mothers of murdered sons feel every day, I was emotionally moved. I was shown that even in the most desolate of times and emotions, love and hope can still exist. Princess and Constanct showed more hope than I have ever seen expressed by anyone, regardless of past experience. We are taught that our home is in Heaven. On earth we are like travelers staying in a hotel. I believe that God has placed each and everyone one of us on earth to change or impact the life of someone. Some impact the lives of several, hundreds, thousands, maybe millions. Others are sent to earth to change one. And I think that when we change one life, or show the face of God to one other person in some way, we have accomplished what we were sent to do. I know for the certain that every single person I met while working on the Northside has accomplished this. It is with true honesty that I say that I have seen angels walking among the streets and I have seen the face of God in those around me.

To view other reflection videos from the School of Visitation seniors upon the culmination of their service weeks’ experiences, tune into our You Tube Channel.

Images as Story: Introducing the Visitation Monastery Photo Gallery

Will Wallace and Sr. Mary Frances celebrate the Northside Leadership Pilot Program

Photo Gallery Feature: Will Wallace and Sr. Mary Frances celebrate the Northside Leadership Pilot Program

We are happy to announce that we have launched a new page here on our website! As a way to continue telling our story – in and through photographed images,  honoring the many beautiful people that we engage and that grace our doors daily – our dedicated web team has created a Photo Gallery page. We are grateful to our design team, including Bob Mueffelmann, Jenny Larson, and Brigid Ryan-Ling for this new addition to our website.

Perhaps you will find yourself among these snapshots? Maybe you will see an old friend? Or maybe you will be inspired by the face of Christ among us, as we all live and serve and love each one who comes to our door?

Check out our new page by clicking: PHOTO GALLERY.

Today’s uploads include images from:


Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Making Way for Seven New Women: Monday Afternoon at the Monastery

Sr. Katherine being interviewed by Fox 9 Reporter, Maury Glover

Sr. Katherine being interviewed by Fox 9 Reporter, Maury Glover

The Visitation Monastery on Fremont Avenue North in Minneapolis was abuzz with activity Monday. I arrived at 2pm to meet up with Sr. Katherine for our “Facebook date.” Sr. Katherine and I were going to work on our social media networking to further the vocations initiative of inviting “seven more visionary women to be a prayerful presence.” Little did we know what media would be employed for our socializing and networking purposes! Goodness.

When I arrived, the Vis Sisters’ neighbor, Sylvester McCoy, was emerging from the nuns’ garage, armed with a bag of rock salt. He was coming down the icy drive and slipped a bit on the way. I thought to myself:

“Who is this man?  How long have the nuns known him? Thank goodness he didn’t fall. Is he clearing all of the sidewalks for the Sisters? Do they pay him to work here?”

Sylvester and I sort of giggled a nervous, “hello” to one another as we passed each other on the sidewalk, both intentional about keeping our balance. “It’s slippery isn’t it?” Sylvester nodded, and went about his task of chipping ice and spreading salt;  I made my way into the back of the monastery. We both had work to do for the sisters.

I was greeted warmly at the kitchen door by Sr. Mary Margaret. As my spiritual director of seven years, I never tire of seeing this woman’s face. Her smile, and simple way of welcoming me, never cease to inspire me. I always feel like I belong there.  At 81, I marvel at Mary Marg’s energy and enthusiasm. I often have to remind myself she’s beyond retirement age;  she fuels a deep reverence in me for her wisdom and way of being in the world. I want to be like this woman. When I walk in this day, she was tuning into Sylvester through the kitchen window, mindful of his working presence, and commenting on his near fall.

Sylvester expressing his appreciation for the Sisters to the Fox 9 Crew

Sylvester expressing his appreciation for the Sisters to the Fox 9 Crew

I realized in short order who Sylvester was to the nuns, and that this maintenance service of his was a gesture he discerned as a sort of “payment” for the sisters’ kindnesses over the years. I made a mental note, thanking God for this fellow, and the nuns’ network of friends; I held a space of gratitude for the relationships they’ve cultivated over the years, and the manner in which they seemed to be  in relationship with such a network of people in the neighborhood.  And then I was going about my business.

Sr. Katherine emerged from the basement all of a sudden, sort of flushed with news and excitement. “I’ve just gotten off the phone with Maury Glover from Fox 9 news. He wants to come over to do a story about the sisters!”

What ensued over the next several hours was this frenzied, flurry of activity — including reflection, story-telling and prayer with a diverse group of “Visitation community.” It was a time of friends showing up, strangers knocking at the door, a channel 9 reporter and cameraman coming in to document the sister’s lives, and a whole host of folks bearing witness to the wonder and work of the Visitation Sisters’ world and inspiring ministry and presence. In this time, (before the reporter and cameraman arrived), Sr. Katherine and I managed to update the Visitation Monastery North Minneapolis Fan Page on Facebook, accept about 36 new requests for friendship on Sr. Mullin’s  personal account, acknowledge the 140 new “fans” to the order,  and reflect on the “talking points” that our Vocations PR team had constructed. It was hilarious. It was inspiring. It was a fever pitch of activity that made me take note and marvel at how God and Spirit work in our midst.

Sr. Joanna before the Fox 9 cameras

Sr. Joanna before the Fox 9 cameras

When Fox 9 reporter Maury Glover arrived and requested different people to interview for the story on the nuns, Sr. Katherine and her blessed counterparts were keen on gathering not just the sisters, but making sure members from the lay community were present. Sylvester was called in, Mary Frances invited longtime friend and neighborhood collaborator Will Wallace and his wife to the house. Artist Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, on retreat over at St. Jane house, came to check in on all the hullabaloo. The living room swelled with brown and pin-skinned bodies, snow boots and scarves, as well as the News crew team and equipment that sort of made everyone a bit giddy and self-conscious. Sister Mary Virginia, myself, Mrs. Wallace, and Brother Mickey squeezed onto a sofa while Sr. Joanna was interviewed, and yet another gentleman from the neighborhood pulled up a chair. Those convened ranged in age from early 30’s to mid-80’s. Some were Catholic, others protestant, others unidentified faith members – simply subscribing to the Vis Order of Love and Community. It was a motley crew assembled and present to tell the story of the sisters and acknowledge their vital role in the Old Highland Neighborhood of North Minneapolis. They were gathered and in agreement, “Yes, we love these women, and we’d like it if more would come!”

Co-Founders St. Jane and St. Francis overseeing the News Crew at work?!

Co-Founders St. Jane and St. Francis overseeing the News Crew at work?!

I sat back and marveled as the afternoon unfolded. I had arrived with an agenda to work with the sisters on our media campaign honoring and cultivating the larger community and networks visible in the virtual world. What occurred was something larger that made even more visible and tangible this network of relationships and work that the nuns do. I witnessed the emergence of community at the ground level.  I took note of the way the nuns pray. The way they love their neighbors. The way they are loved by their neighbors. The way this monastery works. It is what makes my spirit soar when I am around them and those they live in community with daily.

As Sylvester McCoy spoke to the Fox 9 reporter, I heard the voice of a vital member of this Visitation Community. I heard my own voice in a way. He was simply bearing witness to the way that these nuns are present in the neighborhood and inspire a kind of peace and stability. He was acknowledging his desire to be around them, to be a part of their community, and to give back;  he spoke about all he felt he has received from the Sisters.

When I left that afternoon, the sidewalks around Fremont House were clear, ice-free. The path: wide open. I couldn’t help but think: Sylvester is making way for these seven new Sisters to enter.  We are ready. We are welcoming seven new women to come and join this order and be a part of it all. Is one of these women you?

Love, Peace, Blessings,

Melissa Borgmann Kiemde,
Visitation Companion


The following is the Fox 9 News story that aired on Monday evening. The sisters are incredibly grateful to journalist Maury Glover for his sensitivity in reporting on their mission, ministry and community,  and to cameraman Kent for the images of  all that he was able to capture. Check it out! Let us know your thoughts.

Nine Mendota Visitation High Seniors Encounter North Minneapolis Neighbors!

by S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

For the past 20+ years the Sisters have sponsored an INNER CITY IMMERSION EXPERIENCE in North Minneapolis as one of the options for Senior Project. It has been a wonderful opportunity for service in this community and to experience another part of town!

The past three years we tried something new! We organized a mission trip right here North Minneapolis! Instead of going to Guatemala or Africa a group of 8 seniors discovered missionary territory right here in the city!

“Our prayer is that this will be an experience they can carry throughout their lives.” – S. Mary Frances

This year we have 9 Visitation women who will stay at our spirituality/retreat/meeting center in the neighborhood called the St. Jane House; a young adult Vis Alum will be staying with them and also and act as chaperone.

From May 26-June 4, 2015:

  • They will have a more in depth experience of our neighborhood and the people who are our neighbors;
  • They will have many opportunities to serve the community, to interact with young children, other teens and senior citizens;
  • They will have opportunities to spread the Salesian spirit of gentle presence.
  • They will have an opportunity to build community with one another and with the Sisters.
  • It will be lots of FUN & a great contribution to North Minneapolis!

Vis Seniors 2013 Service ImmersionGenerally, each day will begin with breakfast, prayer, and off to Northside Child Development Center for the morning where they will assist the teachers of 0-5 year olds. Over the lunch hour there will be speakers from the community to help them gain insight into the root causes of poverty, and also learn about many positive initiatives in place in our community. Afternoons include gardening, monastery jobs, help with computer skills at the local technology center, and maybe even Bingo at the Adult Day Care Center!

The students will prepare and serve their meals, have time to reflect on the day, and even go out on a police ride along! Visitation’s school motto is “NOT FOR SCHOOL BUT FOR LIFE.” Our prayer is that this will be an experience they can carry throughout their lives.


Click to hear more from past Vis Seniors on their Service Immersion Experiences.

Click to hear more from past Vis Seniors on their Service Immersion Experiences.

Visit our Video page to hear more from past Vis seniors on their Apostolic Service Immersion experiences.

Bridging Diversity & Abundance: Mutual Gifts Mendota Heights Visitation (1873) and North Minneapolis Visitation (1989)

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

Bridging Communities: Vis Seniors, Sisters, our VIP with some of our northside friends from “Emerge” and “From Death to Life”.

by S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM*

North Minneapolis is a culturally diverse and spiritually rich part of the metro area; it is home to the second Visitation Monastery in Minnesota founded in 1989.  The Salesian heritage of inclusivity and diversity which four Sisters brought here 25 years ago complements and affirms what is already present.  Perhaps that is why we were so warmly welcomed when we came to make this neighborhood our home.

Over the years, Mendota Visitation students and their families, faculty and staff, have made a bridge to our monastery, building relationships and performing various outreach services with our neighbors.  Not only do they bring hope to our families, especially at holiday times; they bring themselves and are eager to enter into relationship with our neighbors.  They help make our spirituality thrive here, carrying Salesian values of gentlenessnonviolencecommunity and presence.  In turn, our neighbors share inclusivity and diversity with them.

The highlight of this bridging happens in the spring each year when eight Visitation Seniors come to live here for two weeks of immersion and service.  Every agency where they serve wants them back the next year!

St. Francis de Sales often used images from creation to illustrate the concepts he was emphasizing.

Image from “Grimm’s Gardens.”

In his greatest work, the Treatise on the Love of God, he describes the diversity of the Church, that is, the People of God:

“The church is a garden with countless flowers It is necessary that they should be of various sizes, various colors, various scents and to sum up, various perfections.  All of them have their value, their charm, and their color, and in the assemblage of their differences all of them produce a beauty most pleasing and perfect.“

When we left our home monasteries in Mendota Heights and St. Louis to begin a new Visitation in north Minneapolis, we did not leave those who have for those who have not, but rather to build a Bridge between people who may not otherwise meet.    The results have been astounding!  We have all discovered that we have more in common than we have differences.  Together we form a beautiful garden enhanced by its diversity and inclusivity!  Surely that is the Spirit of the Visitation! 



 *Sister Mary Frances Reis is a founding member of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

Freedom and Liberty Meditation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

It is 1962 and I am on Robben’s Island in a 10’x7′ cell. It’s the thirteenth century A.D. and I’m on a battle field south of Scotland wielding a sharp weapon. It’s 1605, and I am seated at a desk in Savoy overlooking a body of water, pen in hand. It’s 1776, and I’m convened with other delegates for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

It’s been a busy morning in my imagination and prayer this Fourth of July as I contemplate notions of freedom and liberty. I’ve been reading all about the life of former South African president  Nelson Mandela; gone to images of Scotland’s legendary freedom-fighter William Wallace, aka “Braveheart”; mulled over  Salesian Scholars’ writing on the letters of Visitation co-founder, St. Francis de Sales; and imagined the scene of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Busy morning I tell you.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ― Nelson Mandela

In each case, my research and reading* informs my prayer and inspires my questions: What does it mean to be truly “free”? With freedom, what are my responsibilities? How do faith and liberty inform one another and move me to act or live in a certain way as a citizen and simultaneous religious person?

These clearly are not new questions for any person to contemplate. (Thank you Founding Fathers.)

What is new, however, is the time in which we mull over notions of liberty and spirit.  As former President Mandela lies in a hospital bed in Pretoria, South Africa, recovering — or nearing his end — his life’s journey speaks volumes to me.

Imprisoned for his political activity to fight to end apartheid, Mandela’s witness as a leader and revolutionary are simultaneously prophetic. His radical actions, after a thirty year imprisonment, to bring about the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, were rooted in a faith tradition that acknowledged both hurting sides of the apartheid rule. Mandela knew that for a nation to move forward together, freely, they would need to grieve together and forgive the wrong doing enacted by an oppressive regime, that kept either side imprisoned.

Reflecting on his life,  in juxtaposition with this day’s United States national holiday, I am moved considering the healing and forgiveness any nation requires as it strives to grow and be a place of freedom and equality for all.

Where do you seek sage counsel?

Where do you seek sage counsel?

This past week the United States’ Supreme Court made a decision that impacts women and men across this nation who have felt called to marry another person of the same gender. In Congress this past seven days, elected officials have been considering the way immigrants are treated when they have crossed the border and desired to stay.

So much is at hand in our current circumstances that begs attention, reflection and prayer. This is why I turn to our history, to freedom fighters from here and abroad, and seek sage counsel in the spiritual leaders at the helm of the Visitation Order.

Where do you go for guidance? What do your contemplative questions give rise to in your own prayer and actions? How are you celebrating your faith and freedoms this day?


Reading Resources:
FREEDOM TO LOVE: A Close Reading of St. Francis de Sales Letter 14 October 1604 to Jane de Chantal by Alexander  T. Pocetto, OSFS, Ph.D.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela