Author Archives: Anna Dourgarian

Thank You for Sending our Kids to Camp!

by Sr. Mary Frances, VHM

110 Campers

Thanks to the amazing generosity of many benefactors who provided funds to sponsor 110 campers, we were able to send all these “happy campers” off to Catholic Youth Camp for a week of FUN, FAITH, AND FRIENDSHIP from June 24 to June 29. The Ascension Staff — in particular, CJ McGowan and Anne Attea — did a lot of work on this project. Visitation School in Mendota Heights did a tremendous job to see that every child has all the hygiene items needed, plus a flashlight and a beach towel.

Last but not least, Mary Pat Gallivan, who has done the administrative work on camp preparation with me for years, needs a big shout-out!!! We are passing the baton on to CJ at Ascension now and trusting that this wonderful tradition will live on for our kids and their families!

When I checked in last night, the fantastic camp director, Natalie King, told me that all the kids are settled in with their luggage in just the cabin they hoped for. Before bedtime, they kicked off their wonderful week with a pep fest!

Our part now is to pray for good weather, safety, and good spirits, along with living out the camp’s motto: FUN, FAITH, AND FRIENDSHIP. Please hold the Staff in special prayer.

Gratefully,

Sister Mary Frances and All the Visitation Sisters

Campers Saying Good-Bye

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.
LIVE + JESUS! 

 

Earth Day Meditation

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

My waking morning meditation hour began this Earth Day on Facebook. With a tap to my smart phone screen, I watched, in silence, the video of an invitation to replace plastic straws with stainless steel ones. Re-posted by a parent friend at my daughter’s Catholic school, I was moved to be in solidarity with this kind of environmental consciousness, this kind of invitation to act and engage with opportunities to choose different ways we may be stewards of this earth, that we may respect what God has created.

A month ago, in my waking, another voice of environmental consciousness came to me in my waking. It was that of Fr. Thomas Berry, shared in Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, which arrives in my inbox each day.

Fr. Berry was quoted:

“The task of renewing Earth belongs to Earth, as the renewal of any organism [even the church] takes place from within. Yet we humans have our own special role, a leading role in the renewal, just as we had the dominant role in the devastation. We can fulfill this role, however, only if we move our basic life orientation from a dominant anthropocentrism to a dominant ecocentrism. In effecting this change, we need to listen to the voices of Earth and its multitude of living and non-living modes of expression.”*

The act of listening to our earth, to creation, moves me deeply. Shifting sideways from being at the center of this renewal, to place our precious Earth and her voice at the center, is a holy act, a humble act. We can ask: What is the earth saying to us? How is God speaking to us through her?

Sea Turtle, from earthjustice.org

I think of how God spoke to me in this morning’s video. As I watched in silence the removal of a plastic straw from a turtle’s nose, I contemplated the horror of that experience. Then, I imagined God’s delight in making turtles. Making the waters. Making turtles dive and snap, gliding elegantly around the earth through the ocean’s blue depths. The experience of sadness and awe, pain and love, all come together in my body in this kind of contemplation of the earth at the center of the renewal. This, for me, is God speaking through creation. I am listening.

While Berry touches in on grief for extinct life in his writing, he also points toward profound hope in our renewal process. Fr. Berry’s identification of the renewal process —as starting within —touches something deep within me. It affirms a power and also a relationship. A right relationship we are called to with creation, one another, with ourselves, with God.

Perhaps this re-orientation, this right relationship, this invitation to listen to God through our Earth speaks to you, too, this day?

In peace, prayers, listening solidarity,

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

*Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Orbis Books: 2014), 77-78.

Sr. Mary Margaret’s 12 Step Program for White Privilege

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Sister Mary Margaret, VHM

When I first heard about Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie’s idea to start a 12-Step Group to deal with the corrosive effects of white privilege on her life and on others, I was skeptical. I’ve been going to 12-Step meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for more than 15 years, and I couldn’t quite see how this would work.

I thought AA’s goal was simple: to help people abstain from drugs and alcohol. In contrast, such a group for white privilege could turn into a debating society – edgy, angry, and defensive. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that those 12 steps are a blueprint to living a spiritual life of honesty, humility, integrity, and charity. And that’s what Sr. Mary Margaret’s life and the lives of her Visitation Sisters have been about for almost 30 years in north Minneapolis.

Besides, this was Sr. Mary Margaret asking, and she’s been an elder, a mentor, an adviser, and a spiritual mother to me since we first met in 1989. When I’m down on one knee sucking for air, I run to Sr. Mary Margaret for comfort and counsel.

I also think that Sr. Mary Margaret, still dealing with the effects of a stroke she suffered in 2016, has a desire to put her spiritual house in good order, dealing with circumstances that shaped her life: growing up white in Decatur, IL; going to nursing school in Springfield, IL; and earning a degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

I haven’t thought much about white privilege, but I grew up in Fond du Lac, 60 miles north of Milwaukee. As I reflect on it, I had all the advantages: a stable home, a steady income, a good school, a welcoming community, and a grandmother with some money to take us traveling to California. So maybe I did belong to what Sr. Mary Margaret sought.

She chose the first participants in this group of 10 that meets once a month on a Sunday afternoon. We are black and white, men and women, younger and older. We are bound by a desire to heal old wounds, make amends, and improve our awareness of the plights and problems of our brothers and sisters.

Like our AA predecessors, we listen as much as we talk. What is said in the meeting stays in the meeting. Our desire is not to “fix” our colleagues but to heal ourselves – by talking honestly, listening carefully, and thinking soulfully.

The steps we follow are lifted out of the AA Big Book, something we do with respect and reverence. We have tailored them carefully to suit our mission. The first step is to “admit we are powerless over the pervasive and persistent presence of white privilege and the resulting racism and bigotry, and [admit] that our lives have become less than they could be.” Then, the second step is to “come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to the loving, caring human beings we are intended to be.”

The last step, 12, comes directly from AA’s Big Book, with no change at all: “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Our first meeting was in January 2018, and we’ve shared stories that are personal, poignant, painful, and powerful. Sr. Mary Margaret set the tone in that initial meeting when she read from a poem by Maya Angelo, “Touched by an Angel”:

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

To one degree or another, our souls are laid bare in these meetings, sometimes with resentments from the discrimination of police officers, Christian clergy, or public officials, and sometimes with the residual guilt from our own good fortune.

I recall an incident when I was a high school senior, riding around on a Friday night with a couple of guys I didn’t know very well. We pulled into a gas station, bought a couple of bucks’ worth, and before we left one of the guys lifted a tin of car wax and slipped it into his back pocket. I didn’t know about it until we were a mile away, but then I did not insist that we go back and return it.

The next day a police officer appeared at my door. The station owner had matched one of the guys from a photo in a high school yearbook, and he fingered me as a ride-along. I quickly “fessed up,” and the cop gave me a five-minute lecture on the doorstep about honor and honesty. He also told my father. What he did NOT do was arrest me.

I’ve heard enough stories from the black men at our meeting to know they were not afforded the same privilege I got from a cop who knew my father. I have no doubt that a black kid in my situation would have been taken downtown, written up, and saddled with a record. I got away clean, and that’s the way I entered the U.S. Army and the University of Wisconsin. That seems to me to describe white privilege.

When we started our little group, I wondered how steps promulgated to deal with an addiction would deal with an attitude. Months later, I’m satisfied with an answer: they work. We belong in this milieu. Consider the last paragraph of the first half of AA’s Big Book:

Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to God and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the fellowship of the spirit and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

Thanks to Sr. Mary Margaret, we have begun the journey.

* 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.
LIVE + JESUS! 

Celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

Sister Karen as a novice in St. Louis with her sisters

When my youngest sister, Colleen, e-mailed me this photo a few days ago, she didn’t know that she was sending it during a week designated as “National Catholic Sisters Week,” March 8-14. This picture shows me as a novice with my three sisters visiting at the St. Louis Visitation Monastery. I spent the first 24 years of my religious life in that beautiful community before moving to north Minneapolis to begin our urban monastery.

One glance at this picture makes it clear that times have changed! The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) with its theme of the “universal call to holiness” has encouraged all Catholics to realize that it is each Christian’s baptismal commitment that shapes her/his response to living the Gospel. For Religious Women and Men, that response comes by making public vows that express our desire to “live our baptismal commitment out loud” for Jesus Christ, in community, and with a particular “spirit” or “charism” guiding us.

In the Visitation Order, that charism comes through the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, the founders of our Order in 1610. As we strive to live our motto, “Live Jesus,” we hope to become more like Jesus and to embody the words of St. Francis de Sales, “I am as human as can be.”  By embracing our humanity, I hear echoes of these words of the early Church father St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a person fully alive.” I have been drawn to this quote for many years because it encourages me to become more like Jesus by “being who you are and being that well” (St. Francis de Sales). It takes a lifetime to attain such wholeness/holiness. I’m “in it” for the long haul!

Living the way of love expressed in the vows of poverty (simple living), celibacy (a prophetic, countercultural way of loving), and obedience (listening to the Spirit in community) has a goal: to become ever freer interiorly and so give witness to the freedom that will be ours when we see God face to face.

Sister Brenda as a novice in Minneapolis with her sisters

I’m including a second photo in this blog. This one is of our current novice, Sister Brenda Lisenby, at her Grandmother’s 90th birthday party last July! Sr. Brenda looks a little different than my novice “look” of 1965, and she is bringing a very different background and life experience to the Visitation than most of us who are “born and bred” Catholics.  Brenda’s 20 years as a Baptist missionary in China led her into the Catholic Church and eventually to the Minneapolis Visitation. How grateful we are for her attentiveness to God’s Spirit leading her! Sr. Brenda will make her first profession of vows on May 12, 2018.  She – and all of us Religious Women– give God the promise of our present and the trust of our future as we live our lives as Sisters.

I love my life of prayer, community, and service through the lens of the Visitation. May other women listening to the call of the Gospel in their lives respond generously, becoming more fully alive in the process! Our community welcomes you to consider joining us either in our monastic community or through one of our engagements: as a Vis Companion, as a VIP, or in our Monastic Immersion Program.

A Simple Life: Lent at the Monastery

by Anna Dourgarian

 

At the Visitation monasteries, the shelves and tables have been stripped of their usual decoration. Spare change is collected in Basilica St. Vincent de Paul Ministry containers. No Christ candle is lit on Sundays, no Alleluia or Gloria is sung at Mass, and no gathering music is played before Office. The Sisters have embraced simplicity for their Lenten journey.

In addition to the traditional observances of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, this Lent the Sisters are continuing to explore their 2018 theme of Home. In Sister Suzanne’s words, “Lent is Jesus’ own journey back home to God,” and the Sisters are inspired by Him to create home for others. For instance, they have been meeting with social justice communities around North Minneapolis to learn about affordable housing and homelessness. Also, they have challenged themselves to make a better home for each other at the monasteries: by letting someone know that she or he is appreciated, by doing one thing well and with full attention, by saying “yes” to the day’s gifts. (These suggestions are offered by Vinita Hampton Wright on dotMagis, the blog of IgnatianSpirituality.com.) Every step of their journey is a contribution to community.

For each week of Lent, the Sisters will introduce a new prayer focus based on their theme of “Home”:

  1. The monastery Homes (Fremont House and Girard House)
  2. The door ministry and visitors to their Homes
  3. St. Jane House
  4. Ascension Church community
  5. Other communities working on housing issues

The Sisters ask for your prayers throughout Lent. Please join them in praying for their weekly theme, and please pray for their strength as they support homes in North Minneapolis.

For the first week of Lent, the Sisters prayerfully focus on their own homes: Fremont House and Girard House.

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.