A Greener Monastery

by Anna Dourgarian on April 30, 2019

God created us to be stewards, not rulers, over the environment. What does it mean to be a steward?

-Sister Brenda Lisenby

 

Napkins, coffee grounds, and orange peels are composted instead of wasted

“Let’s go all organic,” said Sister Mary Frances to the Sisters. The Visitation Sisters were hosting an appreciation brunch for the Ascension Church choir at the monastery. Going all organic was a bold goal, and the Sisters pulled it off: compostable tableware, damp cheese cloths to replace Saran wrap, and eco-friendly cleaning products. Like every party that the Sisters host, the brunch was a blast, without sacrificing the natural environment.

The road to building a communal mindset and the habits necessary for going “all organic” has not been easy, and the Sisters still have a long way they want to go. For the year 2019, they have adopted care for the environment as a guiding theme for their community. At New Year’s, they each received a small paper bag to keep in their rooms to collect compostable waste that would otherwise be thrown away, like used tissues and hair from their hairbrushes. They are determined to be deliberate about how they can make a difference.

Sister Brenda is an inspirational help, a voice of wisdom and practicality as they strive for a greener household. She has always tried to make environmentally-conscious decisions, such as refusing disposable straws and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. Now, she helps the Sisters stay up-to-date on city regulations, like:

  1. Juice boxes are recyclable.
  2. Keep caps on milk jugs so they don’t get stuck in the recycling center’s sorting machine.
  3. Do not put paper bags full of recycling into the recycling bin. The bags get in the way of sorting.

Sister Brenda helped organize recycling and composting at National Night Out

When Sister Brenda first joined the Visitation community, she found them “wish-cycling”. Wish-cycling is throwing non-recyclables into the recycling bin because you wish that the materials were recyclable. The Sisters are now wiser about what they recycle, what they compost, and what products they buy in the first place.

Sister Brenda also pursues eco-friendliness in personal habits. She uses a bamboo toothbrush and makes her own toothpaste. Instead of plastic disposable razors, she uses a safety razor for shaving. These are small changes, but they are small things done with great love, and that makes all the difference.

The Sisters’ future goals include more eco-friendly food storage practices and consistently using eco-friendly cleaning products. In addition, they want to spread the word in their neighborhood about caring for the environment; they have found that their annual block party in August is a great opportunity to teach their neighbors about recycling and compostable goods. Sister Brenda would also like to go for a tour of the city’s recycling center.

Can they achieve zero waste? Not necessarily. On one hand, they must make tradeoffs for living in community and convenience. On the other hand, they can be more aware and make wiser daily decisions. They aim for zero waste, even if it might never happen. One small step at a time, they are committed to caring for all God’s creation, our common natural home.
 
 

For more information on our local solid waste and recycling, Sister Brenda invites you to visit http://www.minneapolismn.gov/solid-waste/.

 
 

Welcome Sister Mary Paula!

by Sister Katherine Mullin, VHM

As you may know, this January our Visitation Monastery of Mendota Heights, MN, closed, and the three remaining Sisters took up residence in other places.

After 68 years as a Visitation Sister in the St. Paul Visitation Monastery, Sister Mary Paula McCarthy requested to join our community in Minneapolis. We welcomed her warmly on January 12, 2019, though “warm” has not been reflected in the weather! It has been so bitterly cold and icy that we have often been unable to keep our usual daily schedule of enjoying Liturgy of the Hours and evening meals together. Moreover, the very day Sister Mary Paula arrived, Sister Mary Virginia fell and broke her hip. Despite the irregularity and mayhem, Sister Mary Paula has adjusted very well.

Sister Mary Paula has proven her flexibility, and what stands out is her understanding of St. Francis de Sales’ quote: “Have no care for the morrow; think only of doing well today, and when tomorrow shall have become today then we shall think about it.” Her wholeheartedness brings to mind “Live joyfully, brimful of God” as she begins her life with us at the Northside Visitation.

She brings her many gifts, including her understanding of all things Salesian and of Scripture. Not only does she possess the knowledge, but her life here has also shown total engagement in our prayer and community, our neighbors and in the small duties of the monastic life.

We welcome you, Sister Mary Paula!

 

Healing Prayers for Sister Mary Virginia

by Sister Karen Mohan, VHM

Sr. Mary Virginia shoulders a new cross, with the grace of God as her support

Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt has had a very eventful month, one that we hope will not ever be repeated. Since mid-January, when she fell on our icy Fremont driveway and broke her left hip, Sr. M. Virginia has spent two weeks at HCMC Hospital, well-known for its expert care of trauma patients. She then moved to Catholic Eldercare’s Transitional Care Unit for the physical therapy and healing that will enable her to return to our community, her monastery home.

She would be the first to say that physical therapy is not for the fainthearted! But her sense of humor and her graciousness continue to shine through the exhaustion of therapy for our beloved 89-year-old Sister.

Sr. Mary Virginia is fighting hard through physical therapy!

The cards and greetings of many encourage her, and visitors are welcome to stop by for a short time from mid-afternoon until early evening. You can write her at 817 NE Main St Minneapolis, MN 55413.

What a joy it was for Sr. M. Virginia to finally be able to attend Sunday Mass in the chapel adjacent to Catholic Eldercare! Father John Brandes, chaplain for the Eldercare Community and formerly an occasional presider for Mass at our monastery, was the celebrant for Eucharist that day!

Our community members are able to drop by throughout the day since Catholic Eldercare is just a five-minute drive from our monastery. Occasionally we go over together for Night Prayer with her. As soon as the harsh winter weather subsides, Sr. Mary Margaret hopes to go over to see her dear friend of 65 years, a visit that would make us all very happy.

Please pray for Sr. M. Virginia’s full recovery.

 

 

Jim Lee’s Christmas Trees

by Dave Nimmer*, Guest Blogger

It’s not likely that Jim Lee will be forgotten by the Visitation Sisters in the life of their Minneapolis monastery, not as long as they celebrate Christmas. Lee and his family have been part of their Christmas tradition for 20 years, and his men’s Cursillo prayer group have been part of the Sisters’ prayer life for even longer.

The group, which meets weekly, joins the Sisters for Tuesday morning prayer once a month. “These men became our brothers,” says Sister Karen Mohan. “We prayed with them through their job losses, their illnesses, and their job situations, and they readily looked for opportunities to serve us and our neighbors.”

It was serving a neighbor that got Lee and his prayer group involved with Visitation. They had contacted the Sisters and asked what they could do to help.

“Sister Karen knew of a family that needed a washer and dryer,” Lee says. “We bought a used unit and installed it for the family. With the few dollars left over, I went out and bought Christmas trees for the neighbors.”

The simple act of delivering the trees impressed upon Lee how great the needs were among the Northside neighbors, and he wanted his children to learn the same lesson. So Jim Lee started the family tradition of buying the Visitation Christmas tree. As the Lee family grew, the tree-picking expedition went from morning to afternoon to accommodate the different work and child-care schedules. Lee’s wife, Diana, would also bring “too many” Subway sandwiches that got distributed around the neighborhood.

Lee particularly remembers one Christmas when his two teenage boys were anxious to hang out with their friends. As they left the Sisters’ house, they met a woman coming up the steps carrying presents. They started talking. She told the boys she worked at the Masonic Children’s Hospital and that many of its patients were from South America, kids who had lost arms and legs. One of them, she explained, had no one to care for him back home, so she had adopted him.

“I believe this is the day my boys started to understand and ‘get it,’” Lee says. “The tradition continues today and is being handed down to my grandchildren.”

The relationship between Lee and the Sisters goes much deeper and beyond the Christmas season and Subway sandwiches. It’s all about spiritual sustenance from years of prayerful mornings in North Minneapolis. When the Cursillo men – as many as seven or eight – met, the meetings tended to focus on “areas”: prayer life, formation or evangelization, putting faith into practice. The feeling was different when they met with the Sisters.

“Prayer with the nuns,” Lee says, “was more spiritual and personal. We would discuss what was happening on the Northside and in each of our lives. This was a great opportunity to grow outside our normal boundaries and develop a greater closeness to Christ.”

For Jim Lee, perhaps the greatest gift from his association with the Visitation Sisters came from the mouth of his then-6-year-old grandson. The boy told his mother that if the family didn’t buy a Christmas tree for the nuns, then a lot of children on the Northside, who could not afford it, would not get to see a real tree.

“Now,” says Lee, “the nuns are part of our children’s lives. I know they hold a special place for them in their hearts. Who would’ve thought a Christmas tree would lead to such a great experience?”
 

 

* 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! 

 

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.
LIVE + JESUS! 

 

Kiara Jones: Dancing in the Light of God

by Dave Nimmer*, Guest Blogger

As a girl growing up on Minneapolis’ north side, Kiara Jones had two realities in her young life: she and her mother moving too much and having too little, and her dream of singing for others and dancing on stage.

Fortunately for her, she ran into the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery who helped lead her to Ascension Grade School, the Lundstrum School of Performing Arts, and Visitation High School. Now she’s a student St. Olaf College in Northfield, a sophomore majoring in Dance with a minor in Management Studies (just in case).

“I remember we had Kiara and her family at our annual Soul Food dinner,” says Sister Mary Frances Reis, “and she performed for us. She was the star of the night, and I knew we had to get her over to Lundstrum. It so happens we had established a scholarship there, and she was one of our first recipients.”

Lundstrum got its start in the 1920’s when 15-year-old Dorothy Lundstrum took over the Ascension School of Dance. Its purpose was to provide a welcoming place for kids where “virtues and values are taught through words and example.”

Kiara found out about the values right off the bat. She was an 8-year-old when she first went to Lundstrum. She says she was kind of a hyperactive kid, and one of the first lessons she learned had nothing to do with acting, dancing, or singing. She badly wanted to perform at Lundstrum’s annual gala but was denied because of her behavior.

“I got my act together,” she says, “and was featured at the next gala. It doesn’t matter how well you do something. Behavior and (the right) attitude play a huge role in your success.”

Amy Ellis, the executive director of Lundstrum, will not forget Kiara: the struggles she had, the progress she made, and the young woman she became. “She’s truly a triple threat,” says Ellis. “She can sing, dance, and act. She’s humble. She’s respectful. She’s prompt. Quite simply, she’s a winner. I’m convinced she can have a professional career onstage.”

Kiara says she does want to end up in the music business and, when pressed, admits she’d like to be on stage. “It’s a feeling I get,” she explains. “I feel like, this moment, I am where I am supposed to be. I feel alive. I love it. I am completely and totally enjoying myself.”

And she can pass the feeling on to others, like the 14 St. Olaf students who are in the hip-hop dance group she organized and runs. They perform at functions around the campus, and Jones gets to do her thing.

The Sisters watched Kiara doing her thing on the National Night Out this past summer. About 50 people, younger and older, were dancing in the street in front of Girard House – kind of an informal competition. Kiara says she “hyped” the crowd, calling on kids for solos and then showing everyone a few moves of her own. The effect was electric.

That’s the performer. She’s also writing music – lyric and melody. One song, “Perseverance,” is about hope and what happens if you keep trying, believing in yourself and in God. She’d like to do that number with the St. Olaf choir and music ensemble.

Kiara Jones has come a lightyear from where she was when she first met the Sisters. She understands them better now than when she was a little girl: “They give me motivation to keep on going. They give me hope. They help me believe in myself. And I’ve learned that they give back because they want to.”

As for the Sisters, they’ve learned that Kiara works well with others and can bring out the best in just about everybody. They are also impressed by her humility. That’s important because they believe the girl who grew up near West Broadway could someday wind up on THE Broadway.

One thing is for certain: in the life ahead of her, Kiara Jones will not sit out the dance. Being on the sidelines is simply not in her makeup.

Kiara with her dance group

  

* 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! 

 

Judge John McShane, Honorary Member of the Visitation Order

by Dave Nimmer*, Guest Blogger

Judge John McShane, from http://www.mncourts.gov

When John McShane was in his Hennepin District courtroom, he was known as Your Honor. When he’s at the Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis, it’s more like Our Honor, a man whose wise counsel and manual labor have been solicited and treasured by the Sisters for three decades.

In fact, they have so appreciated his presence that they gave him their Cross of Affiliation, making Judge John McShane an honorary member of their Visitation Order.

His work with the Sisters stems from an expansive and eclectic life experience as a college grad, Army Lieutenant, Vietnam veteran, husband, father of three daughters, trial lawyer, district court judge, and law clerk to the legendary U.S. Judge Miles Lord. McShane credits Lord with demonstrating how NOT to be intimidated by the courtroom or the judges and lawyers who inhabit it. “The judge wanted me to know that I can do this job,” says McShane. “Miles believed both sides ought to be represented, but he had a special feeling for the underdog.”

John McShane’s special relationship with the Visitation goes back long before the Sisters arrived in North Minneapolis. McShane knew the Order from his school days in St. Louis, MO. His father was a physician who treated the St. Louis nuns. His sisters went to Visitation High School, and one was in the Visitation Monastery for 10 years. He once dated Sister Karen Mohan and recalls taking her to a May Day dance.

“We did dance the night away,” he says with a smile. Long after the dance and after McShane graduated from Notre Dame and St. Louis University School of Law, Sister Karen got in touch with him – this time in Minneapolis. She called to wish him Happy Birthday and to tell him that she and Sisters Mary Virginia Schmidt, Mary Margaret McKenzie, and Mary Frances Reis were about to start a new monastery on the North Side.

Handyman John McShane

He’d been working and living in the Twin Cities, a partner in a prestigious law firm that specialized in product liability. As a trial lawyer, he was busy, but he found himself telling Sister Karen, “If there’s ever anything I can do….”

The judge made good on the offer for over 30 years, advising the Sisters on mortgages and contracts and helping their neighbors navigate the legal and government bureaucracies: finding the right person at the right time who had the right answer. He’s also swept floors, painted walls, and washed windows.

“That’s the wonderful thing about John,” says Sister Karen. “He didn’t just come over here as a lawyer and judge. He came over to roll up his sleeves and go to work. He’s been here to do what needed to be done at that moment.”

Working with the Sisters has not been a one-way street. District court judges quickly develop a realistic sense of the parameters of human behavior, especially if they’ve presided in civil, criminal, and juvenile cases, as McShane has. But, from the Sisters’ influence, he has developed an even deeper understanding of his community and of the breadth and scope of its human condition.

“I’ve been at Fremont and Girard when bishops have been there. I’ve also been there when those who are down-and-out come over,” McShane says. “The Sisters treat them all the same – with love, respect, and welcome. That’s a lesson for all of us.”

The judge is close to all the Sisters and says they’ve all helped him with “matters of faith. We can disagree, and sometimes we do. But I always come away feeling better.” That’s particularly true of his relationship with Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie.

“I have known John as a brother almost as long as I have known myself as a Visitation Sister,” says Mary Margaret, noting his family’s connections to the St. Louis monastery. “John and I enjoy doing things together, but in the doing things together what holds us is the being together. Music is a comfort and entertainment for both of us.”

Lifelong friends: McShane and Sr. Mary Margaret

So is a good laugh. McShane recalls the end of one of his weekly visits when, saying goodbye to Margaret, he took her hand gently – or so he thought. She hollered, “Ow. Ow!” McShane quickly dropped her hand. What have I done to this poor woman? he wondered. Then she laughed. Gotcha.

“John grew into having a sense of humor that was defined by his family’s ability to laugh at self,” she says. “John mastered the appreciation of a good joke which he took care to keep clean and kind.”

Through the decades, the two have mastered a friendship that allows Sister Mary Margaret to confidently characterize his life with brevity, clarity, and honesty: “John,” she says, “cradles good with courage, but without knowing he is good.” She knows it, though, for she’s seen the life he’s lived.
  

* 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! 

 

The Pearson Partners

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Jeff & Maryann Pearson reading at the Fremont House (1995)

Since the Sisters first opened the door of the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis, no one has had a more persistent and consistent presence in their lives than Maryann and Jeff Pearson. In three decades, they’ve given freely of their time, talent, and treasure.

They’ve been at one time or another volunteers, donors, mentors, and organizers. For years, Maryann was a guiding force behind the monthly Salesian Monday nights, where the Sisters shared their mission and ministry with friends, neighbors, and benefactors. Maryann did everything from preparing a salad to running a meeting. For instance, she led a discussion of leadership traits with a Vietnamese Buddhist, and the two of them managed to include love, prayer, caring, and courage – right out of the Visitation playbook.

For his part, Jeff was a mentor to a teenager whom the Sisters felt could use a man in his life. For several years, Pearson was that figure in Wazeer Brown’s life. The lessons he imparted were about responsibility, accountability, and even durability – the fine art of hanging in there. Pearson was well-acquainted with these lessons as a husband, a U.S. Army veteran, a law school graduate, a father, and a 25-year CEO of a manufacturer’s rep business for electronic components.

“Jeff and Maryann have been with us so long and served us so faithfully,” says Sister Mary Frances Reis, “that now when they come over for an event or a celebration, it feels as though they are part of the heart and soul of the community.”

The pair earned their place in the life of the monastery. Jeff and Maryann read to children weekly during Windsock Time at the Fremont house, as many as 15 or 20 at a time. Wazeer was one of the kids. “I was glad to do it,” says Maryann, “because those kids had no one reading to them at home. It was a real privilege.”

Jeff Pearson and his dad working on the Fremont house

Before the Sisters moved into the Fremont house, Jeff’s father had been over helping make the place ready for them and for the hundreds of neighbors who would enter their door over the years. The hospitality and humility of the Visitation and of Saint Francis de Sales, Jeff recalls, has always comforted him, especially the admonition to “be who you are and be that well.”

Maryann followed that advice, and, after she earned her Master’s degree in Theology and Lay Spirituality from United Theological Seminary, she and Sister Mary Frances developed the practices, principles, procedures, and program for the Visitation Companions. The Vis Companions are men and women who choose to deepen their commitment to the Visitation ministry and the monastery through prayer, studying Salesian spirituality, and regular service – on the Northside AND in their own walks of life. “One of Maryann’s real insights was the notion that you didn’t have to live in the neighborhood to be a companion,” Sister Mary Frances recalls. “She believed you can be anywhere in the metro area and LIVE JESUS.”

Jeff and Maryann Pearson qualify as Companions. They’ve been immersed in the life since their two daughters enrolled at Visitation High School in Mendota Heights, where they first met Sister Mary Frances and Sister Katherine Mullin.

“I remember saying when our oldest daughter graduated in 1993,” recalls Maryann, “‘I don’t know what those women have, but I do know I’d like to get it.’” Almost 30 years later, the Pearsons got it — one month, one year, one task at a time.

The Sisters are grateful. Sister Karen Mohan marvels at the number of different tasks the couple has undertaken. “While Maryann guided the Vis companions, Jeff, ever the entrepreneur, heard our community’s desire to rent another space in order to accommodate a growing number of people who wanted to make retreats, pray, or meet together to study Salesian spirituality,” Sister Karen says. “He and I were commissioned to do this. When Brian [Mogren] got wind of it, the Holy Spirit inspired him to offer his home for these gatherings, and the St. Jane House was born. Its 10th anniversary celebration in June found Maryann and Jeff rolling up their sleeves to help with this party.”

Since the Pearsons have been with the Vis Minneapolis monastery from the start, it’s not surprising that they plan on getting older with the Sisters, who they feel will age with grace and peace. “They are my faith community,” says Jeff, “and I’d like to stay in step with them.”

Maryann agrees and takes it a little further. “They taught me to live in the present moment,” she says, “and to be not afraid. And they have changed my relationship with God.”

* 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! 

 

Meet Alfreda Riddley, the Friend with a Heart of Gold

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Alfreda Riddley with her new Honda Accord

The Visitation Sisters have put me in the middle of a rewarding, unlikely relationship between an old friend of theirs and an older friend of mine. It all revolved around a 20-year-old Honda automobile that used to belong to Jim Shoop, a reporter colleague of mine dating back to our days at The Minneapolis Star in 1963.

During the past two decades, Shoop and I have used that car to go fishing dozens and dozens of times. It’s carried our rods, reels, tackle bags, and rain jackets. Reluctantly, he had to part with the car this year when he and his wife moved into a retirement village in Apple Valley. Their apartment was big enough for most of their “stuff,” but the garage had room for only one car. The Honda Accord had to go.

The Sisters knew of someone who needed a car: Alfreda Riddley. The former family liaison aide at Bethune Community School had been hoping for wheels for months. Shoop, who’s known the Sisters for years, was a willing donor.

“I got my car totaled out,” Riddley said, “and I was wondering what I’d do. Then I got a call from Sister Mary Frances (Reis). This Honda I have now is a sweet-running car.”

Riddley needed all the help she could get at the time. She’d just lost her job because of budget cuts in the Minneapolis School District. Since 2011, she had worked at Bethune and loved her job. She had started a resource room at the school that had a food pantry and access to computers.

Her duties included helping parents write resumes, get training, find jobs, seek housing, arrange daycare, and generally cope with the demanding task of raising a family and keeping kids interested in learning. One of the parents she’d “bugged” to stay involved with the school showed up at Bethune a few years later, telling Riddley he was grateful for the push he got from her.

Riddley, who has four children of her own, lives with a son in south Minneapolis. She’d like to get back to working with children, especially kids who are at risk. “To do this kind of work,” she said, “you have to have love, compassion – and passion. The reason I can help people is that I’ve been there, I know first-hand what they’re dealing with.”

Riddley came to Minnesota with her parents from west central Texas. They came looking for a better life. It was not without a few bumps in the road for Riddley, who experienced some racist taunts in school. But she graduated from Edison High School and got trained as a nurse’s assistant at MCTC (Minneapolis Community & Technical College).

She was working at Turning Point (a rehab center for men) in 1993 when she met Sister Mary Frances, who was on the board of directors. Riddley said she “loved” Sister from the very first. And she feels the same about the others, whom she describes as “never phony.”

“These ladies,” she said, “are kind and compassionate. They do care and that is for real.” Riddley also admits she likes the fact that the Sisters are feisty, a trait she shares with them. She gives off a no-nonsense demeanor, one that does not suffer fools or phonies.

“The truth is she’d do anything to help the children,” said Sister Mary Frances. “She has a heart of gold. When we are in need of help in this community, she answers the call. And she does it without fail.”

The best compliment of all comes from Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie, who suffered a stroke in 2016. She has let the other Sisters know that when Alfreda Riddley is sitting with her, she’s at ease and at peace.

* 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! 

 

A New Role for Sister Mary Frances

Sister Mary Frances Reis, VHM

The Sisters have a special announcement about their community: Archbishop Hebda has appointed Sr. Mary Frances Reis to serve as a temporary Administrative Superior to the Visitation Sisters of Mendota Heights. She will now be serving one day per week in Mendota Heights.

Sr. Mary Frances will be returning to an old home. She both graduated from Visitation School and joined the religious community there. As a Sister in the school, she taught in grades Montessori through 12, founded the campus ministry program, and chaired the religion department. Then, in 1989, she joined three Sisters from St. Louis to found the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis, which we are so familiar with today.

To aid her in her new responsibility, Sr. Mary Frances will draw on the gifts and experiences of the Sisters currently living in Mendota Heights: Srs. Mary Denise Villaume, Mary Paula McCarthy, and Brigid Marie Keefe.

We ask for your prayers of strength and wisdom to guide Sr. Mary Frances in her new role.