Bianca Franks: Salesian Leader and Friend

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Cemya, Bianca, and Javon
Photo Courtesy Bianca Franks

Bianca Franks was a girl of 10 when she first met the Visitation Sisters. She was helping out at the Cookie Cart and spending Wednesday evenings at the Fremont house with other children. One of those evenings turned into a gardening session and Franks, who says she’s no gardener, recalls Sister Karen (Mohan) gave her a slip from a spider plant.

To Franks’ amazement, the spider slip not only did not die, it flourished. That’s kind of a metaphor for Franks’ life since she came to Minneapolis with her mother, stepfather and three brothers when she was eight years old.

“…the biggest support [that I have received from the Sisters] was that I prayed with them at least once a day. And, over the years, they became my family.”

The 36-year-old single mother has two children, Javon, 13, and Cemya, 18, now a senior at Sage Academy in Brooklyn Park. Javon, who’s autistic, is in 8th grade at River Bend Education Center, an elementary school for children with special needs. Franks says proudly he was just elected his class vice-president.

Sr. Mary Frances and Salesian Leader, Bianca

When he was younger and just diagnosed, Javon had as many as 15 doctor, therapist and clinic appointments a week. Between the appointments and work to support the family, Franks lived a life that was harried, hurried and hectic.

“I really needed the Sisters then (2005),” Franks says. “Occasionally I’d go over for dinner But the biggest support was that I prayed with them at least once a day.   They became closely connected to me. And, over the years, they became my family.”

The Sister also became her mentor when they invited her to the Salesian Leaders Cohort in 2010. The group was to turn out community leaders, who could develop skills, techniques and self-confidence to help others in North Minneapolis. As the program continued into its second year, Franks says it was less about strategy and more about spirituality.

“What I learned,” she says, “is that I AM a leader, that I don’t have to achieve success at every turn to help others. I do believe I can help others, especially women and parents of special-need kids. I relate. I understand. And the training taught me how to listen, to actually hear what others are saying.”

Sister Karen Mohan says Franks impressed her with the ability to let go of what is not life-giving and to find another path that is. “She has dug deep,” says Mohan, “and surrounded herself with people who can give her a positive message. And she passes that on to others. Most of all, she is determined and she is honest.”

These days, Franks runs a support group for those parents: going to court with them if needed, holding their hands and helping them navigate the numbers and names of programs, agencies and groups that could provide help.

Franks and her teenagers live in a two-bedroom, subsidized apartment in south Minneapolis. She is presently working part-time through a temp agency – doing filing and typing – and would like a full-time job.

“I’m good at this work,” she says. “Recently Sister Mary Frances Reis gave me a list of names and addresses from notes. I typed ’em out in 15 minutes and she was amazed. Yep, I’m quick, I’m thorough and I’m organized.”

Her weekly budget, she says, is tight, although she gets a federal disability payment for Javon. And for her best work – at an overnight retreat at the St. Jane House – her reward involved no money.

“I shared my story, and my struggles, with others,” she says. “And I do know this woman, with whom I spent the most time, walked away feeling better, knowing her situation was not hopeless.”

Franks has a persona that is “out there,” accessible to all around her. She’s an extrovert, comfortable in a group of people and not shy about meeting strangers. Her daughter is more reserved and inclined to be somewhat shy and quiet. Sometimes, Franks has had trouble understanding her daughter’s demeanor. Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie had some helpful advice.

“Mary Margaret told me that Cemya was probably more of an introvert, an observer of what was going on and how people were acting,” Franks says. “She helped me understand those are strengths, truly gifts of those who are thoughtful and helpful. In some ways, my daughter is more like Mary Margaret.

Bianca Franks has always been open to good counsel and comments from others. She’s lived long enough to know that life can sometimes be a rock n’ roll affair. But she’s got a couple of qualities – quiet confidence and boundless energy – to keep her dancing.   She also knows the Visitation Sisters are always around when she needs a partner.

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* This is the tenth 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. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Women’s March – Minnesota; From MinnPost.com

We are a community of Catholic Visitation Sisters; we have lived among poor, marginalized and oppressed persons in North Minneapolis for 27 years. Ours is a ministry of prayer and presence. The headline in the Sunday, January 22, 2017 StarTribune reads: “WE ARE HERE, WE ARE ON FIRE!” We want to give a shout out for everyone who marched and spoke out, and is prepared to give voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Yes, we are here and we are on fire! We are in solidarity with you and promise to hold you all in prayer.

We are taking Visitation Volunteer Applications!

VIP Promo VistoryAre you a young adult considering life after graduation? Does the idea of service and prayer, in the heart of the city, bring something alive in you? Are you called to explore your spirituality and be part of a social justice movement? Consider joining us, the Visitation Sisters, for a year of service, study and prayer as a Visitation Intern in north Minneapolis. We are taking applications now for September, 2017.

 

To hear more about the program, tune in to VIP Anna Dourgarian reflecting on her year with the Visitation Sisters in north Minneapolis.

ADVENT: TIME OF VIGILING AND WAITING

starry-nightby Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling.

As I began my personal Advent journey this year I realized some of my ways of preparing for this time were marked with the familiar,  such as a place for an Advent wreath in my personal prayer space and gathering a myriad of Scripture guides and seasonal prayer books and photos. Some of these were also different, or new this year. I am using electric candles with my wreath because sometimes in the very early morning hours or late night time I forget to extinguish them before I leave my room and I insist on REAL evergreen boughs because I need the smell to remind me of the season and also of the north woods of the Upper Peninsula where my father was raised. The connection goes deep here because my Dad and his brother and Sister used to cut trees from their property and bring them to Chicago to help the family survive when they were young adults. Since the tradition has continued and my Aunt and her children did the same as I was growing up. As a city cousin, I was overjoyed when they visited us around Thanksgiving to bring their handiwork to my part of the world. Those wreaths funded my cousins’ educations. Memories associated with Advent smells. These are the same and new ones are often added….

It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Many years I have spent the first week of Advent noticing and praising God for the beauty of the early morning and late afternoon skies. What a wonderful contrast of light and dark broken with deep hues of purple, pink, indigo and orange! It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling, particularly with our Sister Mary Margaret as she gains strength daily since her September stroke. I wondered on the first day of Advent if Vigiling was just another word for Waiting…

Vigiling is living the present moment with hope and faith.

dromedaries-carawane-sunset_source-nosadeAs I contemplated these two terms I realized that waiting for the Winter Solstice was very different from vigiling with Mary Margaret. Waiting is something that we do with expectation. It is looking/working toward a specific end. Children wait for Christmas. I wait for a doctor’s appointment or the opening of the drive through window at the bank. Vigiling is something more immediate. It is living the present moment with hope and faith. I am with Sister Mary Margaret as she stands at the parallel bars at physical therapy for the first time; I have faith that the speech therapist will help her understand that swallowing takes daily practice. I pray with her and for her and sometimes with her in the present moments of each of our days. Living the present moments, joyful, sad, filled with laughter or tears is the type of Vigil I am doing this year. A vigil of Presence with Hope. Christmas will be a time to celebrate the incarnation. Camels, sheep, shepherds and kings will adorn my Advent wreath. Reindeer and Santa will be packed away with other decorations but the Hope of Vigiling will remain.

You are Invited to Salesian Second Monday: November 14; 6pm-8pm

Sisters Suzanne and Karen share fellowship with neighbors and friends.

Sisters Suzanne and Karen share fellowship with neighbors and friends.

The Visitation Sisters Invite you to Salesian Second Monday on November 14; 6pm-8pm at Visitation Monastery.

This year’s series is entitled, “LIVING JESUS AS WE MOVE THROUGH OUR DAILY LIFE.” 

The Sisters and their friends will be sharing stories unpacking how they live their spirituality every day, focusing on Gospel Living through a Salesian lens in the marketplace, families and neighborhoods.

We invite you to join us for food and fellowship, input and reflection, before closing our evening with prayer.

Salesian Second Monday

Visitation Monastery — 1619 Girard Avenue North

6pm: Dinner
6:45pm-8pm: Presentation and Prayer

Come for either part, as you are able!
Questions? Call Sr. Suzanne at 612-501-5096.

Door Ministry Changes Lives: OURS, 26 Years ago!

Turning Point Friends: Sr. Mary Frances, Marsha, Dr. Peter Hayden

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Twenty six years ago, on our one-year anniversary in the neighbhorhood, a gentleman by the name of Peter Hayden came to our door with a gift of individual filet mignon steaks for each of us. He also had a request. He told us he had a volunteer opportunity open. We could not imagine what four Caucasian Catholic Sisters could offer Turning Point, a culturally specific African American drug treatment program.

Dr. Hayden’s answer: PRAYER.

Without prayer and spirituality there is no recovery. If you make a commitment to pray daily for my Turning Point Family, we will mow your grass, shovel your walks, move your furniture, load your wood. You name it.”

Thus began a relationship with Turning Point that has lasted twenty six years.   We pray daily for the grace of sobriety for each client, and our brothers answer our calls for help on a regular basis. One of the most humorous was when we accidently landed our car in a snow bank; with one swift lift, three guys freed our vehicle!

(For me, personally, this initial encounter with Peter was a confirmation from the Holy Spirit that we are exactly where She wants us to be.)

Receiving this gift...

Receiving this gift…*

Each year Turning Point honors us Sisters with a gift in appreciation for our prayerful presence. This year it was presented at the Alumni Celebration held at the Urban League*. The beautiful rug we received is a loving and gentle reminder of where we all began: answering the door, welcoming in Jesus. Isn’t it a beautiful marker that might serve as a “welcome mat” for the most seeking among us?

Please join us in prayer for Turning Point — this wonderful organization in our community, that reaches and welcomes and affirms all those in our community desiring transformation, recovery!

 

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*Click to see more pictures from this Turning Point event.

Our Friends: The Ochoa Family

By Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

The Ochoa Family

The Ochoa Family

When Maria and Pedro Ochoa came to Minneapolis in September, 1994 – having fled the turmoil, unrest and violence in their native Guatemala – they were seeking a better life for themselves and their family.

Since then, they’ve learned English, found a job, got an education, secured a driver’s license, bought a house and, oh yes, raised four children. One of them has a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine’s, one is enrolled at the University of Minnesota and two are attending Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, with plans to go to college.

“The Ochoa’s are people of integrity and goodness and faith. They are bringing up their children with values. They are the kind of people we want in the United States.” –S. Mary Virginia speaking to the Ochoa immigration attorney

That’s not bad for a family the U.S. government was seeking to deport in 2007 (Pedro, Maria and the oldest daughter, Marilyn). Not only did they not get deported, they became U.S. citizens, thanks to their dogged persistence and perseverance and a little help from the Visitation Sisters.

The family first met the Sisters at Ascension Church in 2003 and they sponsored the Ochoa girls to the Catholic Youth Camp on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, MN.   Marilyn recalls they had a fine time and tried to repay the Sisters by doing chores around their house.

Pedro Jr., 14, remembers getting gifts from the Sisters, including Halloween costumes, swim togs and school supplies. “I think I always got my school supplies from the Sisters,” he says. “I don’t think we ever bought ‘em.” He’s now a freshman at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and his sister, Andrea, is a senior there, with plans to become a pediatrician.

Another daughter, Silvia, 20, is attending the University of Minnesota, majoring in economics. Marilyn, 24, has an undergraduate degree in theology and chemistry from St. Catherine’s University and now works at North Point Clinic. She’s planning to attend the University of Minnesota and enroll in the School of Pharmacy.

Pedro Ochoa, Sr.

Pedro Ochoa, Sr.

Pedro Sr. works for a medical company, Mar Cor, that makes filtration and purification systems, some of which are used in portable dialysis machines. For Pedro, this is the job he’s wanted after years of working for firms where he waxed floors, cleaned buildings and catered meals.

“I like the company,” he says, “because when you’re in the medical field there’s always business and customers. And you are helping sick people. I’ve been to a clinic to see those we are helping with our dialysis machines. I always try to do my best.”

Doing his best didn’t stop U.S. immigration authorities from starting deportation proceedings, contending the Ochoa’s no longer needed asylum in the U.S. and had no green cards.

The family hired a lawyer to make their case: They were working, paying taxes, obeying the laws, raising good children, being helpful neighbors and honoring their new country. The lawyer cost money and so would someone to translate Spanish documents into English and vice versa. Enter Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt.  

“She speaks and understands Spanish really good,” Ochoa says. “When we were threatened with deportation, she was right there by our side. All our documents had to be translated and that would have cost us a fortune. Sister Mary Virginia did that for nothing.”

She says the pleasure was hers.

“Their lawyer asked me why I was doing this,” says Schmidt. “I replied that the Ochoa’s are people of integrity and goodness and faith. They are bringing up their children with values. They are the kind of people we want in the United States.

“When they (authorities) dropped the deportation orders, Pedro and Maria took me to lunch and we celebrated. The day they became U.S. citizens, I wasn’t there. But we (the Sisters) celebrated with them later.”

Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Katherine on the day of Sylvia Ochoa's quiñcinera

Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Katherine on the day of Sylvia Ochoa’s quiñcinera

Schmidt says the family continues to be involved with the monastery. “Whatever the event, they are here. They help us in our monastery and show up for everything, including the Halloween costume giveaway.”

The Ochoa’s have lived on the Northside for 15years, well aware of the crime that sometimes plagues the neighborhood (Pedro’s car windshield has been smashed a half-dozen times). But they have no plans to leave.

“The transportation is good (bus). We have some fine neighbors,” says Ochoa. “And we’re following the advice we got from the Sisters: It doesn’t matter where you live. It’s how you live that matters.

His family is the living proof.

***********************************************************************************************************

* This is the ninth 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. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

“All in the Family”

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

Sr. Karen and Sr. Susan Marie

“In the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales”: Sr. Karen and Sr. Susan Marie on the Old Town Annecy Bridge

Trips to special places are not complete until a photo is taken at a memorable location.

Two of the photos shown here are from a favorite “photo op” site in Annecy, France, birthplace of the Visitation Order.   Sr. Susan Marie from our Visitation Monastery in Brooklyn, my brother Michael, a faculty member at the St. Louis Visitation, and I are standing on the bridge in front of the once -used prison built in the canal in old town Annecy. St. Francis de Sales visited prisoners there, we are told. The three of us had spent this hot summer afternoon  “in the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales”, and we even took a cruise on Lake Annecy. My joy expanded as we explored our Salesian family roots together before beginning a workshop on the Treatise on the Love of God.

Michael and Sr. Susan Marie

Michael and Sr. Susan Marie

Being there with Michael, Sr. Susan Marie, three other Visitation Sisters and other “Salesians” made it feel like my own version of “All in the Family”!

We spent a week of study and prayer with lay and religious members of this “family”. Our “household” included a retired professor from Ireland, sisters from Madagascar, lay women and men belonging to the Society of St. Francis de Sales, priests and brothers from S. Africa, India, Brazil and even a bishop from the Philippines! All of us were hoping to deepen our understanding of this 400 hundred-year-old masterpiece on love. Thanks to the efforts of several American

"All in the family."

“All in the family:” our global Visitation “household”! 

Oblate of St. Francis de Sales scholars and the generosity of their superior general, Fr. Aldino, this hope was realized.

The week included prayer, input and small discussion groups, and opportunities to explore the town.

This “All in the Family” study week offered me a unique way of appreciating the Spirit alive and active through my broader Salesian family….and that was a blessing.

 

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To read other blogs by Sr. Karen Mohan, and other community members on their pilgrimage experiences, click here.

 

Interested in becoming a Visitation Companion? Sign up for the Fall Formation Group today!

Vis Companions PanoramaAre you a northside resident called to deepen your spiritual life? Does growing in faith alongside –and anchored by – the prayers of a religious, monastic community appeal to you?
Does study of Salesian Spirituality feel like the next step in your faith journey? Do you desire a community with whom you will serve, and reflect, on a regular basis?

Consider joining the Visitation Companions.

A new Vis Companions formation group is starting in October. The commitment is:

  • a monthly small group meeting, (usually on Saturday afternoons for nine months)
  • featuring:
    • input
    • prayer and study
    • and time for personal sharing and reflection.

For more information about Joining Visitation Companions, please contact Jody Johnson at jodyreis(at)yahoo.com or 651-219-3167