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.

No Place Like Home

by Sister Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Greetings and, on behalf of all the Sisters, a most Blessed New Year to everyone “in the Cave and in the Cosmos”! Advent 2017 was a precious and sacred moment in our community (you can catch a glimpse in this blog). Believe it or not, we are now journeying with the Magi to the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and yes, we’ll be tucking away the decorations and décor of the Season for another year!

The month of December brought hope and joy to the children and parents of our neighborhood community.  Sponsor a Family MN, Visitation School in Mendota, the St. Thomas Beckett and St. Girard faith communities, and dozens of others made it happen.  All culminated with a combined prayer-service-and-Santa-visit at our Fremont house… which brings me to the New Year!

For the new year, we have chosen our overarching theme:

HOME

Home, in its many dimensions.

Each Sister painted a house in honor of their monastery and neighborhood homes

Wendy Wright, Salesian scholar and friend, puts it succinctly:

“The Home as an image can reflect a sense of identity and meaning-making that contains within itself a clue to the way we understand ourselves in the world.” 

This theme of home will begin with the living spaces of the Sisters at Fremont and Girard.  We want to make whatever adjustments necessary to ensure that we remain a place of unconditional welcome and prayer, and at the same time attend to the care of our Sisters.  What this means in reality is for the Holy Spirit to share! Keep tuned!

We are in relationship with many home communities in the neighborhood, with those who open their doors to shelter the homeless and those who struggle to have a roof over their heads.  As we look at our own living space, we need to be attentive to those who yearn for affordable housing for their families.

Early in the new year, we will begin to address issues surrounding our focus on home. Both through advocacy and through sharing of our resources, we hope to make a small contribution to the housing crisis in our own city. Please join us in prayer and action as we move forward. We’ll keep you posted on the unfolding. We are deeply grateful for your partnership with us!

Homeless Jesus Statue, St. Mary’s Basilica, Minneapolis
Representing everyone in need of a home.
Photo courtesy of http://www.mary.org/

Advent in Hindsight: How the Sisters Prepared for Christmas

One of my favorite parts of the monastery lifestyle on Fremont and Girard is the Sisters’ prayerful attention to detail. Every flower, every candle, every table centerpiece is chosen with care. This spirit is especially evident during Advent, when the Christmas hustle and bustle must somehow be balanced by a special focus on the birth of Christ. How did the Sisters choose to spend their Advent of 2017?

 

Visitation Companion Retreat

One of the main tenets of the Visitation mission is supporting spirituality among laypeople, so the Sisters nurture a community of lay neighbors called the Visitation Companions. This Advent, Sister Suzanne guided the Vis Companions in a prayerful exploration of the personal darkness that precedes the light of Christ. She asked, “As a beloved child of God, what gifts has God given me to make Christ alive in the darkness?”

 

Sponsor a Family

Scripture from the first Saturday of Advent implored, “Freely you have received; freely you are to give.” The Sisters love to encourage this circle of generosity. This Advent, the Sisters helped bridge the generosity and needs of neighbors by participating in the Sponsor a Family initiative, where friends with surplus could support friends who were lacking. The Sisters arranged partnerships between friends.

For instance, Bill drove Linda to pick up gifts for Linda’s family.

 

Cosmic Advent Wreath

Inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, the Sisters centered their devotion on God’s creation. “Let us sing as we go,” Pope Francis wrote. “May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” The Sisters’ mantra was “From Cave to Cosmos” as they reflected on their personal relationship with the universe. Each Sister built a small cave for her prayer table to focus her meditation, and each took a “hermit” day to separate herself from the household activity and pray.

 

Christmas Tree

The Sisters ended Advent and welcomed the season of Christmas by setting up their Christmas tree. They befriended the man who helped them pick it out, and friends helped them set it up. Every ornament is a gift from a friend, as is the firewood that burns in the fireplace beside it. Thus the festive Fremont living room embodies the Salesian virtues of simplicity, hospitality, and joy.

 

Children’s Prayer Service

In the old Windsock tradition, the Sisters hosted a prayer service for neighborhood children where they sang, played, and prayed together. Students from Visitation School in Mendota Heights contributed a personally-decorated stocking full of gifts for each child. It was a gentle, strong reminder that Christmas is a special opportunity for us to celebrate God.

Advent Week IV: My Birth

This Advent was especially short, and we only had one day to celebrate its fourth week; however, the shortness of the week did not diminish the importance of the fourth theme: Birth of Self into the Cosmos. This theme reminds us as individuals to stop and enjoy creation in our everyday lives, as we each play a part in the continuation of the grand Universe.

As inspiration to treasure the Universe, we pray:

4 Cosmic Candles, Girard House

COME Ever-Present, Ever-Coming Christ

Today as we light the candle of My Birth into the Whole Cosmic Body of the Universe, we are aware You accepted me in my most naked being of beginning. Now, joined to all being and in conscious loving trust, we pray to move forward on the great journey of life-into-death-into-new life. We believe all life came from You and is forever on a journey back to You.

COME waken us to Wonder

 

This blog post concludes the Advent series as the Sisters journeyed from Cave to Cosmos. The Cosmic Advent wreath featured candles colored for a series of births throughout our blessed history: blue for the universe, green for the solar system, red for Jesus Christ, and amber for ourselves. We thank you for journeying with us, and we wish you a holy and merry Christmas.

Advent Week III: Birth of Jesus Christ

With our Cosmic Advent Wreath, we pondered first the Birth of the Universe and then the Birth of the Solar System; now, this week, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus. It is a reminder that God cared enough for us, His creation, to send His son to help us grow. It is our honor to pass that care and devotion on to the rest of creation around us.

This week, we pray in the words of John Kavanaugh, SJ:

Cosmic Advent Wreath, Fremont House

 

COME Risen Christ Incarnate Love

Today as we light the candle of the Birth of Jesus the Christ, we pray to “fall in love once again with the Great Mystery of God’s care for us — Divine Incarnation so deep and long —  as to take on our bodied lives as God’s very own, even our most humble beginnings and endings, and finally, see each day as opportunity to bear Christ ever newly.”

COME, waken us to Love.

 

 

A final word: It might come as a surprise that the Birth of Jesus is Week III and not Week IV. Why not celebrate this theme closer to Christmas (it is His birthday, after all!)? There is a reason. Stay tuned for next Sunday’s theme — it is a beautiful culmination of this Advent prayer journey.

Advent Week II: Birth of the Solar System

Last week, Sister Mary Frances explained how the Sisters are using the time of Advent to explore the grandness of the universe in a personal way. In particular, they are focusing on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si on caring for our environment.

Laudato Si is the source of the words in their prayer for the second week of Advent. The theme is Birth of the Solar System, which reminds us of the beauty of our earthly home. They are praying,

Cosmic Advent Wreath, Girard House

 

COME Wondrous Community of Infinite Love

Today as we light the candle of the Birth of the Solar System, we pray, “Triune God, wondrous community of infinite love, teach us to contemplate You in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of You. Awaken our praise and thankfulness for every being that you have made. Give us the grace to feel profoundly connected to everything that is.”

COME, waken us to PRAISE