Will Wallace

Will Wallace and Dave Nimmer

Will Wallace and Dave Nimmer

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hey Soul Sister: Visitation School Senior Video Reflects Service Immersion Experience

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

The following video, produced by Visitation School Senior Julia Sullivan, features images from the students’ experiences juxtaposed with the songs “Affirmation” — the Visitation School song;  and “Hey Soul Sister” by Plain White T’s. We hope you enjoy it!

*From May 26-June 4, 2015:

–Nine Vis Seniors had a more in depth experience of our neighborhood and the people who are our neighbors;
–They had many opportunities to serve the community, to interact with young children, other teens and senior citizens;
–They had opportunities to spread the Salesian spirit of gentle presence.
–They had an opportunity to build community with one another and with the Sisters.
–It was  lots of FUN and a great contribution to North Minneapolis!
-S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

 

Nine Mendota Visitation High Seniors Encounter North Minneapolis Neighbors!

by S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

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

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

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

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

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

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

From May 26-June 4, 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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