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! 

 

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! 

Fed by God’s abundance –A Holiday Outreach letter from S. Mary Frances

In Thanksgiving!

A tradition bridging and feeding communities

Greetings and Blessings to faithful visitors to our website, Facebook, Twitter, and on and on!

We are on the threshold of that time of year when we celebrate cherished holiday traditions with family and friends— a time to hold close the relationships we treasure. Over the years we and our neighbors here in North Minneapolis have ‘grown’ a cycle of traditions that have bound us together as community.

“Gain hearts by kindness.” — St. Jane de Chantal

Many years ago, as campus minister at Visitation Grade and High School in Mendota Heights, I coordinated many holiday outreach projects and was constantly amazed by the generosity of these young people and their families.

I will never forget the wise words of Archbishop John R. Roach at our all school Mass. Standing before the vast array of food that had been collected, he said,

“Young People, this is great, but I want you to know that while this abundance represents an act of charity and love, it is also a work of justice— an opportunity to see that all will be fed with God’s abundance.

Turkey Tuesday Abundance

Turkey Tuesday Abundance

When I moved to North Minneapolis to found an urban monastery with three other Sisters from St. Louis, Mendota Visitation followed us. My ‘guestimate’ is that roughly 80 percent of Mendota Vis outreach takes place here. This sharing of abundance continues to this day, and we and our neighbors in North Minneapolis are the grateful recipients of this outpouring of love as a bridge is built between our two communities.

For the past 25 years, Visitation has partnered with our neighbors carrying out a wonderful annual tradition to deliver about 125 Thanksgiving baskets to people in need of a good holiday family meal. Students pair off with neighbors, go to the homes and share a prayer along with a basket with groceries, a turkey and a baking pan. This tradition has brought folks together who might not otherwise have met.

After the turkey and trimmings have been enjoyed, the Sisters are still here to companion and affirm our neighbors in their goodness and love.

Several other community building traditions have grown up. As the holidays progress, we hope to share photos of some the activities as they unfold.

St. Jane de Chantal has a maxim that applies here: “Gain hearts by kindness.” Many relationships have grown and deepened through the years because of simple acts of kindness on the part of Mendota Visitation and many others. After the turkey and trimmings have been enjoyed, the Sisters are still here to companion and affirm our neighbors in their goodness and love. That is the joy of living here.

I want to thank ahead of time the hundreds (thousands?) of people who have helped us develop cherished holiday traditions with our neighbors! We call it HOPE! We call it JUSTICE! We call it LOVE!

Happy Holidays!

Mary Frances Reis, VHM

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.

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

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.

Celebrating our 25th Anniversary in the Heart of north Minneapolis

Today, the Feast of Guardian Angels, we mark our 25th year as a monastic community in the heart of north Minneapolis. The following history and images come from our archives, and are accompanied by pictures snapped at today’s Foundation Day mass.

25th Anniversary Mass

Foundation Day Mass 2014: A panoramic shot of our Salesian community gathered at Girard House.

***

From the archives: Founding Sisters "bond" with community members.

1989: Founding Sisters “bond” with local members of the police force.

On September 29, 1989, Sisters Mary Margaret, Karen and Mary Virginia said tearful good byes to their beloved St. Louis Visitation to come to establish, with Sr. Mary Frances, the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

“Directed by the Holy Spirit through the ten years of discernment that preceded this foundation, we came with no other plan than to be faithful to our monastic way of life, which is centered on prayer and community, and to welcome and listen to those who came to our door. (Jesus promised us He would be there!) By faithfully listening to our neighbors, our agenda began to gradually unfold.”
– S. Mary Frances reflects on the founding of the monastery in our fall 2013 newsletter

Fr. Mike Newman, OSFS, presides at our Foundation Day mass with guests from our Visitation and Salesian Communities across the United States.

Fr. Mike Newman, OSFS, presides at our Foundation Day mass with guests from our Visitation and Salesian Communities across the United States.

On October 2, 1989Feast of the Guardian Angels,  Archbishop John R. Roach commissioned the Sisters to bring the gentle, non-violent charism of their founders to this inner city community. In his words, “I am happy I am sending the angels with you!.”

 

Click here to read more about the “Quarter-Century Marking”  of our northside ministry of prayer and presence: Fall 2013 Newsletter

 

Click here to see more photos from today’s Foundation Day Mass. 

“I am thankful for YOU!” — Gratitude inspired by St. Francis de Sales

From Guest Blogger Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna, Student at St. Louis University

Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna; St. Louis University Student

Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna; St. Louis University Student

Marvel at God’s goodness. ~St. Francis de Sales

Thanksgiving week is finally here and from a school and work perspective, I could not be more ready.  But, as I sit here, admittedly listening to Christmas music, I realize I am not truly ready.  It almost seems trite.  Thanksgiving’s not about the food, it’s about God. Sometimes, that’s hard to completely soak up.  We are thankful for God and all He has done, like provide the food and football.  The truth is, there is so much more to God’s work than the food, but sometimes, it can be hard to recognize.

We can make lists of all the things we are thankful for, say prayers of thanksgiving for all we have received, but all that recognizes the past. What about the present moment?  How can we experience gratitude for moments as they happen, not hours later when it is time for bed?  How can we “marvel at God’s goodness” as St. Francis de Sales suggests?

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

Every Thanksgiving, we are surrounded by incredible people.  They are family, friends, children of God.  All who gather on Thanksgiving represent an everyday piece of God’s goodness on a special day that allows us time to actually take in their spirits.  Thursday, and all this week, take time to experience the love and joy of the people around them.  Realize moments of gratitude and savor them as they happen.  Marvel at the incredible life God has placed before you, and all the amazing people who have graced it.  Be Thankful. Be Grateful.  Be Marveled.

V+J
Peace,
Claire

Snapshots from the Sisters: Title This!

Photo by Brian Mogren, Visitation Companion

On Saturday,  November 10, 2012, the Visitation Sisters held their annual “Winter Weather Clothing Giveaway” –sponsored by the Mendota Heights Visitation Campus Ministry. Over 600 gently used coats were collected by girls from Visitation School and handed out at the Girard Avenue Monastery. (Thank you girls!) Here Lenzel, Sister Mary Frances, Vis Companion Christi, and Vis student don some funny hats. Care to provide a caption below?

Care to provide a creative caption?

Care to provide a creative caption?

To see more pictures from this day, check out the “Coat Giveaway Preparation” album at our facebook page.

Thresholds: On the Theology of Letting Go

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Whew, talk about thresholds, nothing seems so cyclical as the start of the school year to give a gentle and stunning reminder of the sacred walk of liminal space. When you are no longer on one side of the bridge and are yet to reach the other end, you my friend are indeed in the glorious and troublesome in-between space of becoming. Some argue this is a constant if you are to truly live out your vocation of being authentically human and real.

NNOP2012.lChildren in north Minneapolis mark this threshold by attending the back to school party the Sisters host where supplies are given to prepare them for the doorways they are about to cross. We give children not only school supplies, but also we hope, coping supplies to handle the nervouseness, the anxiety, the anticipation, the excitement, the dread, the unknown of what will this next year at this school hold for me? Will I be loved? Will I be recognized? Will I have friends? Will I find familiar faces in my classroom? On my playground? In my neighborhood? Will my teacher like me? Can I go from getting into trouble a lot to no longer? Will people recognize the change, the growth, the maturity that the bounty of summer has graced me with as green leaves give way to fall colors? Will my reputation proceed me? Or my brother or sister’s reputation light the path for me or cause me to work extra hard to change perceptions laid? Will my mom and dad be ok without me? What will after school feel like when I have worked hard all day to hold it together for my new teacher? My new classmates? My new environment? Will my gifts of bug catching, noticing colors, recognizing faces, making friends, be honored and encouraged? Will my teacher, my principal, my school be a nice place to spend a lot of my time? Will I feel safe and loved enough to be authentically myself?

St. Francis de Sales instructs how to calm the anxious nervous energies of our little ones by role modeling inner peace for them, we invite them into the calm:

Finding Inner Peace

“Do not anticipate the events of this life with anxiety, but await them with a sure hope that as they occur, God to whom we belong will deliver you from them. God has protected you up to now, just hold on securely to the hands of Divine Providence which will help you in every circumstances, carrying you when you cannot walk. So do not think what would happen tomorrow, for the same eternal Father who takes care of you today will look out for you tomorrow and every day, either protecting you from evil or giving you invincible courage to bear it. Remain at peace then, and remove from your imagination whatever could trouble you.

Belong totally to God, think of God who will be thinking of you. God has drawn you to Himself so that you may belong to Him and God will take care of you. Do not be afraid, for as little chicks feel perfectly safe when they are under their mother’s wings, how secure should the children of God feel under His maternal protection, so be at peace, since you are one of His little children, and let your weary restless heart rest against this sacred loving breast of your Savior, who by His providence is a Father to His children and by gentle tender love is a Mother to them.

First thing in the morning, prepare your heart to be at peace and take great care throughout the day to call it back to that peace frequently, so to speak to take your heart back in your hand. If you happen to do something that you regret, you need not be astonished nor upset, but having acknowledge to your failing, humble yourself gently before God and try to regain your composure. Say to yourself, “there we have made a mistake, but let’s go on now and be more careful”. Every time you fall do the same.

When you innerly peaceful, don’t miss the opportunity to act as gently as you can and as frequently as you can, no matter how insignificant the occassion may be, for as our Lord says: “To the person who is faithflul in little things, greater one will be given”.Often says in the midst trials: This is the way to heaven, I see the port ahead and I’m sure that storms cannot prevent me from reaching it.

“My eyes are always on the Lord who frees my feet from the trap”. If you’ve been caught in the trap of life’s difficulties, well, you must not look at your own situation nor the trap that holds you, look at God, let God act and take care of you, cast your burden on the Lord who will nurse you. Why get involved in the pros and cons of things that happening in your life that is out of your control? You don’t really know what is ultimately the best. And God will manage quite well without You putting yourself to a trouble. SO with your mind at peace, await whatever happens. Let the Divine Will be enough for you, since it is always very good.

As God directed St. Catherine of Siena: “Think of me, and I will think of you”.

So as our children begin school, assure them that our bonds defy distance. That God’s love for them shown through our love ofNNOP2012.m them protects and surrounds them with light, love and the courage to learn and grow. That sharing their gifts makes them authentically who they are called to be on earth. That the thread attached to our hearts unravels outward with them as they join their wider community where they share what makes them shine with others. We can watch in amazement, gratitude, and excitement that what was once will never be again. And trust with inner peace that what they are becoming will become again even more beautiful, fiercely dear, and wildly wonderful. We walk in faith with our children’s growth of becoming. It is a walk into the holy liminal space of inner peace. Cultivate inner peace. Pray for it. Share it with our children.

“Help One Another Find God” – Claire Kranz Reflects on words from St. Jane de Chantal

Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna

Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna

From Guest Blogger Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna, Student at St. Louis University

“We are companions on the journey, given to one another as helpers in doing God’s work.” ~St. Jane de Chantal.

During my senior year of high school at Visitation, I reflected on a Salesian quote or thought weekly and shared it with a few friends.  Now, three years later, I am bringing this practice back, and you are those with whom I have chosen to share it.  I am no where near an expert in Salesian Spirituality, but I have found that it is the strongest and truest force driving me in the way I live my life.  With this sharing, I hope that we all can take time to reflect and refocus on Sunday evenings before a busy week of classes and work begins allowing us to take a thought with us to strengthen us throughout this week.

“Salesian Spirituality… is the strongest and truest force driving me in the way I live my life.” — Claire Kranz

To the quote…

St. Jane de Chantal

St. Jane de Chantal

St. Jane de Chantal shares with us our truest and most important job here on earth, to be friends and walk with each other on our journey to find Jesus in our everyday lives.  Too often, I find myself overwhelmed with homework, activities, and just the daily grind of life.  I forget that my job is to simply to be present for other people as they do the same for me.  It is a simple and comforting idea.  If we can keep that in the forefront of our minds, our job is to help one another find God, and also remember that there are others who are doing the same for us, hopefully, we can find a little more peace and simplicity in all this chaos.

Peace and Prayers for a great week!

V+J.

Claire