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.

What we see: Prayer in a time of violence

Peace of Christ

Peace: Wednesday Noon Prayer Intention

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I imagine him standing at his kitchen sink. Maybe he’s stirring up a glass of orange juice to go with a late morning lunch –something to satiate his thirst before he has to go to work. From the kitchen window of his garden level apartment he sees a police officer shoot a young man running the other direction. It’s noon on Saturday, August 9, 2014,  and the community of Ferguson, Missouri, is about to change. This citizen, who goes by the name “Bruh” @TheePharoah on Twitter, has a literal grass-roots-level view of his neighborhood –just beyond the barred windows of his home. In a moment of social connectivity, he documents this experience from his perspective.

I try to imagine the night Toua Xiong was killed delivering pizzas in north Minneapolis. What it would have been like had I been standing at my kitchen window looking out and seen the teenage boy shot.  Or the moment Chris Dozier’s life came to an end in an alley off 14th and Plymouth. Or the late afternoon Marcus White was got caught in crossfire near West Broadway and Dupont. Or the evening Quincy DeShawn Smith’s life came to an abrupt halt in spite of police intervention. As former students in my 10th grade English class at North High, these young men’s deaths come to the fore and evoke my prayerful attention whenever headline news and social media report on gun violence in our world.

What does a witness to gun violence experience on a visceral level? On an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual level? What does he or she internalize in the aftermath of such a violent encounter? How does our prayer take shape in the wake of violence? How do we pray for survivors of such traumatic events — and the victims and perpetrators themselves?

Ferguson: A grass-roots level perspective

Each Wednesday, the Sisters devote their noon prayer to peace in the world. They pause at the lunch hour to remember God’s grace and goodness and love pouring out for all of us. As they chant the psalms, they hold the root causes of violence in their hearts, and give voice to personal intentions of people suffering and struggling to find peace. They seek to transform the world through prayer.

This past week, our noon liturgy in the Fremont House chapel was blessed by a few new guests that rounded out our prayerful pause. The Sisters sat in their usual chairs, as Roselaine* — a friend of S. Mary Frances’ who works for the Minneapolis police – sidled in beside me on the bench, followed by Jermaine* and Denzell* – two twelve year old boys we know from our neighborhood gardening evenings.

My heart was near to bursting at the outset. The configuration of pink and brown-skinned people convened in the chapel choir stalls enacting a centuries-old ritual of chant and silence moved me — especially in light of recent headlines reporting racial injustice and dehumanizing circumstances in our world.

I prayed for Gawolo, a former northside Teen Group participant I knew who had posted on Facebook that he was down in Ferguson, Missouri. I prayed for all those marching for human dignity and justice. I prayed for Roselaine, and her counterparts in our local police force as they go about their work of keeping safe the community. I prayed for “Bruh” in Missouri and his Twitter followers; I prayed for the officer who shot an unarmed Mike Brown. I prayed for my former students whose lives had all come to an end because of a fired bullet in the hand of an an angry person. I prayed for all who witness, wonder and grieve.

Honoring life: memorial site of a young person who died from gun violence in north Minneapolis.

Honoring life: memorial site for a young person who died from gun violence in north Minneapolis.

***

It was after prayer, sitting on the front porch enjoying jelly toast, chicken salad and lunchtime conversation, that Jermaine spoke up –and my intentions for peace continued.

“I’ve seen someone get killed,” he said.  The 12 year old boy, just days shy of starting sixth grade, sat squarely in the white whicker chair and shared his first hand experience witnessing gun violence.

He told us: It was broad day light. Near a corner store. Bullets passed him as he walked along the sidewalk. He described a man grabbing him and pulling him down – out of the way of the gunfire.

My eyes went to Jermaine’s. His direct, unabashed, unwavering, piercing brown-eyed gaze. I took note of his friend Denzell’s floor-directed stare. I wondered about what all these young boys’ eyes would see in their lifetime.

These stories of death, of witnessing violence, of being privy to gunshots and brutality – as part of everyday life, I want them to stop.

My prayer continues.

*names have been changes to protect the privacy of the persons. 

Honoring Our Brother Brian Mogren, aka. “Mr. St. Jane House.”

2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Human Services Award recipient Brian Mogren surrounded by family, collaborators and northside friends.

He’s making the news, this time being seen for his role in supporting our northside brothers and sisters. We couldn’t be prouder of our dear friend, lay companion and brother, Brian Mogren, who was honored this week with the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award.

“I accepted the award on behalf of everyone I conspire for good with on the north side. It truly takes a village and I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of extraordinary people doing important and good work.” – Brian Mogren, Visitation Companion, St. Jane House Director

As director of St. Jane House, Brian exudes the charism of our Visitation order in and through his hospitality, service and quiet leadership. We can only imagine our co-founders St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales smiling broadly down on our brother Brian this day — as he goes about building relationships and “Living+Jesus” in North Minneapolis — and beyond!

We invite you to get to know our dear friend and Visitation Companion who resides just two blocks away from our monastery in the St. Jane House. Come and pray with him on Tuesday morning at Centering Prayer. Or treat yourself to an afternoon of reflection or overnight stay under the hospitable care of brother Brian — and learn first hand what his heart and mind are up to as he seeks to “be who he is, and be that well”.

Read more about Brian and the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award:

 

Engage with Us: Summer Volunteer Opportunities

Service Immersion: Welcome to the Class of 2013 Visitation School Seniors!

Service Immersion: Welcome to the Class of 2013 Visitation School Seniors!

Come and pray with us! Come and serve!
Come and join us!

As we welcome the Visitation School students – here for their Senior Apostolic Service experience and urban plunge – and with Memorial Day rapidly approaching,  we know summer is right around the corner! The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis would like to invite you to prayerfully consider ways that you might engage with us these warm weather summer months.

ONGOING OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Join the Sisters for Prayer and/or Masses: The Sisters pray four times a day at the monastery; Centering Prayer is every Tuesday morning at 8am at St. Jane House. Call ahead if possible. Contact: Sr. Mary Frances Reis: maryfranreis@aol.com, 612.521.6113.
  • First Friday Adoration and Mass:    10:30 a.m. the first Friday of each of each month. Call ahead if possible.
  • Cursillo Men Prayer Time: 7:00 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month: Time of prayer and fellowship. Call ahead if possible.
  • Code Red: Join with the mother’s of From Death to Life and others (MAD Dads) to pray for peace and be a silent witness: Second Saturday of each month. Prayer 1⁄2 hour, stand near Broadway 1 hr. Contact: Sr. Mary Margaret.
  • Movies with Jane: Join with others at St. Jane House to watch a selected movie and then discuss. See the St. Jane House Facebook Events page  for more information or contact Brian Mogren at:
  • Books with Jane: Join with others at St. Jane House to discuss a selected book. See St. Jane House Facebook Events page for more information or contact Brian Mogren.
  • Mentor a Neighborhood Individual or Family: Establish an ongoing relationship with a neighborhood individual or family. Examples: Teach how to clean house gutters, make small repairs; Teach how to budget or make meals from scratch; tutoring, etc.    Contact: Sr. Suzanne.
  • Sisters Garden: Help plant and weed the gardens at Fremont House. Contact: Sr. Suzanne.
  • Door Ministry: Greet visitors to the monastery; Hand out tokens or cub cards; Pray with visitors; Training provided. Contact: Sr. Suzanne.
  • Library Assistant: Help with dewy decimal labels; Record new books on spreadsheet; Help shelve returned books/dvds/cds/vhs. Contact: Sr. Mary Virginia.
  • Family River Cook outs: Invite a neighborhood family to join you at a cook out down by the river. Purchase and make food; Plan some games. Contact: Sr. Suzanne.

MAY-JUNE-JULY-AUGUST EVENTS

The sisters have a whole list of events that require volunteers this summer. Please see our calendar as we update it. Here’s a sampling of upcoming activities:

  • Friday, May 24, 1pm: Women’s Retreat Set Up Contact Sr. Suzanne.
  • Saturday, June 8, Neighborhood Mothers March for Peace Contact: Sr. Mary Margaret
  • Sunday, June 9, St. Jane House 5th Anniversary Party Contact: Sr. Karen Mohan
  • June 15-21,  Camp de Sales Contact Sr. Karen Mohan
  • June 16 and 29: Provide rides for Youth in Theology and Ministry to St. John’s University
    Contact: Sr. Katherine Mullin
  • Heart to Heart Ministry: Visitation Co-founders Sts Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal

    Heart to Heart Ministry: Visitation Co-founders Sts Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal

    June (date to be determined) Catholic Youth Camp Send-off Contact: Sr. Mary Frances

  • June (date to be determined): Back to Summer Party! Contact: Sr. Mary Frances
  • Water Park Chaperone Contact Sr. Karen Mohan
  • August (2nd week) Neighborhood Night of Peace Contact: Sr. Mary Frances
  • August (date to be determined): Valley Fair Family Fun Day Contact: Sr. Mary Frances
  • August (date to be determined): Back to School Party! Contact: Sr. Mary Frances

“An action of small value performed with much love of God is far more excellent than one of a higher virtue, done with less love of God.” – St. Francis de Sales

Surprised by Joy

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

A young woman discerning her life said, “I remember adults asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up?” She recalled a moment when her mom suggested a vocation based on her interests. This exchange set a path for her from an early age that she worked religiously toward. She had the aptitude, the success to back the endeavor, and it was not until nearly a decade later she realized she was missing a key ingredient to her pursuit; joy.

We are so concerned as a society with what we do as a means for defining who we are that we forget to be. Perhaps this concern bordering on obsession stems from the Puritan roots of Plymouth Rock that implored good deeds would earn us our grace and redemption. A modern day translation of this thought, that our actions speak louder than words. That we need to earn not only God’s grace and benevolence, but others as well can lead to what Thomas Merton poetically refers to as a “violence of the self.”

Other cultures, other places, outside of the United States view the question, “What do you do?” with disdain, bordering on rudeness. “Be who you are and be that perfectly well,” implores St. Francis de Sales–that perfection and humanness go hand in hand is inviting, even daring us to let go of our Martha-ness and bask in our Mary vibe. Or at the very least to balance the two inclinations: doing with the grace of being.

Yet is discernment a luxury? Are all invited into the conversation on equal footing based on our Baptismal calls? Or even before baptism based on being human? Are those children that grow up in poverty asked enough to dream about what they might want to become? While this question posed at an early age can be restrictive for some, could it implore others? Dare I ask, does socio-economic class matter when the question is posed?

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Fr. Michael O’Connell gave another zinger of a homily this week in reference to Prophet Amos. He started his homily recounting yet another murder of a young person on the north side, this time outside of Ascension’s Church doors. He proclaimed from the pulpit that most of the violence that occurs in north Minnepolis stems from kids under 18 who have dropped out of school. He went on to say, “That as adults guiding our young it is up to us to make sure they get an education.” He invited the congregation present to think about Ascension School, which if needed can be fully subsidized. “A place where 60 more chairs sit empty. A place where 90 percent of the graduating class goes on to pursue college. 90% people!” He was emphatic that as parents it is up to us to guide our children, and to make sure they are being guided by other trustworthy adults.

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Rumblings in my soul rose up as I reflected on our move two years ago from Santa Fe back to St. Paul largely because of education. Were we shortsighted? Had we overreacted? We gave up more organic outdoor access for a more formal education…was it really this important? According to Fr. O’Connell it was. It is.

While some relish summer, others abhor it. Long windows of unstructured time for youth with a lack of outlets in north Minneapolis leads to an increase in violence. Children are therefore at risk for being hurt, killed or being the one to hurt or kill. Is too much being and not enough doing part of the culprit? Could tightening the tension between being and doing lead to safer summers for children in north Minneapolis? One friend commented, “Money is good for education and travel, after that it only creates distance between people.” The distance right now is too grave not to respond. Education done well, at its best leads a learner toward joy. Deep joy. Let us, adults, be modern day Amos’ and rise up so that quality education invites the children of north Minnepolis to begin to dream about what they want to be, and also relax in the hammock of grace that who they are is already “perfectly well.”

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

___________________

Title “Surprised by Joy” borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life

The Vowed Life

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Where do our vows begin?

Practicing our commitments start long before they are actualized. Long before we may even know what we want to become or more importantly who we are to become.

First I do Proclamation in Crazy Coupe Car

First I do Proclamation in Cozy Coupe Car

In the green carpet of closely shaved grass I watched my one year old purposely and excitedly walk around his cozy coupe car and climb inside proudly proclaiming “I do,” as much to himself as to others in his proximity. I watch his feet feel the uneven ground. His sway teeters side to side, his gaze is focused on the task at hand. His first verbal “I do,” to match all the I-doing he has done for the past three months. This is the beginning of a refrain I know I will hear for the upcoming year. We are entering the phase where I back up and watch him do.

In that swift brushstroke of cut-grass-clinging-to-bare-feet-of-a-moment, I realize we start practicing our vows, our commitments long before we choose them or they claim us. We begin vocational practice with our one-year-old phase of “I Dos!” and grow them.

“I do,” an assertion of our autonomous self on any and all chosen tasks. An attitude, which often overrides frustrations, which compels us to practice the mundane until mastery, and which builds a pride and self-confidence that imprints upon our cellular memory.

However, autonomy only exists in relationship with community, and our verbal proclamations exist only in relationship with silence. I spent a morning at Clouds in Water Zen to steep myself in silence amongst others. I craved silence, and wanted it in community. I resisted the urge to fall asleep, head bob after head bob as I sat on my meditation cushion trying to “Be still!” in a Maurice Sendak sort of way. Trying to sink into silence; not sleep. Watching my idealized silence slip away to my reality of surprised exhaustion.

After the silence, Byakuren Judith Ragir gave a Dharma Talk on the Five Ranks of Buddhism, asking us to think about it more as a landscape you move through over and over again.”To meet what is before you with intimacy whatever that is, is a marker of a development of mature faith.” Ragir took both hands scooping the air before her toward her heart and repeated, “To meet what is your present with intimacy.” Then she let the silence fall before her and amongst us.

Five year old Nizzel George

Five year old Nizzel George

Ahhh I sighed, but how do you meet with intimacy tragedy from violence? How does a mother or grandmother do as the gospel implores us, “To harden not our hearts,(Ps 95:8)” when only last week a five year old boy from north Minnepolis, Nizzel, was shot by a spray of bullets as he slept on his grandmother’s couch. Nizzel was buried today, and according to the Star Tribune “Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr. ended the ceremony with a call for the north side to stop the violence, ‘Let’s call it the Nizzel Pledge,’ he said.” It is an image that sears me as I sit on my couch, my back to my picture window, my boys alive before me, tears stream down my face, as I sit in silence listening. Listening to Sister Katherine share, “Only five years old. His life, as is everyone’s was so worth living. Nizzel, we will be with your mom, dad and grandma and everyone else at Shiloh Temple, lovingly supporting your family. Your grandma came to our house last night. We prayed and cried together. You were a wonderful child.”

Silence will give way to celebration tomorrow. On a day when firecrackers ring, hearts break open again as we remember the loss of Anthony, a young African American teen from north Minneapolis, who died far too young two years ago on the fourth of July. Well before his “I dos” were realized.

As I listen to firecrackers sound tonight I cannot help but think for some the sounds ricochet like haunted bullets and I find I jump at their sound as I write this. Or for war veterans and refugees the sight of them exploding in the night sky brings flash backs of bombs, terror one cannot fully heal from.

Yet our gospel call is to live our “I do’s, to harden not our hearts, and to meet what is before us with intimacy,” whew no easy task! Lately, when I do my morning runs, I practice running with my chest open to the world so that my heart leads my runs, with my gaze strong and steady at a distant point so as not to lose sight of what is before me, pleading my awareness, begging me to meet it with intimacy. I practice an open sure-footed posture as I hit the uneven ground beneath me.

We need silence. We need good posture toward others and ourselves. We need the courage and practice to say I do out loud long before we say it to a lifelong commitment. It starts when we are one, fresh feet kissing the green earth, walking with a proud posture exploring our infinite world, proclaiming I do as we climb into our cozy coupe cars ready to steer our paths toward deeper joy and open to that which may break our hearts.

VISITATION SISTERS OFFER WOMEN’S RETREAT IN MAY

An invitation from Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, vhm and the Visitation Community:

Smiling retreatantsWhat: Northside Women’s Retreat

When: Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19. you must be able to attend the entire retreat. Friday night runs from 6 pm until 9 pm and Saturday we go from 8:30 am until 3 pm.

Where: Retreat will be in the Cafeteria of the Ascension School on the corner of Dupont and 17th Avenue North.

Speakers will be: Dr. Barbara Sutton of St. John’s University and Ms. Dorice Law, a northsider and former participant in the Women’s Retreat. Dorice is currently a student at St. John’s.

Focus of retreat: PRAYING WITH THE FACE OF WOMEN IN SCRIPTURES. The presenters have done extensive work on Women in the St. John’s Bible.

NOTE: Registration will be limited to the first 50 women who register. Keep watching our website, the mail and Acension’s church bulletin and listen for pulpit announcements telling you when registration forms are available.