Sondra Samuels: Northside Pride and Hope

Sondra Samuels, CEO NAZ

Sondra Samuels, CEO Northside Achievement Zone

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Sondra Samuels is not a shrinking violet who wilts under pressure or withers from conflict or criticism.

That’s part of the territory when you’re the CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a partnership of community organizations and schools with a jaw-tightening task:  to prepare 2,300 children in a 18 by 13-block square of North Minneapolis to graduate from high school and go on to college.

“Sondra is an astute educator, a caring mom and wife and community advocate. She is a doer.  She brings pride to the Northside and our achievements on behalf of future generations.” Sr. Suzanne

If this job isn’t enough, add in her husband’s.  Don Samuels was the 5th ward councilman and is now a member of the Minneapolis School Board.  Sometimes the pace can be relentless, the criticism approaches nastiness and the goals can appear hopeless.

These are times when Samuels, the girl who grew up in Newark, appreciates the Sisters who live in Minneapolis. They share a belief in society where character, conscience and courage replace color, class and creed to measure a person’s worth.

“I knew these Sisters were different.  When I asked them what their day was like, they told me when the doorbell rings, ‘We know it’s Jesus at the door.’  And they really mean it.” — Sondra

Samuels remembers her first meeting with the Sisters, at a time when she and Don were grieving yet another gunshot death of a Northside teenager and confronting what they felt was unfair criticism from community loudmouths.

Click to hear Ms. Samuels interviewed by Dave Nimmer

Click to hear Ms. Samuels interviewed by Dave Nimmer

“I remember Sister Suzanne (Homeyer) met me at the door,” Samuels said.  “I fell in with a limp body and I think I shed a bucket of tears.  We went into the Chapel.  We prayed.  And I felt comforted and embraced when I left that house.”

Homeyer remembers that day, too.  “She particularly asked for prayers for her husband and neighborhood concerns, too,” she said.  “There were tears, sharing, laughter, tissues and hugs.  It was the way we meet so many of our neighbors and we both kept our promises.  Sondra has come back to visit with, and without, her family.”

Kind of amazing for someone who isn’t even Catholic.

“That doesn’t matter,” Samuels said. “I knew these Sisters were different.  When I asked them what their day was like, they told me when the doorbell rings, ‘We know it’s Jesus at the door.’  And they really mean it.”

The Sisters feel their support of Samuels is being repaid in full by the work she is is doing in their backyard through NAZ, which got its start with a $26 million federal grant over five years.  That funding is gone now and Samuels is working to raise $11 million a year from the coffers of the state, the city and corporate and private charities.

Part of her pitch she already outlined in an Op-Ed column published in June in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We also recognized that schools can’t do it alone so we surround students with a team that provides everything from extra academic opportunities, parent education and early childhood services to behavioral health counseling, housing and career support.  In partner schools where the supports are most layered for NAZ students, they are doing significantly better than their peers in reading.”

sondraSamuels gets animated and excited when she describes a recent 12-week program for parents on the resources, skills, tools and techniques they’ll need to better raise their infant children.  “We’re getting Dads to show up for this course,” she said, “and one of the women talked about learning that she doesn’t have to be ‘a screaming mother,’ yelling at her child.”

Samuels is finely attuned to the complexity of life for minorities in America, dealing with the realities of discrimination and prejudice while avoiding the passiveness and pessimism that comes from playing “the victim” role.

“I think Black Lives Matter, and the protests, cause me to say, ’They finally see us.’ They know we’re here,” Samuels said.  “And our problems are the problems of all poor people and we do have to be working for all people.

”But to the people of color, I say, ‘They aren’t coming to save us.  We determine how we’ll do.  I am not bent over.  We can help each other but you’ve got to show up and do your part.”

Will Wallace, who knows the Sisters and Samuels, uses the same message in his work with Emerge, trying to prod young brothers (and sisters) off the streets, out of gangs, into school and onto jobs.  “Sondra Samuels,” he said, “is the real deal.  She’s got the best interests of the Northside young people in her heart.”

The Sisters echo that sentiment, having watched Samuels in action – in good times and bad.   “Sondra is an astute educator, a caring mom and wife and community advocate,” Sister Homeyer said.  “She is a doer.  She brings pride to the Northside and our achievements on behalf of future generations.”

Samuels and the Sisters: a neighborhood partnership that gives hope to that future.


* This is the eighth 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. 

The Law of Hope: Our friend Dorice Law interviewed*


Dorice Law: Chaplain, counselor, confidant

By Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Dorice Law leads a life that’s taken her in different directions and destinations. The 60-year-old grandmother has an office in St. Louis Park, a job in Bloomington, a divinity degree from St. John’s in Collegeville, a home in Plymouth and friends on Facebook.

But her heart remains in North Minneapolis, among the friends at Visitation Monastery and the faithful at Ascension Church, where she first met the sisters as they were discerning what their future would be. “I approached them right outside the church,” Law recalled, “and I told them, “Well, Lord knows we need you right up here.”

Law was born in Chicago, the seventh of eight children. She moved to Minneapolis when she was 16 and graduated from North High School.   But she went to Catholic schools in Chicago and was nurtured by the women of the church.

“I grew up standing behind a nun’s big, black skirt and feeling safe and secure,” she said.   “That was the way the world looked to me.”

That confidence enabled Law to raise three children, go to college, earn two master’s degrees, teach in high school, recruit for a community college, run her own insurance agency and, now, serve as a chaplain to a senior-living facility in Bloomington. It’s the role she was made for: Chaplain, counselor, confidant.

“I am convinced that I am good at this because people need someone to pray with them – for them. Since I was a kid, I could pray at the drop of a hat.”

“My personality is to be honest and frank and I am that way with the people at Friendship Village (where she serves as chaplain).   I tell them it’s impossible to shock me, that they can tell me the truth. Everyone wants to be loved and understood.”

For those closer to the end than the beginning, Law has a message of hope. “I tell them all that is God is good. All that is bad is NOT God.”  Her spiritual work is about grace, forgiveness and trust in a loving God.

That doesn’t surprise the Visitation sisters. “Dorice was someone who welcomed us and kind of introduced us to North Minneapolis,” said Mary Frances Reis.   “From the very beginning, on a Sunday morning outside of church, I thought of her as transparent, honest, generous and genuine.”

That hasn’t changed in 26 years and neither has Law’s commitment to the nuns and their ministry.

“I had always made a commitment,” she said, “that anything and everything the nuns had going I’d be a part of. I think I was at their very first study group on the Virgin Mary. This is a place where you can be yourself, speak your mind and not worry about a kick-out.”

The sisters not only didn’t kick her out, they took her in – into the family. Law recalled she got dressed for her wedding in 1991 at the Fremont house. The marriage lasted eight years; the fealty to Visitation is everlasting.

Law’s always believed the nuns accepted her for who she is, how she is and as she is. She said it was the recommendation letter from Sister Mary Frances that facilitated her acceptance into the School of Theology at St. John’s.

Although Law doesn’t live in North Minneapolis any longer, two of her children and her sister do and she’s over there every Sunday morning for church. She’s aware of the neighborhood’s pride, promise and possibilities.    She’s also concerned about the guns, gangs, drugs and violence.

The legal system makes it difficult to change things, Law said. “Once the man is a felon, he is effectively separated from his family. You don’t rent a place where the father is a felon. And if you have a job not making enough to pay the rent, it’s hard to have any hope.”

Hope is what Dorice Law is all about.


To see a video of the interview with Dorice, visit our YouTube Channel.
* This is the second 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. 

“Keeping God at the Center” – Welcome Vis Companion Phil Soucheray to the Blog!

Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion, Blogger

Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion, Blogger

Hi there.

My name is Phil. I’m a Vis Companion, which is another way of saying that I am a purpose driven life wanna-be who knows he has a lot to learn before he’s fulfilled his potential.

As it happens, I believe the model of Salesian spirituality as displayed and taught by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis offers me the education I need to keep me moving toward my ultimate objective. As it also happens, I have been at my efforts long enough to know that I am not likely to ever get there in this life. But I’m here to tell you that it’s all about the adventure anyway, so I carry on carrying on.

I also have the audacity to think that I have some ability in the way of communication (and apparently I’ve managed to hoodwink the good sisters into thinking the same thing), so I have been invited to contribute to this blog on occasion.

As with anything that is new, I have no idea where this endeavor will take me. For all I know it could stretch me to a point where I end up feeling like Elastic Man of comic book fame. Hopefully, my musings will be engaging enough to attract your attention and perhaps provoke you in ways that stretch you, too.

If you are familiar with the roots of Salesian spirituality you know that one of the foundational tenets is that living a devout life, one that puts God at the center of things, isn’t something reserved for priests and religious. No, St. Francis and St. Jane hold to the line that every person, in every walk of life, is called to a devout life and can live one if they maintain a practice of prayer and contemplation that keeps God at the center.

If you’re like me, though, you find it to be a challenge to keep that focus. In a world where we are faced with an ever-growing array of informational inputs it’s easy to become distracted by all the noise. Because of that, I have found that I need to regularly stop and simplify. You’ll likely see me touching on this theme a lot as I continue blogging here. And here’s my first little reflection.

When disrupted by distractions, I try to employ a basic rule of meditation which is, have a mantra and, amid the hubbub, redirect your mind to it. For what it’s worth, here’s my mantra.

“Love God. Live Jesus.”

For me, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. Easy to remember. Easy to get my head around. And to this point, I think those four words have provided good curbs as I walk the road toward living out the purpose for which I believe I was made.

What works for you? Maybe by sharing our stories with each other we’ll all move ahead.

What are you being invited to be for the world?

by Guest Blogger Tom Klein,*  “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series Participant

“What is there for me to do, give, share, be open to, receive, …  What is possible, what would Jesus ask of me?” — Tom Klein

Tom Klein, FTS Discerner 2012

Tom Klein, FTS Discerner 2012

I believe if we live a faith-filled life we are to have a sense of boldness on behalf of the gospel and all God’s people, we will act as if people have something to offer, we encourage people to consider from where they live, in this chapter of their life – what is there for me to do, give, share, be open to, receive, …  what is possible, what would Jesus ask of me?

Some people search their whole life for the answer to the question: ‘what is the meaning of life?’ Alfred Adler- the psychologist who brought pro-social values to psychology – had the meaning of life edited down to a single word: CONTRIBUTION. I believe that every single person, irrespective of life circumstances, can do something, can be a life-giving presence in the circles they travel in … no matter what is going on. — Tom Klein

People can get in a pickle because they give too much, give to get, give for the wrong reasons, give to impress, give reluctantly, … and conversely people can withhold or not give because they have never been asked, never paused, never got connected to a person or cause bigger than their own life.

Perhaps part of the meaning of life is truly about making one’s contribution, with good intentions, no strings attached.

Maybe, just maybe, by inviting people to go deeper, to find who they are and what they want to or can share in this chapter of their life you are helping them to find a niche to contribute that fits for them today.


Tom with fellow FTS Discerners, Spring 2012

Tom with fellow FTS Discerners, Spring 2012

*About the Author:

Thomas Klein is a Spring 2012 Following the Spirit discernment participant who comes to us through two primary connections:
1) getting related to the Visitation Sisters during his board development work with the Cookie Cart, a North Side non-profit offering youth a formative initial work experience and

2) an ongoing Men’s Spirituality group grounded in Fr. Richard Rohr’s cross cultural studies of Men’s Rites of Passage (How cultures initiate boys to become men, what happens if they are not initiated, …)

and How Jesus invites us to be REAL (living from our deepest True Self with no one to impress, squarely facing the pain in our lives until it transforms us – and offering each of us new possibilities to be free, be present, be love AND be in solidarity with all God’s people).