by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger
Since the Sisters first opened the door of the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis, no one has had a more persistent and consistent presence in their lives than Maryann and Jeff Pearson. In three decades, they’ve given freely of their time, talent, and treasure.
They’ve been at one time or another volunteers, donors, mentors, and organizers. For years, Maryann was a guiding force behind the monthly Salesian Monday nights, where the Sisters shared their mission and ministry with friends, neighbors, and benefactors. Maryann did everything from preparing a salad to running a meeting. For instance, she led a discussion of leadership traits with a Vietnamese Buddhist, and the two of them managed to include love, prayer, caring, and courage – right out of the Visitation playbook.
For his part, Jeff was a mentor to a teenager whom the Sisters felt could use a man in his life. For several years, Pearson was that figure in Wazeer Brown’s life. The lessons he imparted were about responsibility, accountability, and even durability – the fine art of hanging in there. Pearson was well-acquainted with these lessons as a husband, a U.S. Army veteran, a law school graduate, a father, and a 25-year CEO of a manufacturer’s rep business for electronic components.
“Jeff and Maryann have been with us so long and served us so faithfully,” says Sister Mary Frances Reis, “that now when they come over for an event or a celebration, it feels as though they are part of the heart and soul of the community.”
The pair earned their place in the life of the monastery. Jeff and Maryann read to children weekly during Windsock Time at the Fremont house, as many as 15 or 20 at a time. Wazeer was one of the kids. “I was glad to do it,” says Maryann, “because those kids had no one reading to them at home. It was a real privilege.”
Before the Sisters moved into the Fremont house, Jeff’s father had been over helping make the place ready for them and for the hundreds of neighbors who would enter their door over the years. The hospitality and humility of the Visitation and of Saint Francis de Sales, Jeff recalls, has always comforted him, especially the admonition to “be who you are and be that well.”
Maryann followed that advice, and, after she earned her Master’s degree in Theology and Lay Spirituality from United Theological Seminary, she and Sister Mary Frances developed the practices, principles, procedures, and program for the Visitation Companions. The Vis Companions are men and women who choose to deepen their commitment to the Visitation ministry and the monastery through prayer, studying Salesian spirituality, and regular service – on the Northside AND in their own walks of life. “One of Maryann’s real insights was the notion that you didn’t have to live in the neighborhood to be a companion,” Sister Mary Frances recalls. “She believed you can be anywhere in the metro area and LIVE JESUS.”
Jeff and Maryann Pearson qualify as Companions. They’ve been immersed in the life since their two daughters enrolled at Visitation High School in Mendota Heights, where they first met Sister Mary Frances and Sister Katherine Mullin.
“I remember saying when our oldest daughter graduated in 1993,” recalls Maryann, “‘I don’t know what those women have, but I do know I’d like to get it.’” Almost 30 years later, the Pearsons got it — one month, one year, one task at a time.
The Sisters are grateful. Sister Karen Mohan marvels at the number of different tasks the couple has undertaken. “While Maryann guided the Vis companions, Jeff, ever the entrepreneur, heard our community’s desire to rent another space in order to accommodate a growing number of people who wanted to make retreats, pray, or meet together to study Salesian spirituality,” Sister Karen says. “He and I were commissioned to do this. When Brian [Mogren] got wind of it, the Holy Spirit inspired him to offer his home for these gatherings, and the St. Jane House was born. Its 10th anniversary celebration in June found Maryann and Jeff rolling up their sleeves to help with this party.”
Since the Pearsons have been with the Vis Minneapolis monastery from the start, it’s not surprising that they plan on getting older with the Sisters, who they feel will age with grace and peace. “They are my faith community,” says Jeff, “and I’d like to stay in step with them.”
Maryann agrees and takes it a little further. “They taught me to live in the present moment,” she says, “and to be not afraid. And they have changed my relationship with God.”
LIVE + JESUS!