Our Friends: The Ochoa Family

By Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

The Ochoa Family

The Ochoa Family

When Maria and Pedro Ochoa came to Minneapolis in September, 1994 – having fled the turmoil, unrest and violence in their native Guatemala – they were seeking a better life for themselves and their family.

Since then, they’ve learned English, found a job, got an education, secured a driver’s license, bought a house and, oh yes, raised four children. One of them has a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine’s, one is enrolled at the University of Minnesota and two are attending Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, with plans to go to college.

“The Ochoa’s are people of integrity and goodness and faith. They are bringing up their children with values. They are the kind of people we want in the United States.” –S. Mary Virginia speaking to the Ochoa immigration attorney

That’s not bad for a family the U.S. government was seeking to deport in 2007 (Pedro, Maria and the oldest daughter, Marilyn). Not only did they not get deported, they became U.S. citizens, thanks to their dogged persistence and perseverance and a little help from the Visitation Sisters.

The family first met the Sisters at Ascension Church in 2003 and they sponsored the Ochoa girls to the Catholic Youth Camp on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, MN.   Marilyn recalls they had a fine time and tried to repay the Sisters by doing chores around their house.

Pedro Jr., 14, remembers getting gifts from the Sisters, including Halloween costumes, swim togs and school supplies. “I think I always got my school supplies from the Sisters,” he says. “I don’t think we ever bought ‘em.” He’s now a freshman at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and his sister, Andrea, is a senior there, with plans to become a pediatrician.

Another daughter, Silvia, 20, is attending the University of Minnesota, majoring in economics. Marilyn, 24, has an undergraduate degree in theology and chemistry from St. Catherine’s University and now works at North Point Clinic. She’s planning to attend the University of Minnesota and enroll in the School of Pharmacy.

Pedro Ochoa, Sr.

Pedro Ochoa, Sr.

Pedro Sr. works for a medical company, Mar Cor, that makes filtration and purification systems, some of which are used in portable dialysis machines. For Pedro, this is the job he’s wanted after years of working for firms where he waxed floors, cleaned buildings and catered meals.

“I like the company,” he says, “because when you’re in the medical field there’s always business and customers. And you are helping sick people. I’ve been to a clinic to see those we are helping with our dialysis machines. I always try to do my best.”

Doing his best didn’t stop U.S. immigration authorities from starting deportation proceedings, contending the Ochoa’s no longer needed asylum in the U.S. and had no green cards.

The family hired a lawyer to make their case: They were working, paying taxes, obeying the laws, raising good children, being helpful neighbors and honoring their new country. The lawyer cost money and so would someone to translate Spanish documents into English and vice versa. Enter Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt.  

“She speaks and understands Spanish really good,” Ochoa says. “When we were threatened with deportation, she was right there by our side. All our documents had to be translated and that would have cost us a fortune. Sister Mary Virginia did that for nothing.”

She says the pleasure was hers.

“Their lawyer asked me why I was doing this,” says Schmidt. “I replied that the Ochoa’s are people of integrity and goodness and faith. They are bringing up their children with values. They are the kind of people we want in the United States.

“When they (authorities) dropped the deportation orders, Pedro and Maria took me to lunch and we celebrated. The day they became U.S. citizens, I wasn’t there. But we (the Sisters) celebrated with them later.”

Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Katherine on the day of Sylvia Ochoa's quiñcinera

Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Katherine on the day of Sylvia Ochoa’s quiñcinera

Schmidt says the family continues to be involved with the monastery. “Whatever the event, they are here. They help us in our monastery and show up for everything, including the Halloween costume giveaway.”

The Ochoa’s have lived on the Northside for 15years, well aware of the crime that sometimes plagues the neighborhood (Pedro’s car windshield has been smashed a half-dozen times). But they have no plans to leave.

“The transportation is good (bus). We have some fine neighbors,” says Ochoa. “And we’re following the advice we got from the Sisters: It doesn’t matter where you live. It’s how you live that matters.

His family is the living proof.

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* This is the ninth 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! 

Linda Goynes: Our sister and friend*

Linda Goynes

Linda Goynes

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Linda Goynes* is a colorful, consistent and continuous thread in the life fabric of the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis. For 12 years she was their next door neighbor. Today she proudly wears their Cross of Affiliation, in effect making her an honorary sister.

Over the years, Linda has eaten at their table, shared in their prayers, joined their church (Ascension), cleaned their house, packed their gift baskets and greeted their guests.

In her 63 years, Linda Goynes has suffered enough reversals to relish the recoveries, weathered enough storms to enjoy the sunshine and survived the trials to appreciate the triumphs. So it’s probably not surprising when asked how she’s doing, her answer has always been the same, whether it’s Tuesday or Friday, January or June. “I am blessed,” she says, with a smile on her face.

“It was such a joy to get the Cross of Affiliation from the Sisters. To me it represents the face of the nuns and the work they are doing. I feel what I am doing is taking their spirit out to the world.”-– Linda Goynes

Her journey includes some rough and rocky travelling. She married her first husband in 1984 and they had three children. Two years later she discovered her husband abused the oldest daughter. He was arrested and eventually sent to prison. Linda felt she was partly responsible for her daughter’s abuse and turned to crack cocaine.

It didn’t take long for the drug to control her life and cause a heart attack. She quit – cold turkey. She was clean and sober for six to seven months, until she began getting threatening letters from her now ex-husband, still in prison. She turned again to the cocaine and in 1990 suffered a second heart attack.

This time she lapsed into a three-month coma and doctors warned continued drug use would kill her. She prayed to God to restore her health, promising she would devote her life to serving Him. She recovered. In 1996, she met Robert White, who would become her second husband. They moved next door to the Sisters on Girard Avenue and continued their life together.

Linda stayed clean but Robert was using, and occasionally, selling drugs. “You know,” she said, “he was a good man but he just couldn’t stay away from heroin. He was using until his last days on earth.” (Robert died in 2015).

In service: Linda working at the Church of the Ascension Food shelf

In service: Linda working at the Church of the Ascension Food shelf

“I never knew what was going to happen. One day I would be on the ground in handcuffs after a police raid. And another we’d be robbed by somebody looking for the drug stash or the money. But I always had the Sisters to talk to, and I never felt alone.”

Ironically, Robert also loved the Sisters. He shoveled their walk in the winter, went to some of their neighborhood meetings and even put up their Christmas tree from year to year. But the chaos from his heroin habit eventually got too much for Goynes and she moved out of the house in 2008, to an apartment on Plymouth Avenue.

“Linda is one of the most courageous women I know,” says Sister Katherine Mullin. “She knew she had to leave Robert after all the years of his heavy addiction. She made her decision, found an apartment and kept it together. And then one day (with help from the Sisters) she quietly moved out. But in the years that followed, she also took him to the hospital for his cancer treatments.”

The Salesian spirit has truly penetrated her heart. If we ever needed help with some event, some celebration some project, Linda has been there.”  — S. Katherine Mullin

In 2010, she joined Ascension Church and became a pastor outreach assistant, organizing committee luncheons, setting up for funerals, arranging the food shelf, changing the candles and opening the church.

A few months ago Linda was dealing with a lung problem, making it difficult for her to take long, deep breaths. But she was at the Monday night Salesian gathering, sitting at the table, eating with the others, picking up the trash and staying for the night prayer.

On my way out, I asked her how she was doing. She said she’d be glad to get home and on the inhalation machine that delivered soothing vapor to her lungs. Then she smiled. “You know,” she said, as if to dispel any complaint, “I am still blessed.”

Yes, Linda, we know. And so are those of us who are to be counted among your friends.

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Tune into YouTube video interview here: Vis Companion Linda Goynes Interviewed

* This is the fifth 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! 


 

 

The Long Road Home: Eddie Brown’s story*

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Eddie Brown at our Halloween Family Party

Eddie Brown at the Halloween Family Party

Eddie Brown first met the Visitation sisters some 20 years ago when he was at Turning Point, a north side residential treatment center, trying to shake the addictions and afflictions that had plagued his life.

“The [sisters] have taught me something about loving, sharing, caring and giving back. I know I can always call them….I hope they know I will deny them nothing.” — Eddie Brown

He’d come to the Fremont house to borrow a shovel, which he later returned. But he kept the nuns as his lifelong gift and they have celebrated the good times with him and supported him through the bad.

“Once I walked across that threshold, my life has never been the same,” Brown said. “I got a sense of the spirit and that’s what I wanted. I couldn’t find peace with myself until I walked into that (Fremont) house.

“[Eddie] is kind of my ideal. If he falls, he gets right back up. If he’s needed, he comes.”
– S. Mary Virginia

Eddie wanted that peace after – as he recalls – being on the street for more than 25 years – six towns in four states, just “dealin’ and druggin’.” It came to an end in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where, one night in an alley off of Lake Street, he decided to go to Turning Point..

Eddie Brown with S. Katherine and neighborhood children at the back to school party.

Eddie Brown with S. Katherine and neighborhood children at the Back-to-School Party.

“I had robbed a guy the night before and was smoking up the cash (cocaine), sitting there by myself,” he said. “It was like I heard my mother’s voice and I remembered this guy telling me about a treatment center. I had never heard the term before.

“I threw away my pipe and dope and started walking to the north side at 3 in the morning. I was sitting on the steps of Turning Point, waiting until they opened. A guy got out of his car, looked at me and said, “Are you ready to get clean?’”

He was.  He got off the merry-go-round, fueled by crack and chaos, and got on the wagon. He fell off once but came back and he’s been clean and sober for 27 years.

“Eddie’s a survivor,” said Bob Briscoe, a former Chicago cop and, like Brown, a long-time friend of the sisters. “Eddie’s a man of his word and I believe he wants to make a difference in this community. He’s there when the nuns call and he’s involved himself in several neighborhood projects.”

The most soulful project Eddie ever tackled was getting his friend Mona off the streets.   They did drugs together, struggled to find food and shelter together, shared hopes and dreams together.   When Eddie was at Turning Point, he had a dream about Mona.

“I found her and she couldn’t believe it was me because I was looking so good,” Brown said. “But she wasn’t ready to come in (to treatment). Three weeks later I got a call. “Do you really mean it?” she said. I told her yes and she went to a 90-day program in Anoka.”

Two recovering addicts put together one loving marriage – Eddie and Mona – and began their sober journey. The sisters helped with a down payment on their first house. And the sisters were there when Mona was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Eddie shares his story with friends at St. Patrick's in Edina.

Eddie shares his story with friends at St. Patrick’s in Edina.

“She lived for eight years with the cancer,” Eddie said, “and I was with her all the way. I didn’t leave her side. Shortly before she died (in 2013), she looked at me with tears running down her cheeks, She said, “Baby, I’m goin’ home. I love you.’”

Brown struggled with Mona’s loss for more than two years. He’d set up a kind of shrine to her, with pictures and her ashes. Every day he’d talk to her. “Finally, one day I was saying a prayer and I believe God told me, ‘Eddie, I’ve got Mona now. You can let her go.’”

The shrine is gone. The memories linger. So do the lessons Eddie said he learned from the sisters.

“They’ve taught me something about loving, sharing, caring and giving back. I know I can always call them. Sister Mary Frances and I share a lot of stuff, sometimes in a conversation on the phone at night. I hope they know I will deny them nothing.”

Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt hopes Eddie knows of her regard for him. “He is kind of my ideal,” she said. “If he falls, he gets right back up. If he’s needed, he comes. When Mona needed, he was there. He really loved her.”

That fits the legacy that Eddie Brown wants: “That I helped my family and my community and, sometimes, helped bring them closer to the Lord.” Today, he’s raising Mona’s 9-year-old grandson, Abel.   He made a promise to her.

***

Tune into our YouTube Channel to see the video companion piece to this by Jim Shoop.

* This is the third 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! 

The Law of Hope: Our friend Dorice Law interviewed*

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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.

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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. 
LIVE + JESUS!