From our Summer Newsletter

A Contemplative Perspective from the Northside

S. Brenda shares contemplative insights on issues of social justice and advocacy.

by S. Brenda Lisenby

This past year, our community has been engaged in a strategic process. One of the ways in which we have felt led is to increase our awareness of and participation in social justice and advocacy. What does this mean for us as Visitation Sisters in an urban monastic setting? The following is Sister Brenda’s reflections on what contemplative action looks like for a community dedicated to prayer and presence in north Minneapolis.

Our Visitation charism has been described as “prayer and presence” or “prayer and community.” When we are present to one another we receive the gift of community. Community life is a place to grow in love and humility. And just perhaps, the lessons we learn as we live community can help us as a society, so I share with you what it has meant to me to be a part of this Visitation community at this time in our country’s journey…. (click to continue reading.)

On Pilgrimage: Sr. Karen Mohan Reflects

Journey _ Photo_by_Melissa_Borgmann-Kiemde

“We shall not cease from exploration…”

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

In my early years of teaching middle grade girls at Visitation Academy in St. Louis, I once decorated the September classroom bulletin board with the Chinese proverb, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step”. I’ve always been drawn to the theme of “journey” or “pilgrimage” as a metaphor for life, so much so that when I made my final vows as a Visitation Sister in 1971, the front of my invitation read, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time…” (T.S. Eliot)

With the “spiritual“ compass given us through our Baptism, we are active participants, and it is through our choices that our life pilgrimage reaches its goal.” 

What is it about a pilgrimage that is so evocative? Maybe it’s because our whole life is like a pilgrimage. The people, events and experiences on this journey are not “dumped” on us as if we were passive recipients of some destiny outside ourselves. With the “spiritual“ compass given us through our Baptism, we are active participants, and it is through our choices that our life pilgrimage reaches its goal.

When I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I was aware that it was essential to be very observant and deliberate about each “next” step. Other times, like when I was recovering from a broken ankle and had to keep my foot elevated for a few weeks, those steps became more like a metaphor for an inner walk that requires a different type of attentiveness.

Currently I’m doing some remote preparation for a golden marker moment on my life pilgrimage. Next June 6, 2016, I will celebrate my 50th anniversary of religious profession.   As part of this preparation, I will occasionally share some reflections on this blog about the  people, events and experiences of my life as a Visitation Sister. Please feel free to respond to my musings!

Karen Mohan, VHM

Sr. Karen Mohan

In the spirit of “pilgrimage”, I will end with one of my favorite poems from Wendell Berry:

We travellers, walking to the sun, can’t see

Ahead, but looking back the very light

That blinded us shows us the way we came,

Along which blessings now appear, risen

As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,

By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward

That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

In Solidarity with the Sisters: Silent prayer

S. Katherine on Retreat at ARC

S. Katherine on Retreat at ARC

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

“There is a healthy silence that heals and bonds us all.” — S. Mary Margaret McKenzie

The Burkinabe freedom seeker with his fist in the air. The Syrian mother lowering her babe into a boat. Pope Francis lifting the Eucharist at mass in Cuba. The police officer turning on his siren and lights just a few blocks away. The principal at my daughter’s school reaching for my kindergartner’s hand to walk her inside.  A quiet woman standing before a slow moving stream. These are images that come to mind in my prayer this day.

Sitting on the front porch of my Selby Avenue home in St. Paul, I hold a prayerful space alongside and for the Visitation Sisters who are on retreat this week. I’m in silent solidarity with all. No matter the distance, or circumstance, we are all bound up in this mystical body of Christ – in our common humanity, with our beating hearts, breathing bodies, seeking spirits. And it is a loving silence which unites and heals us all.

“Silence makes us whole if we let it.  Silence helps draw together the scattered and dissipated energies of a fragmented existence.”
– Fr. Thomas Merton Love and Living.

In a prayerful meditation on silence last spring, S. Mary Margaret described a quiet that unifies and bonds us; a silence where wholeness is revealed, compassion and reconciliation germinate.  I was in the living room at Fremont House with a group of other lay men and women discerning community life alongside the Visitation Sisters in North Minneapolis. S. Mary Margaret’s meditations struck a deep chord in me. I scribbled her words onto a slip of paper: “There is a healthy silence that heals and bonds us all.” 

The Visitation Sisters’ community is immersed in quiet this week: on the second floor of Girard, on the back porch at Fremont; up at the ARC retreat center; over in Collegeville; lakeside at a friend’s cabin; down in Fairbault. Each sister is entering into the fullness of silence — in that echoic room of her heart where God’s voice booms, Love pierces and connects all things — and softens all stances into a compassionate embrace.

In my own attempted practice of daily silence or stillness on my front porch, I have these fleeting glimpses of unity. I can travel around the world, into the darkest corners of my own neighborhood, contemplate the warring factions of humanity riddled by poverty and hunger, a desire for power, or freedom. I can see these across the river in Minneapolis, in my husband’s home country of Burkina Faso, in the headlines reporting on the Middle East, and inside my own beating heart.

The silence doesn’t scare me. It’s a silence that invites me. It’s a silence that contains all the ills and joys of the world, and melds them into a wholeness, a reconciled beauty that I have few words for, save Love.

I invite you into this meditation today, into solidarity with our Sisters on retreat. Can you carve five minutes of quiet in your day?  Find a spot in your home, in your car, on your block; in your church, temple, mosque, in a park, in a space you might claim as sanctuary? Go inside your heart. Find the beating, pulsing reality of your interior being. Ask for God to show you Love’s peace, Love’s will, Love’s desire for you this day.

Will you join me and the Sisters in prayer?

Operation: Easter Basket Delivery

Celebrating Valentine’s Day: Expressing Love in North Minneapolis

St. Valentine

How many ways are there to communicate love for your community? For the families that inspire and nurture our very existence? What are we called to say, do, be — in response to the outpouring of God’s love born out through one another? How do we, as the Visitation Community, express our love to you, as friends and beloved strangers, who call us daily into our ministry of prayer and presence?

This year, as we mark the Feast of St. Valentine, we share with you snapshots from two different expressions of our community outreach and prayer-born love and gratitude.

valentine artist 3

Valentine’s Party

 

 

–The first is our Family Valentine’s Day Party, with Visitation School and Convent partner, Vicki Bailey. (Click to view our Flickr photo album and reflection by S. Mary Frances.)

 

 

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At Bethune!

 

–The second is our visit to Bethune Elementary School, to deliver a special Valentine to the faculty and staff who care for and educate so many northside children. (Click to view Flickr photo album and reflection by Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde.)

 

How many ways can you see the Visitation embrace in these photos? Where do you spot Mary and Elizabeth? Can you detect a leaping womb, heart, or mind? Live+JESUS!

 

“Saints are not supposed to rest in peace; they’re expected to keep busy: to perform miracles, to intercede. Being in jail or dead is no excuse for non-performance of the supernatural. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”” — from Catholic Online

 

Snapshots from the Sisters: Advent Edition

Advent and Incarnation Blessings! We are so blessed at this time of the year with the prayerful presence of so many friends, families, and volunteers, as we go about our Merry-Christmas-Peace-making-Prayer, that remind us of the journey to Christ’s birth and God among us.

Advent at the Monastery. Anna and Laura Presents

Photo #2: Anna and Laura Dourgarian dropping off Christmas presents from the staff at TempWorks Software. (Two friends from countless organizations and community networks that generously donate to our community at this time of year.)

Here are a couple photos highlighting our Advent to date. We invite you to write a creative caption for any of these photos below in our comment section.

 

Advent Christmas Cookies with SS

Photo #1: Sr. Suzanne Making Christmas Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Prayer and Santa Party

Photo#3: Sr. Karen leading prayer in the chapel at the Christmas prayer and Santa Party.

 

Christmas Story Vis Seniors

Photo #4: Vis School Seniors read from the Christmas story as Sr. Katherine and children look on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Visit our Facebook page and Flickr albums for more pics from this season.

THE VOWED LIFE — A Commitment to Live; to Share and to Act!

Sr. Suzanne

S. Suzanne signing the Book of Vows November, 2014

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

“Thank you, for your commitment!” was one of the final comments I heard on my profession day. They were spoken by one of my BOF (Best Oblate Friends) as he was leaving our monastery for the wintry drive back to Michigan after the festivities. Those words meant a lot to me that night and they still do — in fact, they mean more to me each day as I live this Visitation life and each time I renew my vows on the first day of the month — or each time I sign the community vow book on November 21st, when all other Visitandines and Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have their yearly renewal of vows.

“Signing the vow book is more than putting ink to paper…perhaps it is like writing ‘Live Jesus!’ on my heart.” – S. Suzanne Homeyer

This year our Renewal of Vows retreat gave me the time to reflect on how my commitment so many years ago was really a response to God’s promise that we find in the book of Proverbs:

“Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts; for whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor with the Lord.”

My understanding of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience has changed over the years.

S. Suzanne signing the Vow Book of the Monastery of Annecy, France in June, 2009 during the 400th Anniversary Pilgrimage.

S. Suzanne signing the Vow Book of the Monastery of Annecy, France in June, 2009 during the 400th Anniversary Pilgrimage.

On Poverty …

The first time I signed the Book of the Vows I knew I was promising to live as our neighbors here on the north side of Minneapolis. I knew, too, that I would probably not be spending my nights sleeping under bridges or in homeless shelters during the coldest Minnesota nights.  And our monastery was not cold and drafty — a concern my mother often voiced. During my years here I have struggled with whether to purchase something new, find the item at a thrift store or just do without. There is a difference between wants and needs. I may want a calf-length down coat but a warm wool jacket may be enough for doing errands or getting to church on a cold day. Could I attend a conference or workshop out of town and still be living my vow of poverty. A wise friend settled that in my mind by suggesting that if I attend the conference I might learn something to help me better meet the needs of those who come to our door! Isn’t that good stewardship?

On Chastity…

Being loyal and true to those I am in relationship is part of how I live my life chastely. I have to be authentically my self in how I interact with others. I often ask myself if I am being sincere, loving and as open with all others as I would like them to be with me. This type of transparency allows relationships to be nurturing for me and generative for others.

Sr. Suzanne reciting first vows in 1999 at Church of St. Philip parish in north Minneapolis

Sr. Suzanne reciting first vows in 1999 at Church of St. Philip parish in north Minneapolis

On Obedience…

From my first study of the vows as a novice I learned that obedience comes from the same root word as listening. I listen to God in His word, in the words of others and in my own heart. I pay attention to what I am hearing. I let it motivate me. If I do this prayerfully I find myself called to action.   I am not merely reacting to situations but acting as I am called to act by this God to whom I am committed. No matter what, I am committed. And God moves me forward in this commitment each day, each month and each year. Signing the vow book is more than putting ink to paper…perhaps it is like writing ‘’Live Jesus!” on my heart.

 

 

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Q & A with a Sister: On Vow Renewal

S Mary Frances first profession

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1957

On Friday, November 21, the Visitation Sisters will renew their vows publicly at a mass and celebration. In preparation for this event, blogger and Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde had an opportunity to ask Sister Mary Frances Reis about this process of  of vow renewal. What follow is their Q and A.

Q: Sister Mary Frances, what year did you enter the Visitation Monastery?

SMF: I entered in 1957.

Q: In a sentence or two, how would you characterize that period in the Catholic church?

SMF: This time of 1957-62 was a time of sensing that the Holy Spirit was in the air. The churches were pretty into the ‘way we’ve always done it’ and then ‘whoosh’!!!  the Holy Spirit took over and John XXIII opened the windows of the Church and let in lots of fresh air!  So I would say that I and my confreres were precursors of the Renewal…kind of on the threshold of big changes in the Church.  Things changed radically in the next few years.

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1962

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1962

Q: When did you profess final vows?

SMF: I professed my final vows in 1962.  This was preceded by a year of postulancy, and year of novitiate, and 3 years of temporary vows.  These years were a sort of “engagement time” with lots of formation in the life and discernment along the way.

Q:  Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience are the vows that Visitation Sisters profess when they commit their lives to the Order.  Can you give us simple definitions, in your own words?

SMF: Poverty-Having all things in common as in the early Church.  Simplicity of life.  Sharing what we have.  

Chastity-this is the vow to LOVE.  I have always observed this vow as a call to relationship….I have had thousands of children as an educator, and in this neighborhood.   Sexuality is a precious gift, and through the many celibate relationships that I have had with both sexes, I have learned to love well.

Obedience-Root word is listening.  Listening to the Spirit in my deepest center, in that of the community and my superiors assists me in becoming who I am and becoming that well.

Q: When Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal first established the Visitandines, they wanted only one vow, the vow of love. How do you embrace this vow and the ultimate shift to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience?

 SMF: As I ‘mature’ in my vowed life it becomes quite simple.  LOVE covers all the vows.  The three vows simply particularize ways to LOVE.

Q: I have heard stories about the ritual of having a burial cloth placed over you when a woman professed final vows as a religious — indicating a sort of death to your old individual self and identity. Can you tell me about this?

SMF: I loved the ritual of going under the pall. This is the way it worked:  on the day of vows, various Sisters gave me their prayer intentions on little slips of paper.  I put them in my big habit pocket.  It was a profound experience of community at its deepest level with all those intentions in my pockets-a reminder that WE are in this together.  Yes, it was a ritual of ‘death’ to self, but also a commitment to community.  I’m kind of a romantic at heart, but I did love the drama of this!

Q: Can you describe any private or public ritual you participate in now?

SMF: Ritual for Vows…We renew our vows once a month in community and once a year publicly.

Q: Tell me about the significance of  November 21st  as your annual date of public vow renewal.

SMF: The 21st of November is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple;  it is a Memorial and not a Feast in the universal Church, but Jane and Francis chose this in its littleness…We make it a Feast!

Vis Sisters Cropped Capri

The Visitation Sisters, 2014. (Sr. Mary Frances is second from left.)

Q: How have the circumstances of living your vows changed as you made your way to this year of re-commitment?

As I renew my vows this year, I am more and more aware that I am one of the BAPTIZED — as is every baptized person.  We are all living out our Baptismal promises to be “Priest, Prophet and Queen.”  I love that I share this will all women, men and children…..

Q: What do you do to prepare for vow renewal?

Preparation takes place 3 days prior…We call it a ‘little retreat.’  It is a time to reflect more deeply on our lived experience and listen to the Spirit’s promptings in this life She has chosen for us.  To me the vows in any walk of life are expressions of God’s fidelity to US!

Q: What advice or thoughts do you have for other women and men who have professed promises or vows, for renewing them? Why do this?

Anniversaries are important……Taking time to reflect on our promises and how we have chosen to make life’s journey is essential.  We have ONLY ONE LIFE!!!  Live it well!

Q: As you invite people to “come as they are to live community in north Minneapolis” and found a Resident Lay Community alongside the Visitation Sisters, what would you say about vows, or commitments,  to inspire someone in their listening and discernment?

SMF: Francis and Jane would applaud our endeavors to found a resident lay Visitation Community!!!  They are excited and so are we!

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.

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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. 

Trust in the Slow Work of God

Where does this path lead?

Where does this path lead?
photo by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

In these long, sometimes cool, other times hot, shifting-climate days of summer, I have found myself reaching for this poem. I offer it to you, for however it might speak to your soul, provide comfort or levity in your journey and this present time.

Trust in the Slow Work of God

by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ*

 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability-

and that it may take a very long time.  And so I think it is with you.

your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

*(1881-1955) Jesuit, Paleontologist, Biologist, Philosopher, and Visionary