by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger
Bianca Franks was a girl of 10 when she first met the Visitation Sisters. She was helping out at the Cookie Cart and spending Wednesday evenings at the Fremont house with other children. One of those evenings turned into a gardening session and Franks, who says she’s no gardener, recalls Sister Karen (Mohan) gave her a slip from a spider plant.
To Franks’ amazement, the spider slip not only did not die, it flourished. That’s kind of a metaphor for Franks’ life since she came to Minneapolis with her mother, stepfather and three brothers when she was eight years old.
“…the biggest support [that I have received from the Sisters] was that I prayed with them at least once a day. And, over the years, they became my family.”
The 36-year-old single mother has two children, Javon, 13, and Cemya, 18, now a senior at Sage Academy in Brooklyn Park. Javon, who’s autistic, is in 8th grade at River Bend Education Center, an elementary school for children with special needs. Franks says proudly he was just elected his class vice-president.
When he was younger and just diagnosed, Javon had as many as 15 doctor, therapist and clinic appointments a week. Between the appointments and work to support the family, Franks lived a life that was harried, hurried and hectic.
“I really needed the Sisters then (2005),” Franks says. “Occasionally I’d go over for dinner But the biggest support was that I prayed with them at least once a day. They became closely connected to me. And, over the years, they became my family.”
The Sister also became her mentor when they invited her to the Salesian Leaders Cohort in 2010. The group was to turn out community leaders, who could develop skills, techniques and self-confidence to help others in North Minneapolis. As the program continued into its second year, Franks says it was less about strategy and more about spirituality.
“What I learned,” she says, “is that I AM a leader, that I don’t have to achieve success at every turn to help others. I do believe I can help others, especially women and parents of special-need kids. I relate. I understand. And the training taught me how to listen, to actually hear what others are saying.”
Sister Karen Mohan says Franks impressed her with the ability to let go of what is not life-giving and to find another path that is. “She has dug deep,” says Mohan, “and surrounded herself with people who can give her a positive message. And she passes that on to others. Most of all, she is determined and she is honest.”
These days, Franks runs a support group for those parents: going to court with them if needed, holding their hands and helping them navigate the numbers and names of programs, agencies and groups that could provide help.
Franks and her teenagers live in a two-bedroom, subsidized apartment in south Minneapolis. She is presently working part-time through a temp agency – doing filing and typing – and would like a full-time job.
“I’m good at this work,” she says. “Recently Sister Mary Frances Reis gave me a list of names and addresses from notes. I typed ’em out in 15 minutes and she was amazed. Yep, I’m quick, I’m thorough and I’m organized.”
Her weekly budget, she says, is tight, although she gets a federal disability payment for Javon. And for her best work – at an overnight retreat at the St. Jane House – her reward involved no money.
“I shared my story, and my struggles, with others,” she says. “And I do know this woman, with whom I spent the most time, walked away feeling better, knowing her situation was not hopeless.”
Franks has a persona that is “out there,” accessible to all around her. She’s an extrovert, comfortable in a group of people and not shy about meeting strangers. Her daughter is more reserved and inclined to be somewhat shy and quiet. Sometimes, Franks has had trouble understanding her daughter’s demeanor. Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie had some helpful advice.
“Mary Margaret told me that Cemya was probably more of an introvert, an observer of what was going on and how people were acting,” Franks says. “She helped me understand those are strengths, truly gifts of those who are thoughtful and helpful. In some ways, my daughter is more like Mary Margaret.”
Bianca Franks has always been open to good counsel and comments from others. She’s lived long enough to know that life can sometimes be a rock n’ roll affair. But she’s got a couple of qualities – quiet confidence and boundless energy – to keep her dancing. She also knows the Visitation Sisters are always around when she needs a partner.
* This is the tenth 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!