Brian Mogren: Being Who He is and Being That Well

Brian Mogren: Vis Companion, Director of St. Jane House

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

“Be who you are and be that well.” St. Francis de Sales

It’s been a decade since Brian Mogren quit a long-held job at Target Stores to heed the call of St. Francis de Sales to “Be Who You are and Be That Well.” In that time, what Mogren has been is the provider of shelter to the temporarily homeless, the purveyor of a quiet space for spiritual seekers and a persistent, insistent, consistent friend of the Visitation Sisters, his neighbors in North Minneapolis. His work won him the Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service from the esteemed McKnight Foundation, given to those who “give their time to improve the lives of people in their communities.” He’s done that all right and along the way served as an unofficial counselor, coordinator, gardener, director and caretaker for those who use his home on Emerson Avenue North. “This opened up a world of possibility for me and my life,” Mogren writes on his website, “that I could not have imagined: bringing my unique gifts, creativity and connections to contribute to the transformation of North Minneapolis.”

A Call to the Northside

With Two Marys: Brian and FDTL Founder Mary Johnson Roy and Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie

Mogren’s transformation began, in part, when he met the Sisters. Since 2008, the Sisters have leased his home (The St. Jane House) for retreats to women seeking empowerment, students wanting enlightenment and mothers shedding resentment. A grass-roots group, From Death to Life, counts the St. Jane House as its home. Its founder is Mary Johnson, a mother who sought out, and forgave, the man who killed her only son. Mogren serves on the board.

“This is what it’s all about – connecting across difference and discovering our common humanity.” — Brian Mogren

His journey owes something to an epiphany moment years ago when he was leaving a parish council meeting at St. Philips Catholic Church on 26th and Bryant Ave. N.   He noticed a woman frantically trying to pick up papers strewn about the street; she’d left them on top of her car as she pulled away. Now she was scurrying to pick up the papers and sheet music and Mogren gave her a hand. They walked back to the church arm in arm. The moon was out. The evening was quiet. And Mogren felt at peace. Suddenly a car with dark-tinted windows pulled alongside, rap music pounding as the back window began to roll down. Mogren’s moment of bliss turned to terror, fearing they could get hustled, hassled or hurt. Just then, a teenage boy stuck his head out the window, smiled and said, “Hi, Miss Muggs.” This was a teenager talking to a 70-year-old Irish Catholic.

Role model and friends.

“They had love and affinity for one another,” Mogren recalls. “Later I wept. I thought, ‘Oh, my Gosh.’ This is what it’s all about – connecting across difference and discovering our common humanity. I felt called to move to the Northside.” He did, building what would become the St. Jane House in 2003. .He moved in and became an official North Minneapolis resident, still holding on to his creative job at Target. He decided to quit, after 24 1/2 years, following another epiphany experience – this time while listening to a tape of students’ spoken-word poetry.

“[Brian] has mentored a few young people who look on him as a role model and friend. He loves North Minneapolis and it shows.” Sr. Karen Mohan,VHM

I remember hearing the urgency in their voices,” he says, “and in that moment my heart was burning. I needed to do what I could to ease the pain and provide a path for those who needed it. I wanted to make a difference.” A big part of the difference began when the Sisters and Mogren got together with the St. Jane House. He had the space. They had the plans. They’d bring the people. He’d be the director.

St. Jane House Ministry

St. Jane House: A Place of Rest and Delight

In the years that followed, the St. Jane house has provided guest rooms for overnight visitors, hosted a weekly centering prayer group, offered retreats for healing and support groups and served as home base for students – high school and college – seeking an “immersion experience” in the flow of neighborhood life.

“I feel loved and celebrated by the Sisters….They embody the God of my understanding, and they define the notion of inclusion. I am able to give to others what I receive from them.”

It doesn’t surprise Sister Karen Mohan that Mogren can handle such varied groups with finesse, grace and hospitality. It was modeled by his parents, Jerry and Arlene, who were quick to welcome others to the Molgren family. He’s had a lot of practice. “When we became ‘family and friends’ with Brian,” she recalls, “we inherited all his brothers – 11 brothers and no sisters. When our community went to his mom’s home for one of the family get-together suppers, we were welcomed by a big sign outside on the lawn. “’WELCOME SISTERS. WE ALWAYS WANTED SISTERS. And now we have them. YOU.’ We love the Mogren boys and we loved Arlene, their mother. After her funeral a few years ago, the 10 living brothers all carried her casket singing, ‘She’s ain’t heavy. She’s our mother.’ There wasn’t a dry eye around.”

Loved and Celebrated by the Sisters

Family and Friends: The Mogren Brothers, Mother, and Visitation Sisters

“It’s wonderful to be in the presence of the [Sisters’] non-judgmental, joyful spirit. They have helped me to be gentle with myself and that helps me to be gentle with others.” 

Mogren remembers first meeting the Sisters at St. Philips where he started attending mass because of his respect for Father Greg Tolaas. He met them there, but he really got to know them after he moved to North Minneapolis. “I feel loved and celebrated by the Sisters,” Mogren says, “ever since I met them. It’s wonderful to be in the presence of their non-judgmental, joyful spirit. They have helped me to be gentle with myself and that helps me to be gentle with others. They embody the God of my understanding, and they define the notion of inclusion.

“I don’t see any other than the life I’m living,” he says. “I get to be who I am and to be that well.”

“I am able to give to others what I receive from them. They have entrusted me with their platform and space.” He’s been a fine defender and caretaker of that Salesian spirituality, in the opinion of Jeff Pearson, a long-time friend and benefactor of the Sisters. “Brian can weather the storms,” Pearson says. “If it doesn’t work one way, he’ll figure out a different way. He’s got the kind of compassion that keeps him coming back.”

Brian with Alafia Foundation Members

Sister Karen notes that Mogren, now 51 years old, is something of a Renaissance man, who’s an artist, a graphic designer, a photographer and a fun-loving guy with a sense of humor. Mogren, who lives in the basement of the St, Jane House, prefers to think of it as “the garden level.” “Brian was inspired to begin the Alafia Foundation to encourage leaders from the neighborhood,” Mohan says. “He has mentored a few young people who look on him as a role model and friend. He loves North Minneapolis and it shows.” Mogren would smile at that description. He’s a man who loves where he is: in his city, in his heart, in his life.   “I don’t see any other than the life I’m living,” he says. “I get to be who I am and to be that well.” That’s why the welcome mat is out at the St. Jane House.

* This is the thirteenth 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! 

Salesian Monday Night: Divine Hospitality

Welcome to the Monastery!

Please join us for 2nd Salesian Monday night on May 8th. Our topic is Divine Hospitality, featuring Dave Nimmer and Sr. Mary Frances.

This year’s Salesian Spirituality series is entitled, “LIVING JESUS AS WE MOVE THROUGH OUR DAILY LIFE.” We invite you to join us for food and fellowship, input and reflection, before closing our evening with prayer.
SALESIAN SECOND MONDAY
Monday, May 8, 2017
6pm: Dinner
6:45pm-8pm: Presentation and PrayerCome for either part, as you are able!
Visitation Monastery — Girard House
1619 Girard Avenue North

Minneapolis, MN 55411

Questions? or to RSVP: Call Sr. Suzanne at 612-501-5096.

We are taking Visitation Volunteer Applications!

VIP Promo VistoryAre you a young adult considering life after graduation? Does the idea of service and prayer, in the heart of the city, bring something alive in you? Are you called to explore your spirituality and be part of a social justice movement? Consider joining us, the Visitation Sisters, for a year of service, study and prayer as a Visitation Intern in north Minneapolis. We are taking applications now for September, 2017.

 

To hear more about the program, tune in to VIP Anna Dourgarian reflecting on her year with the Visitation Sisters in north Minneapolis.

You are Invited to Salesian Second Monday: November 14; 6pm-8pm

Sisters Suzanne and Karen share fellowship with neighbors and friends.

Sisters Suzanne and Karen share fellowship with neighbors and friends.

The Visitation Sisters Invite you to Salesian Second Monday on November 14; 6pm-8pm at Visitation Monastery.

This year’s series is entitled, “LIVING JESUS AS WE MOVE THROUGH OUR DAILY LIFE.” 

The Sisters and their friends will be sharing stories unpacking how they live their spirituality every day, focusing on Gospel Living through a Salesian lens in the marketplace, families and neighborhoods.

We invite you to join us for food and fellowship, input and reflection, before closing our evening with prayer.

Salesian Second Monday

Visitation Monastery — 1619 Girard Avenue North

6pm: Dinner
6:45pm-8pm: Presentation and Prayer

Come for either part, as you are able!
Questions? Call Sr. Suzanne at 612-501-5096.

“All in the Family”

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

Sr. Karen and Sr. Susan Marie

“In the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales”: Sr. Karen and Sr. Susan Marie on the Old Town Annecy Bridge

Trips to special places are not complete until a photo is taken at a memorable location.

Two of the photos shown here are from a favorite “photo op” site in Annecy, France, birthplace of the Visitation Order.   Sr. Susan Marie from our Visitation Monastery in Brooklyn, my brother Michael, a faculty member at the St. Louis Visitation, and I are standing on the bridge in front of the once -used prison built in the canal in old town Annecy. St. Francis de Sales visited prisoners there, we are told. The three of us had spent this hot summer afternoon  “in the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales”, and we even took a cruise on Lake Annecy. My joy expanded as we explored our Salesian family roots together before beginning a workshop on the Treatise on the Love of God.

Michael and Sr. Susan Marie

Michael and Sr. Susan Marie

Being there with Michael, Sr. Susan Marie, three other Visitation Sisters and other “Salesians” made it feel like my own version of “All in the Family”!

We spent a week of study and prayer with lay and religious members of this “family”. Our “household” included a retired professor from Ireland, sisters from Madagascar, lay women and men belonging to the Society of St. Francis de Sales, priests and brothers from S. Africa, India, Brazil and even a bishop from the Philippines! All of us were hoping to deepen our understanding of this 400 hundred-year-old masterpiece on love. Thanks to the efforts of several American

"All in the family."

“All in the family:” our global Visitation “household”! 

Oblate of St. Francis de Sales scholars and the generosity of their superior general, Fr. Aldino, this hope was realized.

The week included prayer, input and small discussion groups, and opportunities to explore the town.

This “All in the Family” study week offered me a unique way of appreciating the Spirit alive and active through my broader Salesian family….and that was a blessing.

 

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To read other blogs by Sr. Karen Mohan, and other community members on their pilgrimage experiences, click here.

 

Interested in becoming a Visitation Companion? Sign up for the Fall Formation Group today!

Vis Companions PanoramaAre you a northside resident called to deepen your spiritual life? Does growing in faith alongside –and anchored by – the prayers of a religious, monastic community appeal to you?
Does study of Salesian Spirituality feel like the next step in your faith journey? Do you desire a community with whom you will serve, and reflect, on a regular basis?

Consider joining the Visitation Companions.

A new Vis Companions formation group is starting in October. The commitment is:

  • a monthly small group meeting, (usually on Saturday afternoons for nine months)
  • featuring:
    • input
    • prayer and study
    • and time for personal sharing and reflection.

For more information about Joining Visitation Companions, please contact Jody Johnson at jodyreis(at)yahoo.com or 651-219-3167

Visitation Volunteer Juste Reflects on her Summer with the Sisters

On Wednesday, August 31, 2016, the Visitation Sisters said, “goodbye” to Juste Siauciunaite. Juste had applied and come to volunteer with the community through the Visitation Internship Program from her home in Lithuania via London. The following video features her reflections on her time in prayer, study and service with the Visitation Sisters and northside community. We invite you to tune in. Live+Jesus!

 

I Will Lead You into the Desert

Follow me to the desert... Photo by Jody Johnson

Lead to the desert
Photo by Jody Johnson

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion*

“I will lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart.” –Hosea 2:16

I’ve come to the desert seeking silence, or seeking to enter into it more fully. I practice contemplative prayer but, if as Thomas Keating says, twenty minutes of silence is “a brief vacation from oneself,” I need an extended stay! I’ve been restless, anxious, caught up in the busyness of activity for too long. Like many people, I juggle half-commitments, leaving early from one event to arrive late to the next, then wonder why life feels unsatisfying.

The desert offers timeless space to discover, engage, and wrestle with restlessness,” says Father Tom Picton, director of the Desert House of Prayer in Tucson where I am retreating; “The discovery of what is on the other side of the restlessness is the quest! It requires silence, stillness, waiting, and the suffering of ‘not knowing’.” This rings true for me; I long for this stillness, yet the prospect of having so much of it brings its own anxiety: “What will I do with all this time?” “What will God say to me?” “What if I discover things I don’t want to know?” Worries have become my constant companions. As with guests who have overstayed their welcome, it becomes more and more awkward to ask them to leave. Or perhaps they are like old clothes I’ve outgrown but not yet replaced. What will be my new gear, my new habit? I can’t very well walk around naked!

Some guidelines provided by the retreat center are reassuring: “Trust how you are being led. Your journey will likely open up to you as you listen for what is inviting your attention.” It is about being open, aware, and receptive. The daily schedule of silent prayer periods provides the structure and practice to support this awareness. I’ve also brought Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal to guide me on my journey. Though they never visited the desert that we know of, I feel their contemplative spirits at home here. Francis reminds me to get out of the way: “While I am seeking to find out what is God’s desire, I am not employed in keeping myself close to Him in peace and in calm repose, which is certainly His present desire, since He has set me nothing else to do.” Francis also gives very practical advice to gently redirect my intention (and attention) toward God throughout the day. He would have agreed with the last sentence of the guidelines in the retreat center’s brochure: “Be gentle with yourself, relax, and enjoy your time away.”

Jody Johnson

Jody Johnson

*Jody Johnson is a Visitation Companions leader and formation director on a two week study and prayer sabbatical. Tune into her reflections here

 

 

 

 

 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Power of Story!

Sr. Mary Frances, holding the first pitch ball,  enjoyed the evening with her sister Susan....

Sr. Mary Frances, holding the first pitch ball, next to her sister Susan

by S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

On Friday, August 7, 2015 I threw the first pitch at the St. Paul Saints’ game. On that gloriously clear and sunny ‘Minnesota-at-its-best’ evening at the ball park, little did I realize God would re-visit me with my own very personal Sacred Story.

The Cookie Cart folks had asked me to represent them, as they were being recognized that evening as a nonprofit doing significant work with the youth of North Minneapolis, with plans to expand to St. Paul’s East side.

From the moment (7:05 pm to be exact) that the catcher actually caught my pitch, my Sacred Story unfolded before my eyes and in my heart:

The day I was born in St. Paul, my dad was playing a double header with the Boston Braves in Pittsburgh.   At the 7th inning stretch the announcement came over the loud speaker: “Bobby Reis has a baby girl!” It was Father’s Day so it was an even bigger deal! I always like to remind folks that I got a standing ovation at my birth!!!

Eventually, ‘Daddy’ left the “Big Leagues” to play with the St. Paul Saints. Back in those days, baseball was more about the sport than the money. (My dad sold Hoover vacuum cleaners on the off season.) I remember going to the games and being so proud of him and enjoying the fun atmosphere with the sport and the crowd.

A packed stadium

A packed stadium

Memories of my dad’s career* rushed in on me as I sat in the stands behind home plate with my sister, Susan.

If you’ve been to a Saints’ game in recent years, there’s lots of entertainment, from the pig bringing the baseballs out to the pitcher and a lady dancing on top of the dugout, to the fireworks display at the end. In spite of, or shall I say — in the midst of all of it, I had a sacred, precious moment on the Sacred Ground of the St. Paul Saints new stadium.

As I reflected back on the evening a maxim of St. Jane de Chantal came to me: “Keep a light heart, and above all put sadness behind you.”

Give yourselves a gift, Everyone: Touch into your own Story and that of others. We are on the planet together for a Sacred Reason, helping one another keep a light heart in the midst of life’s challenges and gifts.

Take me out to the Ball Game! May Jesus Live in all the Sacred Stories of our lives!

 

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My dad, Bobby Reis, Boston Bees, 1938

Excerpts from 1973 St. Paul Dispatch Sports Page article by Don Riley upon my father’s death:

*”No finer gentleman ever played baseball than Bobby Reis….And few recall his dazzling versatility. It was not even recognized in his obit. He was the first major leaguer to play every position on the diamond in the course of a season. He did it with the Boston Bees in 1934….Bob had a sense of humor that could laugh at himself. I remember the gang presented him with a big book entitled “All I know About Baseball” by Bobby Reis. It was filled with empty pages and Bob laughed until the tears came. In reality, he was one of the most intelligent baseball people I ever met…More than a sportsman, he was a wonderful husband and father. And that’s what it is really all about.”