Marking our 25th Year in North Minneapolis

A "Bonding experience" in their first year, perhaps different than St. Francis or St. Jane every imagined?

1989: In their first year, the Founding Four Sisters on a police ride-along in north Minneapolis. A “bonding” experience– perhaps different than St. Francis de Sales or St. Jane de Chantal ever imagined?

Greetings Friend of Visitation Monastery of Mineapolis far and near!

We are embarking on a special time in the history of the Visitation Monastery as the Sisters and their neighbors and friends  mark the 25th year of this community!

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.

On October 2, 1989, Feast 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!.”

There is much to celebrate and mark in the coming months of the Lord’s amazing grace, right here!

S. Mary Frances in our fall newsletter writes about the founding of the monastery:

“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.”

 Click here to read more from the fall newsletter. Fall 2013 Newsletter

Building Bridges from Suburb to City


From L to R: Julie Fitzgerald, the organizer, embracing Sr. Karen; Father Tim Wozniak, pastor of St. Thomas Becket parish; Sr. Mary Frances, and one of our dear neighbors

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Here are a few photos from our absolutely graced time with the Families of St. Thomas Becket parish family in Eagan and our North Minneapolis  families. They arrived Sunday, March 10, 2013,  with a U-Haul truck filled with 75 family Easter baskets for our families.  Some baskets were delivered by Vis Companions, our relatives  and our neighbors to homes in the community; some to Turning Point….  Some were delivered to Girard House where families from both communities shared in a prayer service that included breaking of bread, Word  and fellowship.  The From Death to Life Mothers hosted our ‘party’ at Girard.

All in all it was a wonderful experience of bridging and bonding families from near and far. The pictures were taken, first, at St.Thomas Becket Church–with students shown here loading the U-Haul…..The baskets were unloaded at the monastery by teens from the neighborhood and the St.Thomas Becket folks.  The second picture is of Julie Fitzgerald, the organizer, and Father Tim Wozniak, pastor of their parish.  This project is a 15-20 year tradition at St. Thomas Becket and for our neighbors.


At St. Thomas Becket: Loading the U-Haul

At St. Thomas Becket: Loading the U-Haul


Unloading at the Monastery


So many helpers!


The Easter Bunny in a U-Haul?


More basekts!



Smoke Signals, the Holy Spirit and Next Steps…

Smoke Signals: Cardinals are Voting to Elect a New Pope

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

What does the future hold? What does the life of a religious look like moving into this next year, decade, century? What roles do the laity play in fashioning or supporting the presence of a monastic community in the inner city? In the larger world? How is the Holy Spirit leading us all in this season of change and growth?

These are some of my questions as I sit down to pray and reflect this day.

In Rome, the cardinals are discerning the start of their next conclave to elect a new pope for the Catholic church. These religious men are meeting and talking and praying. They are listening to their hearts, tuning into the needs of the church, and leaning into the Holy Spirit, as She calls them to whatever is next. They are prayerfully discerning what and who will be part of their — OUR — future as Catholics.

And I wonder how this is similar to us, here, in Minneapolis, as we prepare for our next prayerful meeting on Wednesday evening reflecting on our future. While we are not electing a new leader to the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis — the convening of our sisters, vocation partners, and companions with questions of our next steps –feels connected to the discerning papal energy in Italy, and the palpable energy that must be the Spirit among us.

“What’s next?”

Last week, in Pope Benedict XVI’s final speech to the College of Cardinals, he offered the following words that inspired me. Quoting Romano Guardini, the Pope said:

Guardini says: “The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.”

Pope Benedict goes on to apply this to his peers:

This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: “The Church is awakening in souls.” The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places.

These words from the Holy Father take me to some recently written by the head of the Visitation Community –Sr. Mary Frances Reis, vhm.  In a recent email about our Visitation newsletters, Sr. Mary Frances expressed this aliveness of our community and its change and growth since our founding on the northside 20+ years ago. She wrote: “We have been publishing our monastic newsletter for 23 years now.  As [our Jesuit friend] Jim Radde has commented and continues to comment, ‘Go back and read the letters from the beginning, and you will discover how the Spirit’s work among us has evolved.’” She continues, “I personally believe that this has been a wonderful way to keep folks that do not ‘come and see’ to be apprised of the Spirit’s work here.  If you go back to look at about the last 5 newsletters (published on the website) you will see many articles by the laity to inform our many constituents, friends and benefactors  of our ‘ever expanding community.'”

And so it goes. And so it shall be. The Holy Spirit will guide us and animate our beings as we respond to the call of our founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, “living Jesus!” as holy men and women in our present circumstances envisioning our diverse monastic community in north Minneapolis. Please keep us in prayer as we convene and discern!

“Daughters of Prayer” — On the Anniversary of the Founding of Visitation Monastery north Minneapolis

Video by Sr. Katherine Mullin, VHM

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 marks the start of the 24th year of the Visitation Sisters in north Minneapolis. On this day, the Sisters marked the occasion with mass at the Girard Avenue monastery.

In this informal video of Sr. Mary Frances Reis, she shares part of the founding stories of both the Visitation communities in Minnesota. Sr. Mary Frances tells about the four Visitation Sisters from St. Louis, MO, who got on a steamboat in 1873 to come up the Mississippi to St. Paul to found the monastic community and school  — at the request of railroad businessman James Jay Hill. (“He wanted a good school for his daughters.”)

Sr. Mary Frances goes on to describe the second monastic founding in Minneapolis in 1989 after a ten year discernment period lead again by three sisters in St. Louis: Sr. Mary Margaret, Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Karen. In their prayer, these nuns heard their call to “take the Visitation to the poor.”

Update: News from the Northside*

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

“As we settle into a time of transition from a full and fruitful year to a season of planning and “planting” for the coming year, we are grateful for our Visitation way which calls us to live in the PRESENT MOMENT and to treasure the graces in the relationships.  Our daily rhythm of Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, personal prayer and door ministry keeps us centered on Living Jesus in a profoundly incarnational way in the midst of the city!”

A Few Highlight of  “the year that has been”:

The St. Jane House, our urban spirituality center, served as the gathering place for women’s retreats, men’s spirituality & centering prayer groups, several high school and college inner city immersion experiences, discernment evenings, leadership training, From Death to Life meetings, etc., etc. (We even had a baby shower there!)

  • What does the future of the Visitation Community look like?

    What does the future of the Visitation Community look like?

    Our Visitation Internship Program (VIP) was launched this year, and two lovely young women recently completed their year of community service and in-depth experience of our charism.

  • Children and their families enjoyed a myriad of activities: field trips as diverse as the Holidazzle parade, the Children’s Theatre, Minnesota Science Museum, & The Minnesota History Theatre, parties sponsored and run by Vicki Bailey and friends of Mendota Visitation, etc., etc.
  • Mendota Visitation seniors were pioneers during their community service weeks here from May 21st thru May 31st. Instead of going to Guatemala, they came to North Minneapolis!  It was a great Mission Trip right here in the city!!!  The school motto “Not for School but for Life” was in full swing.

A few Highlights of summer 2012:

  • Our dear Sister Karen recently completed six years of selfless and Spirit-filled leadership of our community.  Sister Mary Frances succeeds her and will endeavor to follow her example of empowering the gifts of each of our Sisters and lay counterparts.
  • CYC Campers at Send Off

    CYC Campers at Send Off

    Thanks to the generosity of many benefactors & volunteers, we were able to send 75 children and 7 teen “Counselors in Training” to Catholic Youth Camp in McGreggor, MN; 4 teens to St. Louis to participate in Vistory, a program which brings Visitation students from around the country together to serve and learn about Salesian spirituality; and 2 teens to an intensive program at St. John’s University:  YTM, Youth in Theology and Ministry . . . As Father Michael O’Connell often says, “Our youth are our future.”  We are grateful for opportunities to affirm and form them in positive ways.

A Few Highlight of “things to come”:

  • We recently welcomed the first participant into our Monastic Immersion experience, a 6-month stay in our monastery.  Not unlike St. Jane de Chantal, Marsha West, who hails from Forks, Washington, has had many life vocations as wife, mother, grandmother, widow, and on and on! She brings many gifts our way and we are happy to share our life with her.  Welcome Marsha!
  • We are in the process of interviewing New VIPs for the coming year.
  • Our dear Maryann Pearson has “retired” as coordinator of the Visitation Companions, our lay community.  Thanks to her untiring dedication, we have about 15-20 members!  Jody Johnson has accepted the role of coordinator and will work with Sr. Mary Frances and Linda Goynes to keep the movement growing.

*Published in our Summer Newsletter – which you can view in its entirety here.

“Living in the Yes” — Marsha West’s Commitment to Monastic Immersion with the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis

Welcome MIE participant, Ms. Marsha West

Welcome MIE participant, Ms. Marsha West

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM and Marsha West, Monastic Immersion Participant

“When I came here last summer, I discovered that this is the place my heart has hungered for – a place where everyone lives every moment of every day oriented toward the presence of God, where all the activities and concerns of each day are infused with prayer.” — Marsha West, Monastic Immersion Participant

Recently, prompted by the Holy Spirit, we Sisters of the Visitation of Minneapolis, launched yet another initiative here in our little monastery: MONASTIC IMMERSION EXPERIENCE. The goal of this offering is to provide an opportunity for women desiring to deepen their spirituality in a monastic setting for a temporary period of time.  Each participant is invited to enter fully into our life of prayer, presence and ministry during her stay.

We are happy to report that we have a wonderful first participant!  MARSHA WEST is living with us for a period of six months; On Friday, August 3, 2012, we had a simple commitment ceremony in which Marsha expressed her desire and promise to share life with us for the next six months.

Rather than do any more explaining, I invited Marsha to elaborate on her hopes and desires for the coming months:

MARSHA:  I have been at Visitation Monastery here in N. Minneapolis for a month now. I visited here last summer for a week – came for a few days again last March – and now I’m here to stay for six months for what they call their “Monastic Immersion Experience” – a very apt phrase for what is happening here.

In my own blog, Marsha’s Musings, where I am keeping a chronicle of my journey, I wrote early in my stay:

When I made my other two visits here, I sat on the edge of the pool and wet my feet and watched. Maybe walked out ankle-deep in the pool. This time I’ve plunged in, gone in over my head, bobbed around, gasped for breath, floated briefly from time to time, splashed and rejoiced.

Now, a couple of weeks later, I would say that I have gotten my bearings and I am sinking more and more deeply into the life here, and I am loving it.

Marsha’s Statement of Commitment

Sr. Mary Frances embraces Marsha at her commitment ceremony

Sr. Mary Frances embraces Marsha at her commitment ceremony

The sisters asked me to write my own statement of commitment for our little ceremony last week. Here is a portion of it:

When I came here last summer, I discovered that this is the place my heart has hungered for – a place where everyone lives every moment of every day oriented toward the presence of God, where all the activities and concerns of each day are infused with prayer.

I remember asking Katherine, “What do I not know about you that makes you the way you are?” I know now what it is. It is the way you live these monastic rhythms, the way you have learned to be with each other and with the neighborhood.

That recognition awakened in me a fierce longing to live this way – I believe that longing was God’s call to me to leave what I have known and receive the gift I have so long sought.

I am deeply grateful to you for inviting me to share this way of living.

I commit to you that I will try to live out of the spirituality of Saints Francis and Jane. I will cultivate gentleness and quiet within myself. I will enter willingly and eagerly into the rhythm of your common and private prayer. I will try to be observant about what I can do to serve the needs of the community. I will try to set aside my own agendas to work wholeheartedly toward your goals. I will look for Jesus in the faces of the neighbors and friends who come to your houses. I will listen and value what you have to teach me about living this way.

. . . I will try to make each day of these next six months the fulfillment of that old longing – to live every day – all day – in conscious awareness of the Presence of God in prayer, service, and community. I can’t imagine any place where that might be more possible than right here.

I commit myself, with God’s help, to share your life in this way for the next six months.

The sisters had invited me to select a song for the service. I didn’t hesitate for a moment: I asked for “Here I am, LORD.” It says it all for me. I believe God called me here. I said Yes. And now I’m living in the Yes.

Salesian Leadership Training: Food for the Journey!

Bianca Franks embraced by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Bianca Franks embraced by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

by Bianca Franks, 2010-2012 Salesian Leaders Cohort Member

Greetings ! I am a single mother and member of the Northside community, having had a close relationship with the Visitation Sisters ever since I was a preteen.  I have become heavily involved in volunteer work in the community with them over the past 5 years.  I was invited to be a part of a Salesian leadership training program they were having which took place over the past two years.  I went into this not really sure what to expect other than wanting to grow as a positive contributor in North Minneapolis.

“What makes a good leader isn’t always the outcome of perfection or winning, but positively changing lives as a demonstration of the God in me…”

The 1st year I met and befriended other likeminded leaders in the community and we focused on strategies and guidance in our individual projects (mine being a single parent support group).  We shared our lives and aspirations with one another and have supported one another on personal and professional levels, facing the reality of successes and failures in a way that those close to us wouldn’t understand.

“…to lead you must follow humbly.”

In the 2nd year of training I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was less strategic and more spiritual, teaching us leaders the importance of complete wholeness within you as a way of guiding and following. Upon completion of this amazing journey I know we all walk away tearfully and with a smiling heart because we have come full circle from who we were, and closer to who God has deemed us to become in the Gospel.

My personal and spiritual growth over the past two years is amazingly unexplainable; I have learned to always trust in God, accept my faults, embrace my failures, and never give up. What makes a good leader isn’t always the outcome of perfection or winning, but positively changing lives as a demonstration of the God in me, and to lead you must follow humbly. If I had to sum it all up I would say my focus used to be the destination and in that there was never any satisfaction or gratitude because I never seemed to get there.  My focus is now my spiritual journey as I walk the road I’ve chosen, and if I can share that part of the experience with anyone, the leader in me has achieved a goal higher than I could ask for.

Catholic Youth Camp-Place of Beauty, Love, Faith and Fun!

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

In the past few days I began reading Brother Mickey McGrath’s (of Windsock Visitation painting fame!) most recent book.  It is a spiritual Journey in images and text depicting the life of Dorothy Day entitled Saved by Beauty.

As I pondered and prayed with Brother Mickey’s book, I was mindful of our neighborhood kids that we  sent off to camp earlier this week to bask in the beauty of our Minnesota lakes and God’s creation.  Thanks to the amazing generosity of many benefactors and friends, we were able to send 75 children and seven teens (who will train to be counselors) to Catholic Youth Camp for a whole week. Located midway between here and Duluth, our children were in the midst of storms and rainy days.  The excellent camp director Natalie King was so proud of her counselors and cooks who managed to make it a great week for the children in spite of the weather!   She had only praise for the children who were such ‘good sports’ and did not lose their enthusiasm for one minute.

CYC Campers at Send Off

CYC Campers at Send Off

In her June 20 blog post updating parents and readers of the campers’ activities, Ms. King writes,
“We started the day with morning Holy Ground (and prayed that the power outage would be over quickly!) and then moved into some exciting indoor activities. Groups rotated from  paper airplane making to water trivia, to board games and then to relay races that had campers going from one pile of goofy clothes and hats to the next, trying to be the first in full costume to complete the race.”

Later, after the power outage and flood warnings, Camp Director King relays, “We are not just a community that PLAYS together, we are a community that PRAYS together!”

Having been a counselor and water safety instructor for many years, I am committed to providing this experience for inner city children and youth.  Without the generosity and care of so many, this would not have been possible.  So a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone!  And children, we are proud of you that you ‘hung in there’ through wind and rain and storm, and that you managed to have a great time!

Ah, yes, we are all SAVED BY BEAUTY if we have the eyes and hearts to see it!  Happy Summer!

(Be sure to check out the camp website:

Salesian Leadership – May, 2012

Leadership Group

Salesian Leaders 2010-2012

by Gilbert J. Gustafson, Leadership Development Consultant


On a beautiful May evening we concluded the second year of our course on Salesian Leadership with a group of leaders from the North Side of Minneapolis who are determined to be part of the healing of the community. The warmth and sunny-ness of the day were perfectly echoed by the warm and tender feelings expressed in the closing of this year’s exploration of leadership using Salesian principles. This course was funded by the 2010-11 Answering the Call campaign. One of the priorities of the campaign was to “Provide lay leadership training in the tradition of the Order’s founders, allowing others to be involved in the evangelization of the Sisters’ ministry.”

This year we designed our monthly sessions to reflect on the leadership our participants provide in their families, at work and in the community. We explored styles of communication and how to deal with differences. We also examined how to be fully present to others. In the center of our season we introduced “Lectio Divina” (meditating on the Word of God) as a means of spiritual nourishment. In our first season we initiated Centering Prayer and made repeated use of this prayer form in season two.

At the final session we reflected on what has been learned and how we have grown in being a leader. Each participant spoke movingly of how she or he has implemented what has been learned. Each spoke of how she or he intends to continue to grow as a leader moving forward. At the end of the evening we commissioned one another to continue on as faith filled leaders by signing one another on our senses, hearts, shoulders, hands and feet. The combination of silent gesture and spoken word perfectly captured the truth that authentic leadership is lived out both in word and action.

Salesian Monday: A Prayer for Leaders

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.” – Matthew 23:11

Monday, April 9, 2012, marked our final gathering for this season of  Salesian Spirituality focusing on the Leadership traits exemplified by our co-founders, Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. “Salesian Mondays,” as these evenings are called, are part of a Spirituality program of the Visitation Sisters in partnership with their lay companions that occur the second Monday of each month during the Fall to Spring seasons. Each evening begins with a light meal, followed by a collaborative presentation highlighting some aspect of Salesian life and then concludes with night prayer.

Leadership in the Salesian tradition begins with Jesus, whose leadership was one of Selfless, Loving, Suffering Service.

TuAnh Holm

TuAnh Holm shares some of her wisdom

This last session was lead by Visitation Companion Maryann Pearson and a new friend to the Visitation community, Ms. TuAnh Holm. Following Sr. Mary Frances’ introduction to the evening centering on “Love and Prayer” as Leadership traits,  Maryann and TuAnh broke open these themes before the crowd of 25+ people using story-telling and wise illustrations; they included a third element in their talk: courage. Ms. Holm drew on her  own Vietnamese Buddhist background, weaving a teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh into the evening, followed by a tale from her young life discerning a religious calling with Catholic sisters at a monastery in France. Maryann brought these illustrations of prayer and love to further life with her own elaboration on the role of courage when it comes to acting and leading.

Our co-presenters invited us to reflect on our own tales of how prayer, love and courage played out in a specific action we took —  a small, but sincere act of leadership. The invitation was provocative and elicited some thoughts on how we are called to lead as Christians in today’s world and church.

The evening concluded with the group reading aloud a prayer that Sr. Mary Frances Reis wrote on this topic:

Sr. Mary Frances

Sr. Mary Frances

A Prayer for Leaders

Dear Jesus,
Most Gentle and Humble of Heart,
We praise and thank you that you came to teach us  how to serve in a spirit of Love and Concern.
Help us to Live Jesus in such a way that we will learn to serve one another in humble love and compassion.
Help us to see and appreciate our own gifts and those of our brothers and sisters.
May Love and Prayer fashion our relationships with one another;
through the intercession of Saints Jane de Chantal and Francis de Sales,
may we become imitators of you as we strive to Live Jesus in thought, word and deed.
We ask this in your Holy Name.