Seek First to Love: Companion Anna Reflects

Anna Dourgarian, Vis Companion

Anna Dourgarian, Vis Companion

By Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Companion

Salesian service finds its wholeness and its joy in embracing the present moment. It speaks to my heart because I am very short-sighted and, when facing service goals, I see only obstacles.

Great feats of service rouse great doubts in my heart. World problems are overwhelming: racism, rebellions, resource depletion, lack of healthcare, lack of shelter, lack of food. Which will I choose? Then, even if I choose, the problems proliferate. Feed a community, and it becomes dependent on international aid. Revitalize urban slums and destroy hundreds of homes. Promote national security and threaten personal freedom. Defend a people and start a war. What hope is there for a better world?

There is hope in Salesian spirituality. With Salesian spirituality, we begin not by confronting the world’s evils but by treasuring its preciousness.

I have heard that the worst way to enter a romantic relationship is with the intention of changing the partner. The irony in service is the same: often we set forth to help the world and insist on changing it—a poor start to any relationship. Who are we, mere humans, to judge the world and the great schemes that have influenced its present state? A more loving soul would accept our world in all of its beautiful brokenness. This is what Salesian spirituality teaches us: seek first to love.

We recognize that each moment is a gift from God, perfect as it is. In this peace of mind, we open our hearts to the people around us and support them and are supported by them. This is Salesian service.

The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis live this spirituality so fully that everyone feels at home in their monastery. I have witnessed strangers feel so safe and secure there that they cry. The Sisters are not a homeless shelter, a food shelf, or a school; they are simply friends. As friends, they inspire love in others through the power of their present-mindedness and appreciation for life.

Anna and service friends volunteering at the phone bank.

Anna and service friends volunteering at the phone bank.

Before I adopted Salesian Spirituality, service never captured my heart. Now, in Salesian service, my heart is all that is involved; everything else follows as needed.

I serve small. I serve with what I know. I serve at Ascension Church because there I have a friend burdened by her passionate work for immigration reform, so I show up with the hope of making her burden lighter. Mass and the meetings are in Spanish, so I barely understand them. My only role is to show up: I do not have the political or cultural expertise to do more. Slowly, as the weeks go by, the parishioners who are most comfortable with English approach to ask what on Earth I am doing there. They are joyful and welcoming, just a little confused. I am frustrated by my plodding advances in Spanish; I wish I could wake up tomorrow perfectly fluent. And I bet they wish the same about English.

I feel like I am doing nothing, but according to Salesian spirituality, I am doing the most important service possible: I am present. I celebrate Baptisms, First Communions, birthdays, and anniversaries with these people ignored by society. I get to meet the people living in the shadows, and I get to bond with them and work at their side. Before I can fight for any rights or instigate any change, I must embrace this step.

The risk is huge. Crises are desolating our world, and here I am stuttering to say, “hello.”

Yet, it is the love from saying, “hello” that saves the world.

On Service: Q & A with Vis Companion Heidi Akpaette

The following is the first in a series of interviews with Visitation Companions -- a lay 
community committed to the ministry of the Visitation through prayer, Salesian study and service.

The Call to Companionship

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Q: In a few words, what inspired your call to become a Companion to the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis? 

Heidi: I love the vision and mission of the Visitation Sisters and wanted
a tangible way to be involved.

Being a Companion offered me a way
to
invest in the community of North Minneapolis, grow in Salesian Spirituality, and be mentored
by the Visitation Sisters’ life.

Q: What is your favorite saying or teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal?

Heidi: I am inspired by the concept of gentleness-gentleness towards self and gentleness towards others.

On Service

Q: What does the word, “service” mean to you?

Heidi: Service is giving of myself to other people, causes, and missions. It is intentionally moving beyond my own agenda into the agenda of others.

Q: What images of your service come to mind?

Heidi: Learning from the Sister’s wisdom and being in their presence. Advocating for North Minneapolis and the Visitation’s vision of presence to the neighborhood. Bringing ideas and a listening to others on the St Jane House committee. Celebrating Mass with the Sister’s. Planting sunflower seeds. Really seeing people who have their lives on the Northside.

Q: What is the setting for a recent experience of your service?

Heidi: I am at the St Jane house with two other Vis Companions and one of the sisters, we are sitting around a table. We are relaxed in the shared knowledge of the Salesian charisms and our ideas for the St Jane house and it’s mission.

Gifts, Challenges, and Salesian Aspects of Service.

Q: What gifts do you bring to your service?

Heidi: A different generation of experience, a wide variety of connections, networking abilities, and joy in meeting together.

Q: What challenges have you encountered while serving?

Heidi: Not always having the energy to bring more the table and not always having enough space in my personal life from which to give.

Q: What gifts do you receive from serving?

Heidi: Relationships with people that I would otherwise not encounter-hands down that is the best gift.

Q: Where have you found God in your experience of serving?

Heidi: In others-I encounter the living God working and breathing in other people’s lives, sometimes by their actions and sometimes by their words.

Q: What aspects of Salesian spirituality were reflected or manifested in this service experience?

Heidi: Humility in learning from others, seeing the innate dignity in other people, being present with who I am with others doing the same, enjoying a sense of humor with others, and having grace for self in judgment-and challenging myself to grow in my weakness.

Door Ministry and the Mystery of the Visitation

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Tattoo removal, housing crises, food shortages, gunshots wounds, popsicles, physical therapy and God were all topics of conversation for me between 11am and 1pm at the Girard House last Tuesday morning. I was at the monastery doing door ministry.

Following Centering Prayer each week, I make my way from St. Jane House to one of the Visitation Sisters’ locations. Sr. Katherine and I routinely connect for spiritual conversation and “Vocation Partner talk.” I look forward each Tuesday morning to the  spoonfuls of peanut butter and slices of banana that accompany these precious conversations with my dear friend and mentor,  “SK2.” We sit on the front porch, or head into the living room, or sometimes descend to her office in the basement, and we have our chats. In the process, I always feel the mystery of the Visitation at work.

"Windsock Visitation" by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

"Windsock Visitation" by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

Older woman. Younger woman. Each full of life. Something growing. Something trying to be born. There’s a prophetic and redemptive quality to all of our encounters, as we claim, consciously or not, our roles as Mary and Elizabeth and celebrate the divine life within — and the mutuality of our relationship.

On this particular Tuesday, however, when Sr. Katherine wasn’t available,  I found myself at 1619 Girard Avenue North, answering the door and experiencing the mystery of the Visitation in a whole new way.

“D” was from Tennessee. He was dressed in jeans and a white tee, rolled up over his shoulders, and excited to come onto the porch for a cool couple of moments. With a heat index of over 100 degrees, offering a glass of ice water was not only courteous, but a necessary consideration in this climate. He was full of smiles and an energetic spirit, shaking my hand, and repeating his 12 syllable name. “Tell the sisters ‘D’ says, ‘hi’!”

From the hallway, Sr. Mary Margaret appeared,  poking her head out, “Is that my “D”? she asked. She came out and the two embraced. Sr. Mary Marg looked intently at me and relayed their last encounter. “‘D’ was here the day I got home from the hospital. He helped move me back in!”

Sister and “D” reflected on their respective health situations, the challenges of physical therapy and the way our bodily injuries catch up with us over time.

When Mary Marg left to resume her tasks inside,  “D” and I were left to talk.

With two lightening bolt like tattoos marking his cheeks, his disclosed survival of being shot up down south, and the role of adult mentors – for good and ill – in our lives, we turned our conversation to surviving here. Now.

And we prayed.

“D” offered to read to me from the placard that is often handed out to anyone coming to the door of the monastery. The peace prayer of St. Francis de Sales:

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

I handed “D” his requested bus token, and he gave me a hug. And my heart was full.

The encounter rejuvenated and reminded me of how precious little moments in our day can be. While I wasn’t able to connect with Sr. Katherine that day, I did connect with another human being, and in the process felt God’s loving hand in my life.

I hope it was the same for “D.”

Zumba with Jane

by Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

Zumba, anyone?

Zumba, anyone?

St. Jane House always amazes me.

Last Wednesday evening, our own Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion Coordinator, full of the gentle wise spirit of St. Jane herself, exploded in a burst of energy and strength (also St. Jane’s charateristics) in an hour of Zumba.

She acted as if we could all keep up with her, just as Jane always expected others to keep up with her, motivating our “bruised bones to dance (psalms)!” The up-beat Latin music and the glorious weather acompanied Jody’s expert and graceful movements.

BRAVO JODY!
BRAVO ZUMBA!

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For more information on “Zumba with Jane”, see our Events page, or visit the St. Jane House facebook page.  Our next class is Wednesday, August 14th, from 7pm-8pm. Will you join us?

Garden or Bust: Visitation Community in Action

PeacePoleGardenBorder

Join us in the garden!

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

On any given Tuesday night this July at the Fremont House, you might hear the splash of water from the garden hose over the tomatoes, beans, and rhubarb; or note the quiet work of fingers digging into the soil to release some pesky weeds from around the cabbage. Perhaps the sound of giggling catches your ear as volunteers delight in the petunia and zinnias’ border growth? It’s summer time at the monastery, and life is in full bloom in the gardens at the corner of 16th and Fremont Avenue North.

Heading up this summer’s gardening ministry with great enthusiasm is Sr. Katherine Mullin.

“Here you have the same old flowers, but the bouquet is new simply because I have arranged it differently.” -St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life

Perusing the Visitation Monastery’s facebook page, you’ll find words and images from Sr. Katherine, or “SK2“, as she signs her posts,  that highlight her time in this Tuesday- night-summertime ministry with fellow northsiders and Companions.

Gardening Vis Companions: Fabio and Sonja

Gardening Vis Companions: Fabio and Sonja

Sr. Katherine reflects on the service of northside Vis Companions Sonja and Fabio Anifrani, describing their work waking up the shade garden,  pruning old branches, and making way for summer growth. Sr. Katherine states:

“[Fabio and Sonja] revived the spirit of the Sisters as they revived these plants after the long winter.”

To join in this gardening ministry or learn more about the Sisters’ outdoor engagements this season, follow their events here or on facebook.

Stay tuned for more on summer in the city with the Sisters!