The Long Road Home: Eddie Brown’s story*

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Eddie Brown at our Halloween Family Party

Eddie Brown at the Halloween Family Party

Eddie Brown first met the Visitation sisters some 20 years ago when he was at Turning Point, a north side residential treatment center, trying to shake the addictions and afflictions that had plagued his life.

“The [sisters] have taught me something about loving, sharing, caring and giving back. I know I can always call them….I hope they know I will deny them nothing.” — Eddie Brown

He’d come to the Fremont house to borrow a shovel, which he later returned. But he kept the nuns as his lifelong gift and they have celebrated the good times with him and supported him through the bad.

“Once I walked across that threshold, my life has never been the same,” Brown said. “I got a sense of the spirit and that’s what I wanted. I couldn’t find peace with myself until I walked into that (Fremont) house.

“[Eddie] is kind of my ideal. If he falls, he gets right back up. If he’s needed, he comes.”
– S. Mary Virginia

Eddie wanted that peace after – as he recalls – being on the street for more than 25 years – six towns in four states, just “dealin’ and druggin’.” It came to an end in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where, one night in an alley off of Lake Street, he decided to go to Turning Point..

Eddie Brown with S. Katherine and neighborhood children at the back to school party.

Eddie Brown with S. Katherine and neighborhood children at the Back-to-School Party.

“I had robbed a guy the night before and was smoking up the cash (cocaine), sitting there by myself,” he said. “It was like I heard my mother’s voice and I remembered this guy telling me about a treatment center. I had never heard the term before.

“I threw away my pipe and dope and started walking to the north side at 3 in the morning. I was sitting on the steps of Turning Point, waiting until they opened. A guy got out of his car, looked at me and said, “Are you ready to get clean?’”

He was.  He got off the merry-go-round, fueled by crack and chaos, and got on the wagon. He fell off once but came back and he’s been clean and sober for 27 years.

“Eddie’s a survivor,” said Bob Briscoe, a former Chicago cop and, like Brown, a long-time friend of the sisters. “Eddie’s a man of his word and I believe he wants to make a difference in this community. He’s there when the nuns call and he’s involved himself in several neighborhood projects.”

The most soulful project Eddie ever tackled was getting his friend Mona off the streets.   They did drugs together, struggled to find food and shelter together, shared hopes and dreams together.   When Eddie was at Turning Point, he had a dream about Mona.

“I found her and she couldn’t believe it was me because I was looking so good,” Brown said. “But she wasn’t ready to come in (to treatment). Three weeks later I got a call. “Do you really mean it?” she said. I told her yes and she went to a 90-day program in Anoka.”

Two recovering addicts put together one loving marriage – Eddie and Mona – and began their sober journey. The sisters helped with a down payment on their first house. And the sisters were there when Mona was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Eddie shares his story with friends at St. Patrick's in Edina.

Eddie shares his story with friends at St. Patrick’s in Edina.

“She lived for eight years with the cancer,” Eddie said, “and I was with her all the way. I didn’t leave her side. Shortly before she died (in 2013), she looked at me with tears running down her cheeks, She said, “Baby, I’m goin’ home. I love you.’”

Brown struggled with Mona’s loss for more than two years. He’d set up a kind of shrine to her, with pictures and her ashes. Every day he’d talk to her. “Finally, one day I was saying a prayer and I believe God told me, ‘Eddie, I’ve got Mona now. You can let her go.’”

The shrine is gone. The memories linger. So do the lessons Eddie said he learned from the sisters.

“They’ve taught me something about loving, sharing, caring and giving back. I know I can always call them. Sister Mary Frances and I share a lot of stuff, sometimes in a conversation on the phone at night. I hope they know I will deny them nothing.”

Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt hopes Eddie knows of her regard for him. “He is kind of my ideal,” she said. “If he falls, he gets right back up. If he’s needed, he comes. When Mona needed, he was there. He really loved her.”

That fits the legacy that Eddie Brown wants: “That I helped my family and my community and, sometimes, helped bring them closer to the Lord.” Today, he’s raising Mona’s 9-year-old grandson, Abel.   He made a promise to her.

***

Tune into our YouTube Channel to see the video companion piece to this by Jim Shoop.

* This is the third 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! 

Looking Back at Vis Neighbors: Our First Lay Community

First Vis Neighbors Commissioning Ceremony,  Winter, 1994 Newsletter

Introducing VISITATION NEIGHBORS…the Seeds of Tomorrow’s Flowers (from News From the Northside, Fall 1994 — lead story)

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

This blog is indeed a ‘back story.’  All any of us have to do when we want to see where we are today is to look back and see God’s presence along the way.  Some call it Providence…some prefer the term serendipity and others just coincidence.  This is the back story on the Visitation Companions…it is mainly the history of the beginnings of Visitation Neighbors and the current news of the presence of Salesian Spirituality alive and well-lived for over 20 years in the lives of Trish Kloeckl and Lorilee Lambrecht, the founding mothers of our monastery’s first lay community.

“My own formation in the order took place alongside the formation and spiritual growth (and stretching of consciousness) of the Visitation Neighbors.” – S. Suzanne Homeyer, vhm

When I arrived at the monastery in 1995, the Visitation Neighbors were already established and part of the on-going ministry and presence of the Sisters here on the North Side. How did they come to be? My own formation in the order took place alongside the formation and spiritual growth (and stretching of consciousness) of the Neighbors. Over the years there have been 19 or 20 adult members and 4 youngsters that were Neighbors.

“It all began with…”  as Trish tells the history, her “time on the north side… living with friends and volunteering many places working with neighborhood residents.” Trish shared her idea of a lay community with Sr. Jean of the Cookie Cart and together they “walked the idea/vision over to the Vis Sisters and invited them (the Sisters) to become the ‘new stewards of the vision’….Shortly after that time, I moved in with the Sisters for 9 months and the idea/vision continued to unfold.”

An Invitation to Vis Neighbors copy

An Invitation to Vis Neighbors from Community Newsletter, 1994

The Sisters agreed to explore a new expression of the Salesian charism and the following invitation was issued in the community’s newsletter:

Lorilee Lambrecht had attended Mendota Visitation High School. Non scholae, sed vitae (not for school but for life) was etched on the keychain she still used from her Vis High years…I know it isn’t just a slogan to the Sisters.”

“After traveling extensively through the United States and living overseas… I was discerning about living in a base-Christian community to help support the lifestyle changes that were occurring in my life as a result of my mission experiences in Guatemala,” Lorilee reminisced. “Three words began to draw me to the Visitation Order and the North side: community, spiritual formation and family…I asked God to be obvious in showing me His will…within days the Vis Minneapolis newsletter was in my mail box….When the invitation came from the Sisters regarding their new lay group, my heart joyfully responded in an instant…I knew. We met, we knew this was it…we began the journey of faith.”

“I am so grateful for how Divine Providence moved and graced my story with the presence of the Sisters and their spirituality that has assisted me through many stages of my life as I move toward deeper integration and living in the Presence of God.” –Lorilee Lambrecht, Vis Neighbor

Vis Neighbors today:  Lorilee, S. Suzanne, Trish

Vis Neighbors “Selfie”  today:
Lorilee, S. Suzanne, Trish

Some 20 years later Lorilee, Trish and I gathered to share a simple meal in Trish’s southside Minneapolis home.  In anticipation of that sharing Lorilee wrote, “We have been through so much life together and we are still best friends.” As we prepared supper, ate and prayed together I saw the truth in that statement .  The three of us recalled fond memories of Vis Neighbor days, my time as a novice, their many ministry activities in the ‘hood and so much more.

Trish is now living just down the street from another community seeker she had first come to know on the north side.  She is still blessed to have her professional calling as an Occupational Therapist as well as her love of nature and inviting others to do wilderness challenges. She continues to encourage family, friends and neighbors to commit to community; to struggle to build community; to live community and to call others to the joy of life lived in community AND she still knows it is the Holy Spirit that breathes it all into being.

Lorilee lived in the inner city for nine years and when she moved out of North Minneapolis to Mendota Heights where she grew up she feels she “was fortunate to be situated very near Visitation Monastery Mendota. I am so grateful for how Divine Providence moved and graced my story with the presence of the Sisters and their spirituality that has assisted me through many stages of my life as I move toward deeper integration and living in the Presence of God.  Thomas Merton says that ‘every moment plants a seed in a person’s soul.  I had many beautiful experiences that were planted in my spirit during my time as a Vis Neighbor.  The seeds of those experiences continue to flower within my life.” She was inspired to establish Grace Center in Guatemala, a community for women and children needing supportive community, medical and spiritual services. She also finds herself a very busy mother who is involved in a variety of “callings” and interests as a wife and as a parent to three children Sophia (16); Annalisa (13) and Moses 12.”

“All the Flowers of All the Tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”
News From the Northside, Fall of 1994.

Click here to read the original Newsletter article: News From the Northside, Fall of 1994