Someone’s Calling…..Someone’s Following…

DoYouHaveTheRightSoul30x40

“Somehow, this Sister reminds me of ME.” –Sr. Suzanne (Art with permission of Anne Goetze)

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

As I got my first look at Anne Goetze’s signature piece for the exhibit, Pray to Love: The Annecy France Nun Series, I was immediately caught up into the quiet calm of an old town French street scape. What was it down the road that was calling? Who was the woman on the right? The habited nun carrying a red satchel walks determinedly away from the viewer. Where has she come from? Where is she being called? Thinking she might be an ‘out sister’, one who is charged with doing errands on behalf of a strictly-cloistered religious community, I assume she is on her way to shop or gather pharmacy goods or something like that. But what is already in the red bag? Where is she headed next? I think about this for a minute …

Somehow this Sister reminds me of me.  She is traveling the road alone, by herself. She walks with determination; head held high; eyes forward; solidly moving along. “Walk simply and you will walk confidently” as our foundress Jane de Chantal says. She does not seem alone.

When I entered the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis over 20 years ago I was traveling alone. I was the first new member in our community and did not have a class of others to companion me in what was down my road.

As I follow her down the road toward ‘new town’ Annecy at the picture’s horizon,  I feel the movement of time from the Annecy of Francis deSales and Jane deChantal to the present moment. The woman with the red bag and I travel this road together….we are companions….I will never pass ahead of her….we will walk together,  if only for a time…and I will forever follow her – we are each only one in the long line of women to become Visitandines and walk the streets of Annecy.

Stepping back out of the picture, I return to this present moment where our lives are ever united as Visitation Sisters in the world.

***

About this Reflection/ Instillation

Meeting up with old friends: Sr. Suzanne with Anne and Nathan

Meeting up with old friends: Sr. Suzanne with Anne and Nathan

I first saw Anne Goetze’s work in the video entitled Pray to Love in early 2015. It spoke to me about the life of Visitation Sisters, my life, the life of our community here in North Minneapolis. It speaks of the life of Visitandines through our 400 plus year history. This story needs to be shared. I wanted to share this art with people who I see; people who support our community in so many ways. I hope my family and friends can see the exhibit because it shows who we are in a way that is different from the way they may be used to seeing us or knowing us. Seeing with new eyes and a new heart, not only what is on the canvas but what is beyond it.

Knowing of the Basilica of St. Mary’s commitment to the liturgical arts I made my first contact with Kathy Dhaemers, who is the person responsible for shows at the John XXIII Gallery on the basilica’s lower level. As time passed I came to know Anne Goetze personally, meeting her in Rome and becoming traveling companions for a brief while. When Anne brought the art to Minneapolis I was welcoming her and her son as as old friends — as well as encountering the woman in the picture with the red satchel for the very first time. I could hardly wait for the uncrating to begin…the secure wrappings seemed to take forever to be undone. I wanted to see this painting first of all and as soon as possible… This was an experience not unlike opening the door for someone you know is on the other side, but have never seen in person.

I invite you to view Pray to Love: The Annecy France Nun Series at the Basilica of St. Mary’s lower level John the XXIII Gallery and Teresa of Calcutta Hall, Hennepin at North Sixteenth Street in Minneapolis. Anne will be here on May 22 at 4:30 pm to share the experience with us!

 

THE VOWED LIFE — A Commitment to Live; to Share and to Act!

Sr. Suzanne

S. Suzanne signing the Book of Vows November, 2014

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

“Thank you, for your commitment!” was one of the final comments I heard on my profession day. They were spoken by one of my BOF (Best Oblate Friends) as he was leaving our monastery for the wintry drive back to Michigan after the festivities. Those words meant a lot to me that night and they still do — in fact, they mean more to me each day as I live this Visitation life and each time I renew my vows on the first day of the month — or each time I sign the community vow book on November 21st, when all other Visitandines and Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have their yearly renewal of vows.

“Signing the vow book is more than putting ink to paper…perhaps it is like writing ‘Live Jesus!’ on my heart.” – S. Suzanne Homeyer

This year our Renewal of Vows retreat gave me the time to reflect on how my commitment so many years ago was really a response to God’s promise that we find in the book of Proverbs:

“Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts; for whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor with the Lord.”

My understanding of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience has changed over the years.

S. Suzanne signing the Vow Book of the Monastery of Annecy, France in June, 2009 during the 400th Anniversary Pilgrimage.

S. Suzanne signing the Vow Book of the Monastery of Annecy, France in June, 2009 during the 400th Anniversary Pilgrimage.

On Poverty …

The first time I signed the Book of the Vows I knew I was promising to live as our neighbors here on the north side of Minneapolis. I knew, too, that I would probably not be spending my nights sleeping under bridges or in homeless shelters during the coldest Minnesota nights.  And our monastery was not cold and drafty — a concern my mother often voiced. During my years here I have struggled with whether to purchase something new, find the item at a thrift store or just do without. There is a difference between wants and needs. I may want a calf-length down coat but a warm wool jacket may be enough for doing errands or getting to church on a cold day. Could I attend a conference or workshop out of town and still be living my vow of poverty. A wise friend settled that in my mind by suggesting that if I attend the conference I might learn something to help me better meet the needs of those who come to our door! Isn’t that good stewardship?

On Chastity…

Being loyal and true to those I am in relationship is part of how I live my life chastely. I have to be authentically my self in how I interact with others. I often ask myself if I am being sincere, loving and as open with all others as I would like them to be with me. This type of transparency allows relationships to be nurturing for me and generative for others.

Sr. Suzanne reciting first vows in 1999 at Church of St. Philip parish in north Minneapolis

Sr. Suzanne reciting first vows in 1999 at Church of St. Philip parish in north Minneapolis

On Obedience…

From my first study of the vows as a novice I learned that obedience comes from the same root word as listening. I listen to God in His word, in the words of others and in my own heart. I pay attention to what I am hearing. I let it motivate me. If I do this prayerfully I find myself called to action.   I am not merely reacting to situations but acting as I am called to act by this God to whom I am committed. No matter what, I am committed. And God moves me forward in this commitment each day, each month and each year. Signing the vow book is more than putting ink to paper…perhaps it is like writing ‘’Live Jesus!” on my heart.

 

 

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Advent: God the Father, Pacing the Waiting Room Floor

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“I am praying to God, the Father, this Advent. I know he’s not on this list of saints we are invoking, but he’s central to our prayers. Who is God, the Father? He’s a new dad, pacing the waiting room floor, waiting for Jesus to be born. And he’s pacing the the floor for all of us in our ongoing birth-processes and new life journeys.”

S. Mary Margaret’s words were deeply moving to me as she spoke them to our circle of Vis Companions and Sisters convened last Saturday for our annual Advent Retreat.

Gathered around an alter of candles at the Girard House in north Minneapolis, contemplating the blessed saints and wise figures of this Advent season and offering prayers, we lit candles one at a time invoking the holy women and men’s names and the gifts they offered to our Advent contemplations.  I heard Dorothy Day‘s name spoken, St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicolas, Etty Hilesum, John of the Cross. And then: God, the Father. The image S. Mary Margaret offered of Our Father as an anxious, expectant father, concerned with Mary and his first born‘s well-being fired my own imagination.  It has stayed with me ever since.

***

A month ago, I turned 45 years old. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I spent time inhabiting stories of my early life in Nebraska, going so far as to invite my parents to tell me again of the circumstances surrounding my arrival as their first born child.

My mom was enlivened by the assignment, recalling amusing, minute details of the day leading up to my birth. While baking a chocolate cake and gathering ingredients for brown sugar frosting, her water broke — though she wasn’t quite certain what was taking place in her body. She called her doctor, who reportedly said, “Well, call me when you are sure what’s going on.” At the age of 21, my first-time pregnant mother then dialed the neighbor, a nurse, and sought her counsel. In the end, she and my dad took off for Bryan Memorial hospital in Lincoln,  and 8 hours later, I emerged.

My father’s recall process came in spurts and fits, with his self-described exasperated efforts at aiding my mother in the breathing process during her labor, and his subsequent “failure” at keeping her calm. Apparently, my dad had my mother breathing so erratically that she hyperventilated, couldn’t relax, and so he was sent from the labor and delivery room by an attending hospital nurse.

The tale comes vividly today into my mind’s eye, as I imagine Mary and Joseph on the night of Christ’s birth. What did either of them know in the way of child birth? Was lamaze training part of the birthing preparation 2000 years ago? In my meditations, I see these holy humans amidst the air, earth, straw, elements; they are attentive, anxious, intent.

And then creeps back in God, the Father: pacing. He is no different that my human father: waiting, hopeful, trusting, walking to and fro in his father’s room.

Can you see this with me? Imagine Abba, Father, Daddy, for these moments, reduced to the uncertain expectation we all experience in the intense births of our life? How does this imagined scene fire your own identification with the incarnation tale? Can you fathom your own holy wonderings and human divinity as God paces alongside you, or breathes deeply and awaits news of your arrival?

Happy Advent Contemplations!

 

Drawing on the Quakers: Practicing Clearness Committee

Image from UCC: 7 Steps to Discerning Your Vocation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“Many of us are drawn to this way of listening and leading in the midst of complex, diverse settings–and we hunger to do it with more integrity and in more connection with others on this path.” – Spirit-Led Leadership: Contemplative Leadership for the 21st Century

It’s a Sunday afternoon in April, and I am with a group of thirty or so other women and men in the Carondelet Center – a retreat space of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. We are convened for a workshop entitled, “Spirit-Led Leadership: Contemplative Leadership for the 21st Century.” I am grateful to be one among many, joined by several Visitation Sisters and Companion friends. We are leaders; we are contemplative-sorts; we aspire to be Spirit-led. We are here to practice and grow in our abilities to tune in and take our next steps, listening to the Divine, for the benefit of our communities.

“There is a way of leading that trusts that an invisible force, much larger than our own will, is seeking to work through us individually and together. This force moves toward wholeness and is actively seeking to be in relationship with us. Through stillness, discernment, and reflective action it is possible to move in close connection with this force–in business, in social change, and personally.” – From Spirit-Led Leadership

On this day, we are led by Margaret Benefiel and Michael Bischoff. It was Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM who circulated the invitation amongst our Companions, and my recent experience under Michael’s leadership at a Social Innovation Lab event, that catalyzed my limbs. Yes! I will go! Yes! This will be helpful!

To this day, I am drawing on the experiences of that afternoon in almost every conscious working, waking, moment.

“How can I listen well? How can I know with a sense of peace and freedom what it means to choose wisely, powerfully, and take my next step?”

Clearness Committee Experience

After introductions, and a grounding in the theory behind this kind of work, our room of thirty plus individuals divided into triads, and Margaret led us through a practice the Quakers call a “Clearness Committee.”

Through quiet and meditation, we identified our root sources, the strength of our being, the Spirit’s presence, and recognized our safety in this circle.

The protocol for this experience was clearly stated and posted. As participants, we simply listened to the instructions, and were free then to tune in, quietly, to all stirring and movement up within ourselves and inside our groups.

  1. We began with a minute of silence, holding the first of our three group members in our hearts, focusing on them, the circumstances they were about to describe for our triad.
  2. We listened intently for three minutes to presenter number one. Without interruption, we tuned into their words and what we felt their heart to be saying.
  3. We had an opportunity to then pose simple, clarifying questions.
  4. We returned to quiet and prayer, holding the focus person and the circumstances in our heart, cherishing the person and the gifts he or she brings to the world.
  5. After another sixty seconds, we took turns giving voice to the information surfacing in our own hearts. We echoed back statements of the speaker. We paraphrased with as much integrity as possible their circumstances. We communicated that they had been heard. We put words to the questions that bubbled up in our hearts and minds — with the goal of helping the focus person get in touch with their own deep wisdom.  The speaker-leader-discerner just listened. During this time, one of us took notes for the presenter to review later.
  6. Before our last movement of the clearness committee, we paused again, bowing our heads, or closing our eyes, to honor the sacredness of this time.
  7. As a closing to the 25 minute clearness committee discernment activity, the speaker was invited to share which form of closing they desired. A prayer? A song? A dance? More silence?

***

I invite you into this experience today. Seek out a circle. Claim the quiet. Recognize the Spirit at work in your life — leading, nudging, loving you.

 

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For more information on Quaker Clearness Committee:
The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach To Discernment
by Parker J. Palmer

On Suffering: Finding Comfort in Community

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I hurt my eye. After thirty years of wearing contacts, it got dry. It turned red. It really started to ache — so I went in to the eye doctor and she informed me that the surface looked like the equivalent of a “dry, cracked and bleeding hand.” She immediately instructed me to quit wearing my contact lenses, gave me some drops and an antibiotic gel to put in  twice a day. A week later, things were worse. When I returned to the doctor, she told me how glad she was that I had come back. Turns out, it was much more serious than she initially thought: I had a herniated cornea.

For eighteen days, I was in a lot of pain. I mean a lot. My entire eye socket throbbed. I couldn’t bear to have the lights on, window shades open, or be in the sun. I wore dark glasses – I had five different pairs of varying shades to protect my eye and the non-stop headache that accompanied my blurry vision. I cried a lot and craved daily naps and early bedtime hours. I was prescribed a much more potent antibiotic to apply hourly. And I was told to just wait.

How do we conduct ourselves in any kind of prayerful manner when we are physically suffering? (Are we called to be polite patients of injury? Or our authentic “ouchy” selves?) What does our state of mind/ heart/ spirit reveal about us in our most vulnerable states? Where do we put our trust? How do we wield our anger or rage? What do we make of our most wanting selves?

These are some of the questions that have come to me in my reflections on this past month’s experience. My eye is on the mend, but now I’m inviting my heart to catch up with what I’m learning about such physically uncomfortable journeys.

In the Visitation community this past month we have had four of our six sisters endure physical challenges: starting on Easter Sunday, when Sr. Karen slipped on a slice of remaining sidewalk ice and shattered her ankle. Following the spill, and subsequent surgery requiring new pins put into her body, were two planned surgeries that likewise addressed the repair of body parts. Sr. Mary Virginia got a new knee and Sr. Mary Margaret had heart surgery. In the space of these medical procedure navigations there was another slip on some unseasonal sidewalk snow that left Sr. Suzanne with a sprained ankle. (And this doesn’t even count the two brain surgeries that Sr. Mary Frances had last Fall!)

In the midst of all this physical discomfort, I have found radiant spirits. I have witnessed faithful, joyful women with confidence in their recoveries, who have sought solace in a resurrected Christ who carries all of our wounds and helps us trust in transcendence.

While I have been weeping and wining in my process of healing, the sisters have been praying for me. When I believed myself to be possibly forever disabled, or unable to endure another hour of watery eyes, excruciating headache and bright light, the sisters invited me into a space of comfort and alliance with their knowing and faithful community anchored in the Living Jesus. I wasn’t alone.

This kind of comfort, community, is priceless. I invite you today to reflect with me on where you find such alliance in love.

“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.”

Visitation Snapshots: Preparing for our Feast Day

How do you celebrate the Feast of the Visitation?

How do you celebrate the Feast of the Visitation?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“…blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”,–Luke 1:42

This Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the story that is our order’s namesake, that anchors our charism and presence in communities all over the world — especially in north Minneapolis. This feast remembering Mary’s visit to her older cousin Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant, holds the beautiful tenants of our communities’ faith: for as members of the Visitation, we all work to tune into one another as vibrant, life-bearing, divinely-inspired creatures; we look for the Elizabeth in all who come to our door; we seek to be Mary, emulating her in relationship with each other — we look to receive the gifts of Our Lady and her cousin in how we are counseled, mentored, visited by all who knock and enter.

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

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

“…as members of the Visitation, we all work to tune into one another as vibrant, life-bearing, divinely-inspired creatures…”

In preparation for this feast, I offer a few snapshots of our Thursday Feast Day calendar that speak to me of the Visitation narrative:

–Thursday marks the Visitation Senior Students’ last day of service on the northside; we will have a ceremony honoring and acknowledging the way these young women have been among us for two weeks. Can you imagine the faces of Mary and Elizabeth as we convene at St. Jane House and reflect on our time together?

–Thursday evening we bury our longtime friend and prayer companion, Deacon Dale Timmerman, who passed away on the eve of Pentecost. Will you join us in celebrating Dale’s northside presence to us, along with his wife Nancy’s, as a Visitation one?

As we literally mark this feast day in our community, squeezing in a ritual of sorts in our afternoon prayer, we are joined by our newest community member, who comes to us from another religious Order altogether and creates for us another opportunity to be the Visitation. Sr. Mary Mao, our housemate and dear Maryknoll sister from China, who lives with our community while she completes her graduate coursework, allows us to breathe and receive Mary/ Elizabeth energy as women religious all over the world do. May we continue to grow in our relationship and be nurturing of life-giving love and witness to our Lord!

How do you see Mary and Elizabeth alive in your world, work, home? Join us in prayer, as we pause to thank God for all the ways that divine “Visitations” are a part of our daily lives.

May: A Month Celebrating Mary!

Our Lady of Guadalupe by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

"Our Lady of Guadalupe" by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

It’s May, friends! A month during the liturgical year when Catholics devote time to our Blessed Mother. I’m pausing today to think about the various ways I do this, and considering ways that I might grow in my prayer and devotion to Mary. Perhaps some of this will resonate with you?

I started my day driving across town in traffic that had me honking — within four blocks of my St. Paul residence – after being cut off in my lane, en route to the Monastery. Immediately, I heard: “Time to pray.” Without much thought, I began a decade of Hail Mary’s that brought a calm to my angered spirit. I found myself smiling, eased up on the gas pedal, and released my grip on the wheel as the words, “Full of grace, the Lord is with thee” went through my mind and heart.

As a pre-teen and adolescent growing up in northeast Nebraska, Mary made few appearances in my prayer life. It was at my friend Jeanne Pfiefer’s house, however, that the rosary became part of my spiritual consciousness. Following meal times at Bud and Alice’s house, where their combined brood numbered ten, we were invited to clear dishes and then return to the table, where our litany of Hail Mary’s began. I remember being 14 and thinking, “Huh. This doesn’t happen at my house.” Jeanne seemed a little pink in the face the first time I was invited to join in the prayer, (an apologetic or self-conscious peer?); but I reveled in the experience. I loved sitting at the table with the Pfiefer-Ramaekers clan and being included in this holy ritual that seemed to anchor their family. It was an “out of the ordinary” thing for me, and I marveled at how Bud and Alice lead their choir of children in this manner.

It would be 16 years later before those rosary experiences would come home to me again and inspire my faith life and thinking in a new way. At the untimely death of Jeanne’s parents, I heard her older brother bring up this rosary ritual during the eulogy of Bud and Alice.

Oldest living son Terry Pfiefer recalled the story, asking his step-father why he and his mother insisted on this after-dinner prayer each night. “Why do we pray to Mary?” he asked.

Bud responded, “Well, think of when you want something really badly. Do you come to me first, or go ask your mom?”

Terry laughed, “Right.”

Bud continued, “It’s not that much different in my mind with God. When we want something in prayer, or really need help, we can go to our mother, Mary, and ask her to intercede on our behalf.”

That explanation has stayed with me ever since.

***

  • I wonder, what Marion prayers are part of your faith life?
  • How does the rosary inspire or inform your spiritual routines?
  • Who else likes to pray the rosary in traffic or while they are in tense spots?
  • I wonder if the Vis Sisters might list  all the Mary-directed prayers that are part of their office?

During this month of May, I am striving to tune in and engage Mary more in my heart and mind. Will you join me in this intentional manner of prayer?

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Resource Links:

How to pray the rosary

Marian Prayers (EWTN)

VISITATION SISTERS OFFER WOMEN’S RETREAT IN MAY

An invitation from Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, vhm and the Visitation Community:

Smiling retreatantsWhat: Northside Women’s Retreat

When: Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19. you must be able to attend the entire retreat. Friday night runs from 6 pm until 9 pm and Saturday we go from 8:30 am until 3 pm.

Where: Retreat will be in the Cafeteria of the Ascension School on the corner of Dupont and 17th Avenue North.

Speakers will be: Dr. Barbara Sutton of St. John’s University and Ms. Dorice Law, a northsider and former participant in the Women’s Retreat. Dorice is currently a student at St. John’s.

Focus of retreat: PRAYING WITH THE FACE OF WOMEN IN SCRIPTURES. The presenters have done extensive work on Women in the St. John’s Bible.

NOTE: Registration will be limited to the first 50 women who register. Keep watching our website, the mail and Acension’s church bulletin and listen for pulpit announcements telling you when registration forms are available.