This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life.

by Johan van Parys

Her hand shows the marks of time: arthritis, wrinkles, veins, cuts and bruises. Her hand is open, extended and inviting. A gesture which is reflective of the mission she serves. This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life, a dedicated life. This is the hand of a woman who has served the church for many, many years. This is the hand of a woman, convinced that she can continue to contribute to the church despite old age and even beyond death.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets.

Nestled in her hand is a simple rosary, seemingly made of olive wood. It is the string of beads she has fingered thousands upon thousands of times as prayers passed her lips. This rosary was probably passed on to her from another sister as most everything else she uses. Her prayers build upon her sister’s prayers stringing years and years of prayer together. It is this rosary she faithfully returns to at the end of the day. It is this rosary she purposefully reaches for during difficult times. It is this rosary she happily cradles during times of joy. Her dedication to prayer keeps her centered. It keeps her rooted. It allows her to stay the sacred course she embarked on when she took her religious vows.

In this image the rosary is not used for prayer, rather the rosary gently placed in her hand is a form of evangelization. A worn rosary in the hand of an elderly woman speaks to the power of prayer. Without saying a word she shows the rosary as if inviting us to take it from her so we too may enter into the saving chain of prayer. This is her legacy: prayer saves! It is what she hopes to pass on to each one of us.

Though somewhat out of focus we can see the pectoral cross she is wearing around her neck. She received it at her profession and has worn it ever since. The cross has given her direction for all these years and continues to do so today. The cross in this image quietly testifies to the fact that it is by the cross we have been saved and it is by the cross we are called to live. If the rosary invites us to prayer, the cross calls us to action. These are the two great tenets of our life as Christians. Together they have been given to us as a mandate by Jesus himself: Celebrate the Eucharist and Wash Feet.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets. They are the women who have staffed our schools and universities where they have taught our children. They are the women who have worked in our hospitals where they have cared for our sick and our elderly.

They may wear veils instead of miters and they may carry books rather than crosiers but they are the ones who have shaped and molded so many of us into the people we are today. Their impact on our church is beyond measure. We simply would not be who we are as a people and as a church without them.

This image is a quiet testimony to the great work God is accomplishing through our religious and through all women in our church.

 

Johan Van Parys

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

*See this artwork in the Pray to Love Exhibit at The Basilica of St. Mary.

On Pilgrimage: Sr. Karen Mohan Reflects

Journey _ Photo_by_Melissa_Borgmann-Kiemde

“We shall not cease from exploration…”

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

In my early years of teaching middle grade girls at Visitation Academy in St. Louis, I once decorated the September classroom bulletin board with the Chinese proverb, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step”. I’ve always been drawn to the theme of “journey” or “pilgrimage” as a metaphor for life, so much so that when I made my final vows as a Visitation Sister in 1971, the front of my invitation read, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time…” (T.S. Eliot)

With the “spiritual“ compass given us through our Baptism, we are active participants, and it is through our choices that our life pilgrimage reaches its goal.” 

What is it about a pilgrimage that is so evocative? Maybe it’s because our whole life is like a pilgrimage. The people, events and experiences on this journey are not “dumped” on us as if we were passive recipients of some destiny outside ourselves. With the “spiritual“ compass given us through our Baptism, we are active participants, and it is through our choices that our life pilgrimage reaches its goal.

When I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I was aware that it was essential to be very observant and deliberate about each “next” step. Other times, like when I was recovering from a broken ankle and had to keep my foot elevated for a few weeks, those steps became more like a metaphor for an inner walk that requires a different type of attentiveness.

Currently I’m doing some remote preparation for a golden marker moment on my life pilgrimage. Next June 6, 2016, I will celebrate my 50th anniversary of religious profession.   As part of this preparation, I will occasionally share some reflections on this blog about the  people, events and experiences of my life as a Visitation Sister. Please feel free to respond to my musings!

Karen Mohan, VHM

Sr. Karen Mohan

In the spirit of “pilgrimage”, I will end with one of my favorite poems from Wendell Berry:

We travellers, walking to the sun, can’t see

Ahead, but looking back the very light

That blinded us shows us the way we came,

Along which blessings now appear, risen

As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,

By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward

That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

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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Post 25 Years — Thinking Ahead

The following article comes from our Winter 2014 Newsletter: Number 75
"What will our future community look like?"

“What will our future community look like?”

What will our future community look like?

We are aware that more and more lay people are deeply committed to the values and virtues of Visitation/ Salesian Spirituality but not necessarily to the vows.

For 25 years we have lived, deepened, evolved by continued reflection and discernment where we find the will of God. Our first endeavor to meet the above mentioned awareness we called The Visitation Neighbors, a group of men and women, living in community in our neighborhood and participating in our life as far as possible. That group evolved into The Visitation Companions, a broader based group of people now numbering about twenty, not necessarily residing in the neighborhood, but connected to the Monastery.

SK2 Sonny SMVThe “engagements” that were added two years ago now include: The Monastic Immersion Experience, when women can come to live the monastic life with the Sisters for up to one year; The Visitation Internship Program when women or men can volunteer for one year to live and serve in the neighborhood.

Now we envision a Visitation community of laity alongside the monastic community of vowed religious who would embrace the will of God by living Jesus in the midst of our immediate neighborhood. They would have a life of prayer; would extend hospitality, embrace diversity, become self-sufficient, practice mutuality in

"We envision a Visitation Community of laity alongside the monastic..."

leadership as they minister and serve; all done in LOVE. This group would enter into the ministry and activities the Sisters now have, join in the monastic prayer at times and share in the mission to be a prayerful presence in North Minneapolis.

The members could be single men or women, married, families with children, living in north Minneapolis, building on relationships established by the sisters the past 25 years.

So what will our community look like in the future?

 

By Mary Virginia Schmidt, originally from the St. Louis Visitation Monastery, is one of the founding members of the Minneapolis Monastery. 

 

 

 

The Vowed Life

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Where do our vows begin?

Practicing our commitments start long before they are actualized. Long before we may even know what we want to become or more importantly who we are to become.

First I do Proclamation in Crazy Coupe Car

First I do Proclamation in Cozy Coupe Car

In the green carpet of closely shaved grass I watched my one year old purposely and excitedly walk around his cozy coupe car and climb inside proudly proclaiming “I do,” as much to himself as to others in his proximity. I watch his feet feel the uneven ground. His sway teeters side to side, his gaze is focused on the task at hand. His first verbal “I do,” to match all the I-doing he has done for the past three months. This is the beginning of a refrain I know I will hear for the upcoming year. We are entering the phase where I back up and watch him do.

In that swift brushstroke of cut-grass-clinging-to-bare-feet-of-a-moment, I realize we start practicing our vows, our commitments long before we choose them or they claim us. We begin vocational practice with our one-year-old phase of “I Dos!” and grow them.

“I do,” an assertion of our autonomous self on any and all chosen tasks. An attitude, which often overrides frustrations, which compels us to practice the mundane until mastery, and which builds a pride and self-confidence that imprints upon our cellular memory.

However, autonomy only exists in relationship with community, and our verbal proclamations exist only in relationship with silence. I spent a morning at Clouds in Water Zen to steep myself in silence amongst others. I craved silence, and wanted it in community. I resisted the urge to fall asleep, head bob after head bob as I sat on my meditation cushion trying to “Be still!” in a Maurice Sendak sort of way. Trying to sink into silence; not sleep. Watching my idealized silence slip away to my reality of surprised exhaustion.

After the silence, Byakuren Judith Ragir gave a Dharma Talk on the Five Ranks of Buddhism, asking us to think about it more as a landscape you move through over and over again.”To meet what is before you with intimacy whatever that is, is a marker of a development of mature faith.” Ragir took both hands scooping the air before her toward her heart and repeated, “To meet what is your present with intimacy.” Then she let the silence fall before her and amongst us.

Five year old Nizzel George

Five year old Nizzel George

Ahhh I sighed, but how do you meet with intimacy tragedy from violence? How does a mother or grandmother do as the gospel implores us, “To harden not our hearts,(Ps 95:8)” when only last week a five year old boy from north Minnepolis, Nizzel, was shot by a spray of bullets as he slept on his grandmother’s couch. Nizzel was buried today, and according to the Star Tribune “Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr. ended the ceremony with a call for the north side to stop the violence, ‘Let’s call it the Nizzel Pledge,’ he said.” It is an image that sears me as I sit on my couch, my back to my picture window, my boys alive before me, tears stream down my face, as I sit in silence listening. Listening to Sister Katherine share, “Only five years old. His life, as is everyone’s was so worth living. Nizzel, we will be with your mom, dad and grandma and everyone else at Shiloh Temple, lovingly supporting your family. Your grandma came to our house last night. We prayed and cried together. You were a wonderful child.”

Silence will give way to celebration tomorrow. On a day when firecrackers ring, hearts break open again as we remember the loss of Anthony, a young African American teen from north Minneapolis, who died far too young two years ago on the fourth of July. Well before his “I dos” were realized.

As I listen to firecrackers sound tonight I cannot help but think for some the sounds ricochet like haunted bullets and I find I jump at their sound as I write this. Or for war veterans and refugees the sight of them exploding in the night sky brings flash backs of bombs, terror one cannot fully heal from.

Yet our gospel call is to live our “I do’s, to harden not our hearts, and to meet what is before us with intimacy,” whew no easy task! Lately, when I do my morning runs, I practice running with my chest open to the world so that my heart leads my runs, with my gaze strong and steady at a distant point so as not to lose sight of what is before me, pleading my awareness, begging me to meet it with intimacy. I practice an open sure-footed posture as I hit the uneven ground beneath me.

We need silence. We need good posture toward others and ourselves. We need the courage and practice to say I do out loud long before we say it to a lifelong commitment. It starts when we are one, fresh feet kissing the green earth, walking with a proud posture exploring our infinite world, proclaiming I do as we climb into our cozy coupe cars ready to steer our paths toward deeper joy and open to that which may break our hearts.

WE’RE ENGAGED!

Vis Sisters Be The Change

"We -- the Sisters -- are engaged! We are committed."

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

“We’re engaged!!”  was the Facebook message from a friend of mine in Mexico. Announcing this to the world through the social media? Why not? Of course! Being engaged to someone or with something should be out there for all to see.

Commitment is nothing to be taken lightly…WE — the Sisters — are engaged. Yes, you read that correctly….We ARE engaged. We are committed…

We are engaged with many people and committed to sharing our Visitation/Salesian spirituality with others. We want to insure that the ministry and mission and our way of living the Visitation charism  continues here on the north side well into the future.  To this end we have been exploring, praying about, formulating and putting into place a five-faceted plan of engagement. There are several ways a person may become engaged with us in our presence and ministry.

Visitation Engagement Programs

cross-in-handsWe are willing to join hands with people who are searching for God’s will in their lives.  Following the Spirit is a series of evenings on discernment and sharing about how God calls and how we can listen to God’s direction. Young adult men and women, single or married can participate in this form of engagement with us.  Space is limited but future sessions have been planned  and interested people can see more info on our website for the series beginning in the fall…there is even a new gem added to this form of engagement!

Our first group of VIP’s (Visitation Internship Program) participants are winding down their time of service and we are currently recruiting young people who are interested in giving a year of service, either in the midst of studies or after college. Sharing prayer, meals and ministry at the monastery and in the northside community are a part of this engagement picture. Building intentional community and living together in a home near the Sisters is yet another important facet of this form of engagement. Young adults, men or women, age 21 — 35  may apply now for next fall. An application can be found on our website.

Our first applicant in our Monastic Immersion Experience spent some time with us this past week.  Women, who are interested in living our contemplative lifestyle at any point in their life may consider spending 6 months to a year living, praying and ministering with us while living in the monastery. Of course, sharing domestic life with the Sisters is involved!

The Visitation Companions are a group of men and women who are interested in studying our spirituality and making a commitment to live it in their own daily life — taking it to the marketplace and wherever they may be.  It is not necessary to live in north Minneapolis, but sharing prayer and ministry with the Sisters whenever possible  and meeting together to share experience and develop their own sense of community is a goal.  Current Companions act as mentors for people interested in this form of Visitation engagement.  Currently there are about 18 Companions…talk about an 18- carat gold band!

And as our identifier says “we are looking for more visionary women to be a prayerful presence in North Minneapolis”  as Vowed Members.

We are not writing our proposal to you in an airplane on a clear blue sky but  know that this sincere invitation is lovingly offered to you and others you may know with open hands….won’t you put yours in ours?