These were the words that Jesus spoke to Sr. Mary Margaret one morning as she was at prayer and watching the sunrise. In her conversational prayer, she said she would miss the sunrise. And the response she heard was “You will BE the sunrise.”
I only heard Sr. Mary Margaret share this story once, but I promised myself that when she died I would be there to greet her the next morning at the sunrise. I was able to honor that promise. The day after her death, I was down at the Mississippi River, sitting on the bluff between Plymouth and Broadway, awaiting the sunrise. It was glorious.
As I reflect on this story and the story she tells of her “Friend Who Rose from the Dead” I am moved by the theme of “rising” that is threaded throughout. She had a Friend Who Rose from the Dead, and now we, too, have a friend who rose from the dead as she has passed into her glory. I am reminded of this each day as I witness the rising of the sun.
Here you will find a collection of ways that we have celebrated Sr. Mary Margaret’s life:
Sr. Mary Frances Reis shares her grief at the Prayer Tent
For the past 30+ years, we Visitation Sisters have been blessed to make our home in north Minneapolis “to Live Jesus by being part of this multicultural community—to share prayer, hope and God’s blessings” (from our Mission Statement).
Our Northside community, along with our national and global communities, is experiencing many losses related to COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd. Literally every dimension of life as we have known it has either been lost or changed dramatically.
As we Sisters have been observing Safe Shelter and the protocols that accompany it, we have had to cancel most, if not all, of our “hands on” activities, such as our annual Women’s Retreat, summer camp for 100 kids, neighbors and friends joining us for community prayer and Mass, National Night Out, and on and on. However, our door ministry is alive and well, and—thanks to our countless benefactors—we are grateful to be able to help many families and individuals with their immediate needs.
We have a profound desire to be in solidarity with those who are suffering and struggling with an unknown future. What gratitude we felt when we heard about Don and Sondra Samuels’ initiative: Healing our City—30 Days of Silent Prayer, July 1-30, 2020. They set up a prayer tent on Broadway and Bryant that was open to everyone to come and spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silent prayer to grieve the loss of George Floyd’s life and to listen for direction for the future of our City. The prayer tent was open daily from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus invites us who are burdened with cares to “come and rest” with Him. I, as well as the other Sisters who could, went to rest at the Tent many times over these past four weeks. As Father Dale Korogi put it in a recent homily, “The rest Jesus offers is not an escape from suffering, but repose that equips us for discipleship, for the work of justice, sustenance as we stand with those in the line of fire…. We are being given an opportunity to create a new community and neighborhood.” Even though the 30 Days of Silent Prayer is over, we invite you to repose with Jesus and participate with us in creating a new community.
As these special and undoubtedly strange months as a VIP intern come to a close, I am cherishing the “little nosegay of devotion,” as Frances de Sales would say, that I’ve gathered up.
It is such a beautiful bouquet reminding me that the little things make the biggest difference; silence is sacred and healing; being who you are and being that well glorifies God; childlike spirits are possible at any age; wisdom listens first, loves next, and speaks only if necessary; fellowship happens where the food is; living Jesus looks like open doors and open hearts; and prayer is not passive but powerful.
The little things make the biggest difference
Silence is sacred and healing
Being who you are and being that well glorifies God
Childlike spirits are possible at any age
Wisdom listens first, loves next, and speaks only if necessary
Fellowship happens where the food is
Living Jesus looks like open doors and open hearts
Prayer is not passive but powerful
The list could go on and on. That being said, the simplest lesson that has stuck with me is this:
Share your fruit.
No one ever said this directly, but every single Sister showed me this in the way they live.
One day, after our usual book discussion, Sister Karen said that she had something to give me. She quickly went into the kitchen and returned with a huge smile and a little peach. While it was just a small piece of fruit, it was given with great love and care.
It might not always be fruit, but we all have opportunities to share the small things God has given us. Francis de Sales said it quite succinctly when he wrote, “Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily.”
Sister Karen and Caitlin Parsley at the beginning of Caitlin’s internship (VIP)
What little occasions for serving God are before you today?
While enjoying that sweet peach, I began to ponder the spiritual fruit God grows in our lives (Gal 5:22-23). Out of gratitude for all God has given us, we have the opportunity to generously share our fruits, both peaches and love, with the world around us.
It is no coincidence that back in February, for my VIP mission statement, I wrote about sharing fruit. I believe it was the Spirit speaking over these months and guiding my mission. I wrote, “My goal is not self improvement but spiritual fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. These fruits are to be shared and multiplied as I practically live out my love for God and His people.”
In a world consumed by selfishness, overwhelmed with scarcity, and wounded by sin, the simple and small act of sharing fruit has the potential to love, heal, and change our world.
Be careful in turbulent times. Anxiety is an opportunity for the evil one to distract and, little by little, ensnare you.
In the Gospel today, “the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52). Likewise, we argue: how will we stay safe from the pandemic? How will we feed all the hungry? How will we uncover unconscious bias and overthrow unjust systems?
How indeed? Remember that the Lord our God “brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 8:16). God provides.
You know what you need to know: that the Lord our God loves and cares for you. Pray as He taught you, serve as He showed you, love as He loved you, and He will give you the answers you seek.
Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt would tell you to follow the example of Don Quixote. (Don Quixote is her favorite book; if you mention it to her, you will see her face light up.) She loves Don Quixote because, though he tilts at windmills, he is devoted to virtue and clings blindly to chivalry. He pursues love at the expense of all else. He might be laughably addled, but he knows his priorities.
For every thought and every action that you make with trust firmly rooted in the Lord, you let yourself be a tool by which He will change our world. Maybe you represented at a protest. Maybe you prayed passionately for peace. Maybe you fought hard to understand someone else’s point of view. Give your work to the Lord, and take quiet confidence that you are making a difference.
Do not worry that what you are doing is not enough. Do not worry that society is lost to sin. Despair is a victory for evil. Bring your grief to the altar as your sacrifice. Be gentle with yourself. Take each step as you are prepared to take it.
Walk by faith. Christ, the living bread, is a miracle worker beyond our comprehension.
Here the Beaver’s voice sank into silence and it gave one or two very mysterious nods. Then signaling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, it added in a low whisper —
“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Today is a sad Easter Eve. With the pandemic, Lent has been especially somber. While we should hope and pray for an extra Easter miracle, we cannot depend on it. God may ask us to continue our Lenten fasting and sacrifice throughout the Easter season.
This year, the Sisters planned to climb mountains with our Lenten Sunday readings, from Jesus’ temptation on a mountain to His crucifixion on the Mount of Golgotha. They planned to climb with intentional prayers, minimal decorations, and gifts to their neighbors of meat foregone from their own table.
But God had something else planned. He shut down the state. He doubled the size of the mountain. When COVID-19 hit, Lent became a time of strict discipline and constraint. The Sisters canceled visits with friends and mourned the world’s suffering from sickness, lost finances, and isolation.
In the confusion and the sorrow, I am reminded of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, where it was “always winter and never Christmas” (20). It seems like it is always Lent and never Easter.
But Lent had another, hidden side. Beyond the mountains, Sunday readings also foretold the Lord’s promises, in the cure of the blind man and the raising of Lazarus. For the Sisters, they found inspiration and aid from the glory of the Saints. They also got to companion the children and adults scheduled to receive Rites of Initiation tonight at Easter Vigil Mass, and they continue to pray even as the Rites are postponed.
While they miss the people coming in and out of their home, the Sisters find beauty in the quiet. Time for paying attention to the birds in the garden and the green grass is a balm to their sadness. Out of the tragedy, they see goodness and God’s guiding hand. As Sister Mary Paula pointed out, “This is my ninetieth Lent, and originally it was hard to see something new in it. But this year has been different.”
Friends, despite the hard times, stay alert, and stay joyful. Jesus is on the move.
Ray H. Richardson, sportswriter and host for KMOJ-FM in Minneapolis-St. Paul, has spent the past three years researching and writing the story of Mary Johnson-Roy and Oshea Israel. We are thrilled to have his book Beyond Belief in our hands now. The story is heart-wrenching yet uplifting.
With his permission, we have reprinted Dave Nimmer’s foreward to his book.
We invite you to read and pray over Mary and Oshea’s story. You can purchase the book
Top: Sister Mary Margaret with Mary Johnson-Roy. Bottom: Sister Mary Margaret with Oshea Israel.
Beyond Belief is the result of a spiritual partnership between a white nun who sought to explore the privilege from the color of her skin and a black mother who wanted relief from the resentment toward the man who killed her son.
At Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie’s request, her Visitation community of North Minneapolis commissioned this book about Mary Johnson-Roy and her journey toward forgiving Oshea Israel, who murdered her 20-year-old son, Laramiun Byrd, Feb. 12, 1993.
When the two first met, Johnson-Roy was grieving the loss of her son and working to form a group of mothers who also lost children to violence. The two “Marys” became fast friends. They share a belief in a loving God, who forgives the sins of His children and asks that they “forgive those who trespass against” them.
Over the past decade, the two women have prayed together, traveled together, and worked together to promote and define the grace of forgiveness. Mary Johnson-Roy has a message for those who read Beyond Belief:
“I want them to know what forgiveness is. I want them to know what freedom is. I need to be forgiven and I need to forgive. The grace of forgiveness leads to a more gentle and hopeful world. We can get unstuck and move on — and do what we should do for the rest of our lives.”
Mary Johnson-Roy and Mary Margaret McKenzie provide a gracious example for all of us. Shed resentments. Accept responsibility. Seek reconciliation. And in this way, be who you are and be that well.
Dave Nimmer is a retired reporter who worked at WCCO-TV and the Minneapolis-Star Tribune.
A knitting project. Do you see transitions from color to color in your life?
I was studying the pattern for my latest knitting project when my eye was drawn to a section entitled “Joining New Yarn.” Instructions were given about how to incorporate a new ball of wool when one runs out or how to introduce a new color. The section began thus: “When joining new yarn, it is usually best to simply drop the old thread and pick up the new. Resume knitting and leave enough of an end on both yarns to weave in later.”
I was astonished! Could it really be that simple? A veteran knitter, I knew several other methods for joining yarn into a project, including knitting with both threads for awhile and even splicing the threads by sewing one into the other — a tedious job. Never in all my years of experience had I come across this easiest and perhaps most obvious way.
This image has been weaving itself into my prayers, perhaps because it has something to tell me about dealing with change. As with knitting, I tend to over-complicate change, making it harder than it needs to be. I sputter, hesitate, and dig in my heels. When I reflect on what the real obstacles to change are, I usually find two things: regrets about the past and fears about the future.
Contrast that with Jesus’s first disciples who, when they heard His call to follow, “immediately left their nets and followed Him” (see Mt 4:20). No hesitation. No looking back. It seems they just dropped the old yarn and picked up the new. How was this possible? I can only surmise that, in the presence of the Holy One, the call was so compelling and their trust so complete that they could surrender everything at once. Perhaps the first thing to do, when faced with change, is to place ourselves in God’s presence through prayer.
As I write this, Bryce and I are wintering in the desert. This seems to be our new pattern in these transition years of retirement, somewhere between middle and old age. The desert itself is a powerful image of transition in the Judeo-Christian faith. Since the time of the ancient Hebrews, it has been a mysterious no-place whose emptiness and silence invite us into what lies between past and future, between here and there: the present moment, where God meets us and transforms us. Contemplative or desert wisdom teaches, moreover, that both past and future are touched by this present-moment encounter with God’s healing power; that is part of the mystery of God. We can trust that everything — past misgivings, future missteps or calamities — is held in the hand of our loving Father.
Yet the present moment does not occur in some mysterious, far-off place, but in the particular circumstances of our own lives. Francis de Sales, a down-to-earth contemplative, teaches that we move toward holiness by embracing the joys and challenges right where we are — “the sauce we are in,” as Francis would say. Change is certainly a slippery sauce. He would be reluctant to wave away our human regrets and worries with a sweeping counsel to simply trust and let go. Rather, I imagine St. Francis might say something like this: “If you have amends to make; make them; if grief lingers, grieve; if there are plans to be made, start planning. Then, just drop the old thread and pick up the new, letting God help you weave in the ends later.”
Thirty years ago, Sister Mary Paula was cleaning the Fremont house as the founding members of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis moved in. She supported and loved them from the very beginning. Now, in an unexpected turn of events, she has joined them.
Sister Mary Paula painting the ceiling of the chapel on Fremont Ave N in 1989
The transition has been challenging. Through it all, she has never lost her joy or her energy.
There have been some fun times in her first year! She loves the expression of community at Ascension Church—“a microcosm of the universal Church played out in reality,” as she poetically puts it. The parishioners deeply care for each other. She can’t go to Communion without a few hugs along the way.
She also had a blast celebrating her ninetieth birthday, where she connected her giant biological family with her giant “coterie” of neighbors.
Sadly, there have been some low times. The Divine Office, which is so precious to her, is in a slightly different translation than she is used to, so she trips over the words.
Also, she must adjust to the different lifestyle. She was surprised by the hustle and bustle from the door ministry. She can’t sit still for an hour without the doorbell ringing 2-3 times!
But good luck slowing down Sister Mary Paula. Regarding the Divine Office, she says with her characteristic determination, “Give me a year or two, and I will get it.” As for the lifestyle adjustment, she relies with confidence and gratitude on the compassion and understanding of the other Sisters. Sometimes she retreats upstairs for quiet.
One year ago, Sister Mary Paula arrived at the Minneapolis monastery with two bottles of wine for a festive evening in her new community. But the bottles were not opened: that afternoon, Sister Mary Virginia fell, cutting short the celebrations with a trip to the hospital.
Such is the way with transitions. You never know what to expect. They keep you on your toes.
She is more convinced than ever that the Vis way of life, “inspired common sense,” is her calling and has validity in every community. It works! She advises, “Keep remembering that you trust in God. It is His plan and His journey—the journey to Him—that you’re on.”
Family and neighbors at Sister Mary Paula’s 90th birthday
Every year, the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis celebrate the Epiphany with a Gateau des Rois (a King Cake, or Twelfth Night Cake). It is an old French tradition, true to their roots of the first Visitation monastery in Annecy, France. A small token like a porcelain figurine or bean is hidden in the cake, and the finder is dubbed “king” — or, in the Sisters’ case, the “Bean Queen”!
Sister Suzanne kindly shared her recipe with me, and I tried making my own King Cake. It has led me on a culinary adventure. I challenge you to make your own King Cake! Share a photo with the Sisters on Facebook.
Note: there are a wide variety of King Cake recipes available online due to its vast history (it is possibly 700 years old). Sister Suzanne’s recipe, a puff pastry with an almond paste middle layer, is actually a Galette des Rois from northern France or Koningentaart from Flemish / Dutch traditions, as opposed to the Gateau des Rois, a brioche with candied fruit, from southern France that is commonly used in New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras.
A King Cake ready for baking, with marzipan, almonds, and cherries between layers of puff pastry. Which lucky person will get the piece with the kidney bean?!
Here is Sister Suzanne’s recipe:
8 oz puff pastry
4 oz marzipan (or almond paste)
1/2 cup slivered almonds/pecans and dried cherries
1/2 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
Juice of one lemon
1. Divide the pastry in two and roll out both pieces into rounds.
2. Roll out the marzipan into a round of the same size. Put the marzipan on top of one of the pastry rounds.
3. Sprinkle the marzipan with nuts and cherries. Place the other pastry round on top and seal the edges.
4. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
5. Bake at 450°F for 25 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.
6. Allow the cake to cool. Make icing by mixing the sugar and enough lemon juice to achieve spreading consistency. Ice the cake.
7. Decorate with three crowns, a king, or a star! For example, you can make a stencil from wax paper and dust it with sugar.
Notes from my attempt:
1. The cake is easy to assemble, but it depends on a lot of specialty ingredients. I bought slivered almonds and dried cherries in bulk from Cub Foods as well as pre-made puff pastry sheets from the frozen aisle. I bought marzipan from Lunds and Byerlys (baking aisle). I used a kidney bean for my token because of its size. The total was about $15.
2. To seal the edges of the bottom and top layers of dough, I made the marzipan layer a little smaller, leaving an outer margin for the dough layers to touch. They can be stuck together with water.
3. I put my cake outside in the cold as it rested before baking to harden the butter.
4. My puff pastry ballooned and burned in the oven! The cake was still delicious, but it was not beautiful.
1) I should have cut holes into (“scored”) the top pastry layer to release steam.
2) Also, I should have pulled the cake out of the oven as soon as it began puffing and turning golden. 25 minutes was too long at 450°F; next time, I will try 20 minutes at 400°F and keep my eye on it.
5. In my absent-mindedness, I ate my bean! I am considering investing in a traditional porcelain token to avoid this problem in the future.
Good luck with your cake! Please share your results on Facebook! I’m excited to hear how it goes for you.
This past summer while on pilgrimage to France, I had the opportunity to visit the Visitation Monastery in Paray-le-Monial, France, home to St Margaret Mary. The Mother Superior welcomed us, recounting the visions of Margaret Mary. After she had shown us around, she invited me as a new Sister to enter the cloister part of the Monastery and go to the room where Margaret Mary had died. It is kept as a small oratorium today and as I entered I was deeply moved. I asked Mother Marie Simon if I could sit for a moment. I barely have words to describe what I felt, but I knew I had become deeply aware of suffering. I thought I was sensing the suffering Margaret Mary experienced in her life, but as I look back on it now, I cannot say that it was Margaret Mary’s suffering I was encountering. Perhaps she was carrying her mission to make the suffering Heart of Jesus known to me?! As I sat with that deep suffering, I felt another movement, one of compassion. In the midst of great suffering, there was also great compassion. Maybe, just maybe, I was experiencing a small echo of Margaret Mary’s exchange of hearts as she continues her mission to make the Heart of Jesus known to all.
We recently celebrated the Feast of St Margaret Mary on October 16. For the rest of the Catholic Church, this day is noted as an “optional memorial” but for Visitation Sisters around the world, this is a feast day. This year we also celebrated the beginning of a Year of Jubilee for Visitation Monasteries in honor of the 100th anniversary of the canonization of St Margaret Mary.
Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in 1647 and entered the Visitation Monastery in Paray-le-Monial, France, in 1671. Her early childhood is recounted as happy. Her father died when she was 8 years old and after that time she suffered much, with family dysfunction, physical illness, and mental illness interweaving themselves throughout her young life. Yet from an early age, Margaret Mary had a special devotion to Jesus. After she entered the monastery, she had a series of visions where she was in conversation with Jesus. Basically, Jesus said:
1. I love you.
2. I am not loved enough.
3. Please love me.
Margaret Mary’s response was to give her heart to Jesus, and Jesus in turn placed his heart in her. We often refer to this as the “exchange of hearts.” She accepted her mission to make Jesus’ heart more known and loved, for all of us to experience this “exchange of hearts” with Jesus. There had long been a devotion to the Heart of Jesus (also known as the Sacred Heart) but Margaret Mary promoted the Heart of Jesus especially and a number of devotional practices have grown up around it. This year we remember her and her mission to make the Heart of Jesus known, so that we too might experience the “exchange of hearts” and render love for love.