Bianca Franks: Salesian Leader and Friend

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Cemya, Bianca, and Javon
Photo Courtesy Bianca Franks

Bianca Franks was a girl of 10 when she first met the Visitation Sisters. She was helping out at the Cookie Cart and spending Wednesday evenings at the Fremont house with other children. One of those evenings turned into a gardening session and Franks, who says she’s no gardener, recalls Sister Karen (Mohan) gave her a slip from a spider plant.

To Franks’ amazement, the spider slip not only did not die, it flourished. That’s kind of a metaphor for Franks’ life since she came to Minneapolis with her mother, stepfather and three brothers when she was eight years old.

“…the biggest support [that I have received from the Sisters] was that I prayed with them at least once a day. And, over the years, they became my family.”

The 36-year-old single mother has two children, Javon, 13, and Cemya, 18, now a senior at Sage Academy in Brooklyn Park. Javon, who’s autistic, is in 8th grade at River Bend Education Center, an elementary school for children with special needs. Franks says proudly he was just elected his class vice-president.

Sr. Mary Frances and Salesian Leader, Bianca

When he was younger and just diagnosed, Javon had as many as 15 doctor, therapist and clinic appointments a week. Between the appointments and work to support the family, Franks lived a life that was harried, hurried and hectic.

“I really needed the Sisters then (2005),” Franks says. “Occasionally I’d go over for dinner But the biggest support was that I prayed with them at least once a day.   They became closely connected to me. And, over the years, they became my family.”

The Sister also became her mentor when they invited her to the Salesian Leaders Cohort in 2010. The group was to turn out community leaders, who could develop skills, techniques and self-confidence to help others in North Minneapolis. As the program continued into its second year, Franks says it was less about strategy and more about spirituality.

“What I learned,” she says, “is that I AM a leader, that I don’t have to achieve success at every turn to help others. I do believe I can help others, especially women and parents of special-need kids. I relate. I understand. And the training taught me how to listen, to actually hear what others are saying.”

Sister Karen Mohan says Franks impressed her with the ability to let go of what is not life-giving and to find another path that is. “She has dug deep,” says Mohan, “and surrounded herself with people who can give her a positive message. And she passes that on to others. Most of all, she is determined and she is honest.”

These days, Franks runs a support group for those parents: going to court with them if needed, holding their hands and helping them navigate the numbers and names of programs, agencies and groups that could provide help.

Franks and her teenagers live in a two-bedroom, subsidized apartment in south Minneapolis. She is presently working part-time through a temp agency – doing filing and typing – and would like a full-time job.

“I’m good at this work,” she says. “Recently Sister Mary Frances Reis gave me a list of names and addresses from notes. I typed ’em out in 15 minutes and she was amazed. Yep, I’m quick, I’m thorough and I’m organized.”

Her weekly budget, she says, is tight, although she gets a federal disability payment for Javon. And for her best work – at an overnight retreat at the St. Jane House – her reward involved no money.

“I shared my story, and my struggles, with others,” she says. “And I do know this woman, with whom I spent the most time, walked away feeling better, knowing her situation was not hopeless.”

Franks has a persona that is “out there,” accessible to all around her. She’s an extrovert, comfortable in a group of people and not shy about meeting strangers. Her daughter is more reserved and inclined to be somewhat shy and quiet. Sometimes, Franks has had trouble understanding her daughter’s demeanor. Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie had some helpful advice.

“Mary Margaret told me that Cemya was probably more of an introvert, an observer of what was going on and how people were acting,” Franks says. “She helped me understand those are strengths, truly gifts of those who are thoughtful and helpful. In some ways, my daughter is more like Mary Margaret.

Bianca Franks has always been open to good counsel and comments from others. She’s lived long enough to know that life can sometimes be a rock n’ roll affair. But she’s got a couple of qualities – quiet confidence and boundless energy – to keep her dancing.   She also knows the Visitation Sisters are always around when she needs a partner.


* This is the tenth 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. 

Salesian Leadership Training: Food for the Journey!

Bianca Franks embraced by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Bianca Franks embraced by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

by Bianca Franks, 2010-2012 Salesian Leaders Cohort Member

Greetings ! I am a single mother and member of the Northside community, having had a close relationship with the Visitation Sisters ever since I was a preteen.  I have become heavily involved in volunteer work in the community with them over the past 5 years.  I was invited to be a part of a Salesian leadership training program they were having which took place over the past two years.  I went into this not really sure what to expect other than wanting to grow as a positive contributor in North Minneapolis.

“What makes a good leader isn’t always the outcome of perfection or winning, but positively changing lives as a demonstration of the God in me…”

The 1st year I met and befriended other likeminded leaders in the community and we focused on strategies and guidance in our individual projects (mine being a single parent support group).  We shared our lives and aspirations with one another and have supported one another on personal and professional levels, facing the reality of successes and failures in a way that those close to us wouldn’t understand.

“…to lead you must follow humbly.”

In the 2nd year of training I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was less strategic and more spiritual, teaching us leaders the importance of complete wholeness within you as a way of guiding and following. Upon completion of this amazing journey I know we all walk away tearfully and with a smiling heart because we have come full circle from who we were, and closer to who God has deemed us to become in the Gospel.

My personal and spiritual growth over the past two years is amazingly unexplainable; I have learned to always trust in God, accept my faults, embrace my failures, and never give up. What makes a good leader isn’t always the outcome of perfection or winning, but positively changing lives as a demonstration of the God in me, and to lead you must follow humbly. If I had to sum it all up I would say my focus used to be the destination and in that there was never any satisfaction or gratitude because I never seemed to get there.  My focus is now my spiritual journey as I walk the road I’ve chosen, and if I can share that part of the experience with anyone, the leader in me has achieved a goal higher than I could ask for.

Word of Mouth-Something to Meditate On

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Sunday we attended mass at Ascension. After listening to Father Michael O’Connell’s voice read the Gospel with beauty and conviction we listened to him unpack the following scene:

Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.”

Father Michael O’Connell, paused, looked at us, and began to speak of addictions that hold us back, or that might be our “thorn,” to heal from to become whole, able to do God’s will here. Then he became quite serious. He said, “I think our country has an epidemic happening, and the epidemic is talking about people in unkind, unjust ways.” He continued, “The most dangerous weapon I know, and for me to say this in the context of north Minneapolis says something, is right here!” He pointed at his mouth. Silence filled the congregation.

How do we cease this epidemic from continuing? How do we stop it from being passed on to the next generation?

Father O’Connell then lovingly invited us to use our mouths, our voice for love, for healing, for spreading the good news about ourselves and one another. And to let go of what has become a “knee-jerk reaction” in our country of looking for people’s short comings.

I might add to this invitation to not tolerate others talking ill about others in your presence. It is each of our duties to invite one another to use our mouths for the greater good of our community. For far too often what we say becomes not only our perceptions but then our reality. Think with care, and speak with care.

How can you curb the tendency to speak ill-will in your life? How can you use your voice for beauty, for love, for healing, for justice and compassion?


Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

I often find inspiration in poems and literature. The poem below has long been a favorite poem of mine and speaks to the rapture of being alive, and the mindfulness of finding more beauty in the world, which Sister Katherine wisely commented has the power to transform violence into love.

Sister Katherine said: “I am more and more aware of the importance of pointing out beauty to the children in our neighborhood-adults too. Like a bird song they night miss, a butterfly that flies by in our garden, one lovely flower. (I like it when people point out something to me). I invite them to listen, smell or see all kinds of things beautiful. Someone said, ‘Beauty is the biggest deterrent to violence.’ We can give peace in so many ways, can’t we?”

So in the spirit of summer coming in full force with the ritual of the last days of school upon us, and a hope that children every where stay safe especially those in north Minneapolis when summer can mean a spike in violence, may each of us point out the beauty each life makes in this one “wild and precious life.”

Summer Day

Summer Day

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008.

More Beauty

How will you make the world more beautiful?

A stunning question really, isn’t it? As today’s rains and last night’s thunderstorms soak into our spring soil promising the bounty of summer around the corner? How am I called to make the world more beautiful? You must see the origins of this question from one of my favorite bloggers Karen Maezen Miller.

Inner Beauty

Inner Beauty

Beauty is a value as an artist I treasure, both inside, and out, aesthetic and the intangible aspects of beauty. I have struggled with beauty since my alopecia has gone full throttle. Having hair or not having hair can be a profound impact on how I perceive myself and on how others encounter me. Shedding more traditional views of beauty has enlivened my spirit, emboldened me to be brave in situations where I might be tempted to shy away from a person’s gaze or unspoken question.

As my hair follicles begin to awaken, I hold hope. I have an awakened heart that has the capacity for beauty, I have open eyes that search for beauty, and I have hands willing to create beauty where one might not think there is any.

How are you making the world more beautiful today? Please share with us here.

Salesian Leadership – May, 2012

Leadership Group

Salesian Leaders 2010-2012

by Gilbert J. Gustafson, Leadership Development Consultant


On a beautiful May evening we concluded the second year of our course on Salesian Leadership with a group of leaders from the North Side of Minneapolis who are determined to be part of the healing of the community. The warmth and sunny-ness of the day were perfectly echoed by the warm and tender feelings expressed in the closing of this year’s exploration of leadership using Salesian principles. This course was funded by the 2010-11 Answering the Call campaign. One of the priorities of the campaign was to “Provide lay leadership training in the tradition of the Order’s founders, allowing others to be involved in the evangelization of the Sisters’ ministry.”

This year we designed our monthly sessions to reflect on the leadership our participants provide in their families, at work and in the community. We explored styles of communication and how to deal with differences. We also examined how to be fully present to others. In the center of our season we introduced “Lectio Divina” (meditating on the Word of God) as a means of spiritual nourishment. In our first season we initiated Centering Prayer and made repeated use of this prayer form in season two.

At the final session we reflected on what has been learned and how we have grown in being a leader. Each participant spoke movingly of how she or he has implemented what has been learned. Each spoke of how she or he intends to continue to grow as a leader moving forward. At the end of the evening we commissioned one another to continue on as faith filled leaders by signing one another on our senses, hearts, shoulders, hands and feet. The combination of silent gesture and spoken word perfectly captured the truth that authentic leadership is lived out both in word and action.

Salesian Monday: A Prayer for Leaders

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.” – Matthew 23:11

Monday, April 9, 2012, marked our final gathering for this season of  Salesian Spirituality focusing on the Leadership traits exemplified by our co-founders, Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. “Salesian Mondays,” as these evenings are called, are part of a Spirituality program of the Visitation Sisters in partnership with their lay companions that occur the second Monday of each month during the Fall to Spring seasons. Each evening begins with a light meal, followed by a collaborative presentation highlighting some aspect of Salesian life and then concludes with night prayer.

Leadership in the Salesian tradition begins with Jesus, whose leadership was one of Selfless, Loving, Suffering Service.

TuAnh Holm

TuAnh Holm shares some of her wisdom

This last session was lead by Visitation Companion Maryann Pearson and a new friend to the Visitation community, Ms. TuAnh Holm. Following Sr. Mary Frances’ introduction to the evening centering on “Love and Prayer” as Leadership traits,  Maryann and TuAnh broke open these themes before the crowd of 25+ people using story-telling and wise illustrations; they included a third element in their talk: courage. Ms. Holm drew on her  own Vietnamese Buddhist background, weaving a teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh into the evening, followed by a tale from her young life discerning a religious calling with Catholic sisters at a monastery in France. Maryann brought these illustrations of prayer and love to further life with her own elaboration on the role of courage when it comes to acting and leading.

Our co-presenters invited us to reflect on our own tales of how prayer, love and courage played out in a specific action we took —  a small, but sincere act of leadership. The invitation was provocative and elicited some thoughts on how we are called to lead as Christians in today’s world and church.

The evening concluded with the group reading aloud a prayer that Sr. Mary Frances Reis wrote on this topic:

Sr. Mary Frances

Sr. Mary Frances

A Prayer for Leaders

Dear Jesus,
Most Gentle and Humble of Heart,
We praise and thank you that you came to teach us  how to serve in a spirit of Love and Concern.
Help us to Live Jesus in such a way that we will learn to serve one another in humble love and compassion.
Help us to see and appreciate our own gifts and those of our brothers and sisters.
May Love and Prayer fashion our relationships with one another;
through the intercession of Saints Jane de Chantal and Francis de Sales,
may we become imitators of you as we strive to Live Jesus in thought, word and deed.
We ask this in your Holy Name.