We are a community of Catholic Visitation Sisters; we have lived among poor, marginalized and oppressed persons in North Minneapolis for 27 years. Ours is a ministry of prayer and presence. The headline in the Sunday, January 22, 2017 StarTribune reads: “WE ARE HERE, WE ARE ON FIRE!” We want to give a shout out for everyone who marched and spoke out, and is prepared to give voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Yes, we are here and we are on fire! We are in solidarity with you and promise to hold you all in prayer.
by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger
Sondra Samuels is not a shrinking violet who wilts under pressure or withers from conflict or criticism.
That’s part of the territory when you’re the CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a partnership of community organizations and schools with a jaw-tightening task: to prepare 2,300 children in a 18 by 13-block square of North Minneapolis to graduate from high school and go on to college.
“Sondra is an astute educator, a caring mom and wife and community advocate. She is a doer. She brings pride to the Northside and our achievements on behalf of future generations.” — Sr. Suzanne
If this job isn’t enough, add in her husband’s. Don Samuels was the 5th ward councilman and is now a member of the Minneapolis School Board. Sometimes the pace can be relentless, the criticism approaches nastiness and the goals can appear hopeless.
These are times when Samuels, the girl who grew up in Newark, appreciates the Sisters who live in Minneapolis. They share a belief in society where character, conscience and courage replace color, class and creed to measure a person’s worth.
“I knew these Sisters were different. When I asked them what their day was like, they told me when the doorbell rings, ‘We know it’s Jesus at the door.’ And they really mean it.” — Sondra
Samuels remembers her first meeting with the Sisters, at a time when she and Don were grieving yet another gunshot death of a Northside teenager and confronting what they felt was unfair criticism from community loudmouths.
“I remember Sister Suzanne (Homeyer) met me at the door,” Samuels said. “I fell in with a limp body and I think I shed a bucket of tears. We went into the Chapel. We prayed. And I felt comforted and embraced when I left that house.”
Homeyer remembers that day, too. “She particularly asked for prayers for her husband and neighborhood concerns, too,” she said. “There were tears, sharing, laughter, tissues and hugs. It was the way we meet so many of our neighbors and we both kept our promises. Sondra has come back to visit with, and without, her family.”
Kind of amazing for someone who isn’t even Catholic.
“That doesn’t matter,” Samuels said. “I knew these Sisters were different. When I asked them what their day was like, they told me when the doorbell rings, ‘We know it’s Jesus at the door.’ And they really mean it.”
The Sisters feel their support of Samuels is being repaid in full by the work she is is doing in their backyard through NAZ, which got its start with a $26 million federal grant over five years. That funding is gone now and Samuels is working to raise $11 million a year from the coffers of the state, the city and corporate and private charities.
Part of her pitch she already outlined in an Op-Ed column published in June in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“We also recognized that schools can’t do it alone so we surround students with a team that provides everything from extra academic opportunities, parent education and early childhood services to behavioral health counseling, housing and career support. In partner schools where the supports are most layered for NAZ students, they are doing significantly better than their peers in reading.”
Samuels gets animated and excited when she describes a recent 12-week program for parents on the resources, skills, tools and techniques they’ll need to better raise their infant children. “We’re getting Dads to show up for this course,” she said, “and one of the women talked about learning that she doesn’t have to be ‘a screaming mother,’ yelling at her child.”
Samuels is finely attuned to the complexity of life for minorities in America, dealing with the realities of discrimination and prejudice while avoiding the passiveness and pessimism that comes from playing “the victim” role.
“I think Black Lives Matter, and the protests, cause me to say, ’They finally see us.’ They know we’re here,” Samuels said. “And our problems are the problems of all poor people and we do have to be working for all people.
”But to the people of color, I say, ‘They aren’t coming to save us. We determine how we’ll do. I am not bent over. We can help each other but you’ve got to show up and do your part.”
Will Wallace, who knows the Sisters and Samuels, uses the same message in his work with Emerge, trying to prod young brothers (and sisters) off the streets, out of gangs, into school and onto jobs. “Sondra Samuels,” he said, “is the real deal. She’s got the best interests of the Northside young people in her heart.”
The Sisters echo that sentiment, having watched Samuels in action – in good times and bad. “Sondra is an astute educator, a caring mom and wife and community advocate,” Sister Homeyer said. “She is a doer. She brings pride to the Northside and our achievements on behalf of future generations.”
Samuels and the Sisters: a neighborhood partnership that gives hope to that future.
* This is the eighth 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!
“I watched, I admired, and now I pray for the Holy Spirit, who makes diversity a way, come and let us follow.” – S. Katherine
As we mark this holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, we celebrate the way his legacy is being born out in our local community, giving rise to a new generation of leaders. Here’s a link to an inspired article and companion video piece from the Star Tribune featuring six of these voices of leadership.
“May our existence be filled with windows — for all the world to see/ the beauty that lies inside of us, even when we are under heat…” —Brittany Lynch, poet
On Saturday, October 25, 2014, the Star Tribune ran an about our religious community’s presence in the heart of the city — spanning 25 years and leaning into the next two and half decades.
“Every neighborhood should have nuns in the hood!”
Journalists Joy Powell and photographer Leila Navidi captured our neighborhood and Sisters in a way that honors and reveals hope, love and reality. We are grateful for their narrative gifts and photographic eye. Their storytelling conveys our circumstances in a way that we are often not able to communicate by virtue of our commitment to anonymity and the “hidden” nature of our charism. We commend them for their journalistic integrity and again, say,
Check out the article here: Nuns in the Hood: 25 years of doing good
See Leila’s pictures: Photo Gallery
Video: Nuns in the Hood: 25 years of doing good
He’s making the news, this time being seen for his role in supporting our northside brothers and sisters. We couldn’t be prouder of our dear friend, lay companion and brother, Brian Mogren, who was honored this week with the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award.
“I accepted the award on behalf of everyone I conspire for good with on the north side. It truly takes a village and I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of extraordinary people doing important and good work.” – Brian Mogren, Visitation Companion, St. Jane House Director
As director of St. Jane House, Brian exudes the charism of our Visitation order in and through his hospitality, service and quiet leadership. We can only imagine our co-founders St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales smiling broadly down on our brother Brian this day — as he goes about building relationships and “Living+Jesus” in North Minneapolis — and beyond!
We invite you to get to know our dear friend and Visitation Companion who resides just two blocks away from our monastery in the St. Jane House. Come and pray with him on Tuesday morning at Centering Prayer. Or treat yourself to an afternoon of reflection or overnight stay under the hospitable care of brother Brian — and learn first hand what his heart and mind are up to as he seeks to “be who he is, and be that well”.
Read more about Brian and the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award:
- Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service honor six outstanding Minnesotans, The McKnight Foundation
- North Side volunteer among 6 honored with McKnight Binger Awards, Star Tribune
- Six Minnesotans with compelling stories of helping the disadvantaged, MinnPost
- 2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Award Commemorative booklet, PDF