Nuns celebrate 25 years on the North Side

Visitation Sisters stay true to mission of ‘prayer, presence and hospitality’

 Six Catholic nuns relocated from the suburbs to North Minneapolis 25 years ago. Recently the community and the sisters both celebrated that move at the Capri Theater.

“We didn’t come here as a bunch of White do-gooders, or think we could fix North Minneapolis,” said Sr. Mary Frances Reis. “We came here simply to build relationships and to be neighbors. That’s it.”

The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis first purchased a home on Fremont Avenue in August 1989, and the six nuns later that year were commissioned as the Founding Sisters to the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. They purchased a second house in the same area in 1998 where they still live today.

The sisters’ ministry statement includes recognizing the community’s true worth, which “enabled us to champion and affirm those who are impoverished and lonely — those living on the fringes of society,” said Reis.

front_Visitation-Sisters-300x170“Our neighborhood should be very ecstatic about the nuns in the hood,” said Mary Johnson, founder of From Death to Life, a support group for the parents of victims and those convicted of violent crimes. “They helped me and my family,” said Ben, now a teenager who has known the nuns since he was very young.

According to Reis, Ben has grown quite a bit. When he was younger, “He always was kind of sad,” she recalled. “While the other kids were busy doing arts and crafts and playing games, Ben would take [religious] books and sit there on the couch and read them. I said to him one day, ‘Ben, why are you so sad?’ And he said, ‘I am sad because I talk to Jesus every day and Jesus never talks to me.’”

When Ben was a third grader returning from summer camp, “He was so happy,” continued Reis. “I said, ‘Ben, what happened?’ He said, ‘Jesus talked to me in my cabin… And guess what, Sister? He introduced me to the Father.’

“He’s a beautiful guy,” she said of Ben.

“My family’s relationship with the sisters has been a blessing,” said See Her, age 22. “I’ve known the sisters for 15 years. We are very close and I can tell them just about anything… They’ll be there for us all the way, from the good and the bad.

“As a child, I didn’t understand what they were here for,” Her noted. “Many people don’t really understand the Hmong culture and our religion. When we told them we’re not Christians, they still were very accepting and they still love us the same.”

When asked to estimate the number of individuals and families the sisters met, worked with, or encountered in some other way, “I wouldn’t have any idea,” admitted Reis. “I would say in the thousands, and thousands have touched us and taught us how to be unconditionally loving.”

“We are not social workers. We are not an agency. We are supposed to be a ministry of prayer, presence and hospitality,” Reis continued.

Johnson said she first met the sisters about three years ago. “They are a great bunch of women. The Visitation Sisters do exactly what they say — these women have the love of Christ. I am so grateful to call them my friend.”

“You hear so much bad news about North Minneapolis,” said Mary Francis. “But we have found a very loving community. We do believe that we’ve had a small part in building relationships [in the community]. You can pour millions of dollars into a community, but if you don’t connect it’s not going to be of any [help].”

Based on the October 4 packed “party” held for them at the Capri, many residents believe the Northside has benefited from the sisters’ presence for at least a quarter century and wanted to tell them so in person. “They are sticking and staying, and do what it is that they know that God has called them to do,” said Johnson. “They are setting a great example.”

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