“Happy Feast Day, Sister.”
I offered as much perk as I could muster for 6:50 in the morning (and with a scant five-and-a-half hours of sleep.) The small parlor-turned-chapel at Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis was sparkling and ready for the Solemnity of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. Saint Jane–or “Holy Mother,” as Sister Mary Virginia calls her during prayer–was a 16th century French laywoman, widow, mother, and nun who, together with Saint Francis de Sales founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (or the Visitation Sisters.)
“Now it’s your Feast Day too!” Slight Sister Mary Margaret responded, brushing past my seat in the chapel–nestled next to Sister Mary Frances at the keyboard–and bowing to the tabernacle.
It is the custom after Morning Prayer for the Sisters to gather in a circle and share their plans for the day and any pressing business in the community. They began this morning, “Good morning, Sisters–” a pause as the six nuns each turned and faced my blushing self–“and brother!”
While spending time and praying with nuns is not an abnormal activity for me, these nuns–and the welcome they’ve extended–are particularly special to me. In a few weeks, I will be moving to North Minneapolis to live, work, study, and pray with the Sisters through their Visitation Internship Program (the first and likely last time I’ll ever be a V.I.P.!)
I’ve known the Visitation Sisters off and on for about five years. During my time at CSB|SJU, I visited the Sisters’ monastery in North Minneapolis a time or two and stayed at their guest house (Saint Jane House, appropriately named) for a few nights. When I co-lead an Alternative Break Experience mission trip to Minneapolis and St. Paul, my wonderful group and I visited the monastery to wrap up our week of service immersion. While I briefly considered VIP for my post-graduation volunteer year, I ultimately decided on Saint Hilda’s House in New Haven (as I’ve written about before–and likely will again once I’ve got some decent space.) Now that I’m back in Minnesota, I’m very eagerly making arrangements to transplant myself to North Minneapolis.
If you’re from Minnesota–or if you read any newspaper–you likely have a grim mental image of North Minneapolis. Violence, gangs, racial tension, gentrification, poverty. While all of these things (and more!) are present and problematic in North Minneapolis, the neighborhood boasts far more beauty than one might initially imagine. In preparing for my year of service in the neighborhood, I’ve been doing some research on non-profit and ministry organizations. To my absolute joy and surprise, I’ve found so, so, so many opportunities to be of service in the north side. There are countless schools, non-profits, places of worship,clinics, libraries, shelters, and community centers located conveniently close to the Sisters (who are more or less smack dab in the center of the neighborhood.)
While I’ll certainly be (overly) cautious during my time in the north side, I’m very excited to make the move, settle down, and begin organizing my life in the context of the Sisters’ wonderful love and welcome. These six women love fiercely and are wholly dedicated to the growth and transformation of their neighborhood community. They are ordinary women–teachers, writers, musicians–who root their life in contemplative prayer and radical hospitality. They are spunky and quick-witted, always ready with a joke or a wink. They are equally ready with a hug or a hand held out in compassion.
“Cody,” I heard as I was about to leave the chapel after Morning Prayer–making my own reverence to the tabernacle. It was Sister Mary Margaret, a quiet smile on her face and her arms extended in embrace. “We welcome you into our community.”
The door of their monastery was opened and I walked on in, not necessarily sure of what I was getting into, but confident in the prayerful, incarnated love of the Sisters embracing me through whatever growth and grace I encounter this year.