As the seven sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis began the last part of Wednesday evening prayer, a tall, gangly young man in a blue shirt and jeans stuck his head in the door.
“I want to pray for my mother-in-law,” he said, explaining that his girlfriend’s mother was suffering from kidney and liver problems.
Without any interruption in the flow of their prayer, the sisters prayed a Hail Mary for his intention.
His name was Randall, he said, shaking the sisters’ hands. “You’ll remember me as the black guy with the green eyes,” he said.
The sisters’ words conveyed warmth and hospitality, even though he appeared to be high. They promised to pray for him, and soon Randall left, walking out into the North Minneapolis neighborhood — a neighborhood known for poverty, drugs and violence. More than half of Minneapolis’ 33 murders this year have been in North Minneapolis.
The sisters are a beacon of light in the troubled neighborhood, and they’ve launched a vocations campaign with the hope that more women will join them.
Continuing a legacy
Four hundred years ago, in 1610, Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal founded the Visitation order in Annecy, France. Their work focused on caring for the the poor and ill, and was rooted in the welcome Elizabeth showed Mary during the Visitation. As the order grew, it became contemplative and cared for the poor in prayer.
Today, seven Visitation sisters in Minneapolis are seeking women to continue the legacy in what is likely the order’s most unique monastery.
The U.S. Visitation Federation founded its “urban monastery” in 1989 in a response to the church’s call to care for the poor. Established communities of Visitation sisters released seven sisters to start the new monastery, which is housed in two old houses that sit about a block apart.
On Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the sisters launched an effort to find seven more women to join their community and continue the legacy that they — and the order’s patrons — established.
Six of the seven sisters are older than 60, including two in their 80s. Sister Joanna O’Meara, is 36 and has taken temporary vows.
The sisters are focusing less on reaching college-age women and more on women like Sister Joanna, who worked for several years at a nonprofit in her hometown of Wolverhampton, England, and then joined the Catholic Charities Volunteer Corps in the Twin Cities.
“Our target market is . . . the older 20s, 30s and into their 40s. That’s a whole different thing that they’re looking for. Like, ‘Hmm, maybe this career is not exactly what I thought it would be. What more might there be?’” said Sister Katherine Mullin.
The sisters trust that the Holy Spirit will lead women to their community, but they’re working to increase their visibility beyond the North Minneapolis neighborhood.
Getting the word out
In addition to word of mouth, they’re using Facebook, YouTube, a website, blogs and a database tool that matches those interested in a religious vocation with a fitting community.
They hope to visit parishes and college campuses to talk to young women about their way of life.
They’re inviting women to spend an evening or make a retreat with their community and discern whether they belong there, too.
And women have shown interest. Letters have arrived, asking for more information.
One woman studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Another is from Kentucky. Another who’s known the sisters for a long time told them she’s interested in joining after college.
The sisters are monastic, and their day includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours, sharing meals and spending hours each day with spiritual reading and prayer. Rather than hold jobs, they live on alms.
Their ministry is one of prayer, presence and hospitality to the Minneapolis neighborhood.
They see their share of heartbreak, but they are also inspired by the men and women who demonstrate faith and love despite their tough situations.
“Our mission is to be like Mary and Elizabeth,” Sister Karen Mohan said, pointing to a contemporary painting of the cousins embracing in the Visitation that hangs in the living room. “It’s to be in relationship with people, living the Gospel, bringing Jesus to life.
“Our motto is, ‘live Jesus,’ and that’s what we want to have continue.”
Discerning a vocation is worth taking the leap of faith, no matter the outcome, Sister Joanna said.
“In the end, it is all about discerning God’s will for you in your life.
“And wherever that is, God desires your happiness.
“It’s a wonderful kind of adventure experience to be part of a community and doing that,” she said.