The Impact of the Visitation Sisters on DSW

Windsock-Visitation_McGrathEditor’s Note: The following entry is from Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ. Fr. Mike traces the impact that the sisters of the Visitation, particularly the community in Minneapolis, have had on DSW. This year the Visitation order celebrates its 400th anniversary of the first group of Visitation sisters begininng in Annecy, France, after being formed by Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. Visitation sisters throughout the world keep the Salesian spirit alive in the world today. For more information about the Visitation order, visit
Later this month, three recent college graduates will begin a year of service in Camden volunteers with De Sales Service Works. The entry below highlights a number of aspects of this year. In addition to year long volunteers, DSW also hosts individuals and groups for day, weekened, or week long service retreats. For more information on DSW, please visit:
Models for DSW
This is the second of three reflections that look at communities that serve as models for De Sales Service Works in Camden. The three are St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, what I call “the Oblate work ethic,” and the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis.
Visitation Sisters
For 20 years a group of Visitation Sisters have lived a monastic life in an unusual setting. These nuns make their community in a very poor section of North Minneapolis, MN. They follow a regular cycle of prayer, Mass, chanted psalms, meditation, community and labor that makes up the schedule of any contemplative nun or monk. But their setting is not a walled enclosure in a remote, pristine location. Their monastery is two big, old houses in their struggling neighborhood.
One of the most vivid ways to describe this Visitation community is to tell the story they tell about getting settled in the neighborhood. Late one afternoon when they had been in the area only a few months, a young man was shot in the street outside their house. The sisters all ran out of the house to help the man. One cradled his head in her lap; another tried to stop the bleeding. They all knelt in the street and prayed and sang for the man while they waited for the police and rescue to arrive. They made an impression in the community by reaching out in this un-scripted way: they reached out naturally; they naturally prayed. People gathered around told the sisters that the man was a drug dealer, a real “bad guy.” He did not deserve their care or the prayers. The sisters said they did not care. He still deserved not to die alone, and they held him and prayed.
That action, somewhat imprudent, definitely natural and generous, established their identity as unafraid and prayerful. Moreover, they were clearly members of the neighborhood who were there to stay.
Natural Prayer
This story illustrates three things that this Visitation community gives to De Sales Service Works. First, they bring prayer into everything in very natural, honest ways. There are dramatic moments like the shooting of the drug dealer. But most often they connect with God in simple Salesian hospitality and kindness. The sisters have been part of the community for so long that many people have been connected and have become friends. So people knock on their door to check-in or just to say hello. These visits provide occasions to catch up and connect, and to offer thanks to God or to ask for help and blessing. Visits, departure, welcome, start of workday, learning news, special occasions: all of these are moments for simple prayers and blessings.
Secondly, day by day, their service involves welcoming people into their home. They welcome kids for tutoring, for reading, and for computer lessons. The windsock that has become the monastery symbol developed as a signal to kids that it was time to stop by for lessons. Neighbors and friends join the community for Mass in their living room a couple times per week. Following Mass everyone present is welcomed to breakfast and conversation. They welcome old friends back and want to know how things are going. They welcome new people as friends: no one is a stranger.
Liturgy and Life
Thirdly, the warmth and wholesome quality of these women comes across in the way they pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. This prayer is made up of psalms, canticles, hymns, and readings. Singing these prayers is a core part of any monastic life, and the North Minneapolis monastery chants all the liturgies. However, what is different about their praying is that after each psalm, canticle, or reading they take time to “faith share.” The prayers are structured so there is silent reflection built in, but this community takes the time to speak aloud their reflections. The sharing connects the scripture with the daily life of their neighbors, with the ordinary tasks of each day, and with insights from contemplative life. This seems like a great way to insure that common prayer does not become a task to complete so we can get on to the next task. Instead, it connects with what goes on in the rest of our lives. This approach clearly encourages finding God in all people and events, in the ordinariness of daily living.
Because the structured prayer connects with life, it is not surprising that these women seamlessly bring prayers and blessings into ordinary days. They are a gift to their home neighborhood in Minnesota, but their example is a blessing for us in Camden. Learn more about this wholesome and amazing community at their web site:

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