Visitation interns learn about service, sisters’ lives

| Susan Klemond | December 14, 2011 | 0 Comments

Visitation Sister Mary Frances Reis, left, Beth Anne Cooper and Linda Goynes fill Christmas gift bags for teens at the Visitation Monastery in north Minneapolis. Cooper is participating in the Visitation Internship Program, which involves service, fellowship and spiritual life with the sisters. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Thanks in part to a few detours, Beth Anne Cooper is now more sure of her path to a deeper prayer life as she spends the year growing in faith, sharing life and serving the north Minneapolis community while interning with the Visitation Sisters.

The first detour was her decision to drop graduate school plans and apply for the new Visitation Internship Program, a year-long opportunity for young adults to extend the sisters’ north Minneapolis ministry while living in community near their monastery and learning the order’s spirituality.

Cooper, a Catholic and native of the Bronx, New York, who served in the Twin Cities last year with AmeriCorps, encountered another detour when she broke her leg this fall only a month into the program. Slowing down has meant focusing more on prayer to gain a solid foundation for tutoring and coaching youth at nearby Ascension School and assisting the sisters.

“I really am finding that prayer is where it all comes from,” she said. “It’s really what’s drawing me closer to God. It’s the basis for a lot of what I’m able to do in my service and I think the basis for where I’m going to go [after] this program.”

Mutual enrichment

Cooper and fellow intern Kelly Schumacher are the first young adults to serve in the VIP program, which the Visitation Sisters started with funds from a vocation-related grant, said Sister Karen Mohan, who leads the program.

“We thought that we might really have something to offer and to receive from young adults coming, and indeed that was true,” she said.

Schumacher

For Schumacher, a Lutheran and a Chaska native whose previous service includes a year in Durban, South Africa, the VIP program offered the chance to live and serve in the same diverse community.

“I really felt like this program was speaking to a lot of my spiritual desires,” she said. “The way that I feel the spirit calling me to be in community, the way I felt the spirit calling me to serve and love others, and to be loved by others, required a certain amount of humility. To live in the community you’re serving can be a little scary.”

Schumacher has divided her time between teaching and working on curriculum for English as a Second Language classes, working with Cooper on Ascension’s after-school program and developing a resource book and expanding programming at the monastery.

Objectives for the September-June program are participating in community living, developing relationships, studying the spirituality of the order’s founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, and deepening their knowledge of the Catholic Church’s social justice teaching.

The sisters hope interns will understand the spirituality and live it out in their own way with a sense of the church’s social justice teaching and of community, Sister Karen said.

“We’re rooted in this neighborhood and this neighborhood will benefit from the dedication and the good work of young adults, and young adults will benefit from living in this community — the north side community — and being exposed to the spirituality of a long-standing religious community,” she said.

Looking ahead

The sisters hope to host up to four interns per year, ages 20-35, male or female. The program pays interns’ living expenses,
medical insurance and a small stipend. Interns are not required to be Catholic.

Interns choose their service from among neighborhood ministry options. “It’s not a year when you’re spoon fed what you’re going to do next,” Sister Karen said. “You’re given opportunities and then you run with it within certain parameters, parameters being the garden of the north side neighborhood.”

VIP interns are making great offerings to the poor and social justice, while desiring to grow in their faith, said Sister Mary Frances Reis. “They are very open to deepening their own faith,” she said. “We see it as an opportunity to pass on our charism to another generation.”

Having benefited from the chance to learn some of the sisters’ spirituality and integrate her work and life in the same community, Schumacher plans to stay in the neighborhood when she gets married next summer. “We’re really excited to continue to be here and be in this neighborhood post VIP.”

Barring any more detours, Cooper is pretty sure her next step will be graduate school in physical therapy, not the field she previously intended.

Through prayer and service, she’s had time to discern her call to be a lay leader rather than a religious sister.

“I think I was really searching to go deeper in my faith and to become more authentically who God created me to be,” she said. “I think it’s allowed me to take a step back and remember who I am and what are my strengths and gifts and talents.”

For more information about the VIP program, visit http://www.visitationmonasteryminneapolis.org or contact Sister Karen Mohan at vmonastery@aol.com.

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