Visitation’s Christmas stockings cheer North Minneapolis

| Christina Capecchi | December 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

Natalie Vandenburgh, 17, from Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, reads to Tylia Brooks, 9, during the Visitation Sisters' neighborhood Christmas party Dec. 20 in Minneapolis. (Jim Bovin for the Catholic Spirit)

It wasn’t just trees and roofs the tornado uprooted in North Minneapolis this past May; it was holiday budgets. That’s why the Convent of the Visitation School’s long-standing Christmas stocking tradition to distribute gifts to low-income families in the Minneapolis neighborhood has been met with even greater appreciation this year.

For nearly two decades the Visitation School community in Mendota Heights has participated in the stocking project. Students work with campus ministry to sew and decorate the stockings, and everyone gets involved in stuffing them. Each contains $30 of gifts selected for a particular child, whose age and name is supplied by several social agencies and the Visitation sisters who live in North Minneapolis.

This year Visitation families created 600 stockings. Some were opened at a Dec. 20 party at the sisters’ home, where their neighbors shared holiday cheer and prayer with Visitation students. “Some very beautiful people from both communities got to meet one another,” Sister Mary Frances Reis said.

Her neighbors in North Minneapolis were especially grateful for the gifts this year, Sister Mary Frances added. “This area was hit hard by the tornado, so parents are really scrambling to provide a happy holiday for their kids. Many are struggling financially.”

In the face of hardship, North Minneapolis families have learned this year how to open their doors and hearts to the surprises that may arrive — including carefully selected Christmas gifts that fell outside their tight monthly budgets.

Keeping things in perspective

Elle Newcome, a senior at Visitation and member of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, piled stockings in the back of her car and dropped them off at the sisters’ front porch Dec. 16.

Newcome is the oldest of four children, and her entire family helps stuff stockings each December. They make a point to pray for the children who will receive them.

This year Newcome decorated a stocking for a 3-year-old boy named D’Anthony. She drew a glittery choo-choo train at the top and wrote his name in oversized lettering. Inside she tucked a football, candy, plastic model cars and a coloring kit based on the Disney movie “Cars.”

The 17-year-old says the annual project provides a well-timed reminder. “It helps keep the holiday in perspective,” she said. “I am so blessed, and I know that I did absolutely nothing to deserve where I am right now. The roles could easily be reversed. My mom always tells me to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Newcome realizes her wish list is extravagant compared with many others’. This Christmas the senior asked for a zoom lens to advance her photography hobby. “But they’re pretty expensive,” she said, “so I’m hoping for it but not expecting it.”

Above all, she added, she’s trying to focus on God’s gift of Jesus, given freely to everyone. Her school’s service project helps her do that in a fun, concrete way. “Not only does the Christmas stocking project call the Visitation community into solidarity with our neighbors, it also promotes family bonding as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.”

Community-wide effort

Visitation takes pride in its wide-spanning community, from the youngest boys and girls in Montesorri to the 12th-grade girls and the 90-something nuns who live in the monastery on campus. The school’s Christmas stocking project is an easy way to involve everyone.

“I’m getting more calls from alums looking to get involved,” said campus m

inister Kathy Daniewicz. “We continue to do this because I see how important it is.”

Susan Russomanno, an Upper School learning specialist, invites her son to select gifts for a boy and her daughter to choose special treats for a girl. “It is a family event, which is how I think it should be,” she said.

Montessori teacher Carrie Kisch Paul and her friends shop at Target and wrap gifts together. “It’s a really good time, and instead of spending money on a night out, we can contribute to something much better.”

It’s all part of their mission, says Head of School Dr. Dawn Nichols. “The mystery of the Visitation recalls two women coming together to care for one another and share the good things God has done for them. Our Christmas stocking project brings together two neighborhoods to share both spiritual and practical gifts. We are both richly blessed.”

To learn more about the ministry of the Visitation sisters in North Minneapolis, visit To get more information about Visitation School, log onto


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