The place I call home


These ‘Nuns in the Hood’ are part of a neighborhood that has its struggles but also produces people and successes of heroic proportions.

I live in a townhouse in Woodbury. I grew up in a two-story frame house on a tree-lined street in Fond du Lac, Wis. And my last house was on a five-acre plot studded with oak trees, on the shore of a small lake in Afton.

But the place I think of as home is a pair of houses in North Minneapolis, occupied by seven nuns. They call themselves the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis (1527 Fremont Ave. N. and 1619 Girard Ave N.) and they've been in the neighborhood for two decades. In the last three years, 20 people, mostly teenagers, were murdered within 20 blocks of the Sisters.

Yet, the monastery is the place I run to when I'm troubled, torn up, or tempted. The Sisters are the safety net for this Lutheran boy and they have been for 20 years. They welcome without exception, listen without judgment, and teach without preaching. I always think, when I leave the place, that these women know how to walk through life and, as often as I can, I want to be at their side.

Their official mission is to "express our contemplative life by living, praying, and ministering to those who are often disregarded by our society." What those words mean in real life is illustrated by dozens of examples.

Two years after the Sisters moved into the Fremont house in 1989, gun shots rang out in the neighborhood. When Sister Mary Frances Reis and Karen Mohan ran out the back door, they discovered a man lying in the gutter — shot in the head.

They called an ambulance, held his head, gave him comfort, and said their prayers. He died later that day in the hospital. The victim's street name was LuLu, a sometime drug dealer. In retelling the story, the Sisters always point out they understood "he was very good to his family."

The Vis Sisters are always looking for the best parts, the redeeming factors, the softer sides of whomever they encounter. They are inclined to see the light, but they are not afraid of the darkness.

They've seen drug dealers and drunks, talked to philanderers and pedophiles, and said prayers for burglars and brawlers. These are not fragile women, either in faith or demeanor; they do not rush to judgment but do know how to comfort: mothers who've lost children, fathers who've lost jobs, and teenagers who, for awhile, may have lost their way.

Will Wallace found himself at the monastery the morning after Christmas this year, hours after he learned his stepbrother had been shot and killed in Clarksdale, Miss.

Wallace, who has known the Sisters for six years, collaborates with them on community projects, from passing out Christmas gifts to organizing a quarterly neighborhood meeting. He's no stranger to the streets, having once been a Gangster Disciple. He now spends a good part of his time trying to steer young brothers in another direction.     

When his own brother died, Will had no doubt where he was headed. The Sisters would not be afraid of his rage, his tears, or his torment. For several hours, he sat with them. They knelt beside him, rubbed his back, and held his hand. Before he headed to Clarksdale, he said a prayer for the kid who shot his brother.

These "Nuns in the Hood" are part of a neighborhood that has its struggles but also produces people and successes of heroic proportions. The dance between them is endlessly fascinating.

One of the neighbors is a self-described street hustler, who always has a cell phone handy in case there's a deal he can't pass up. He comes to a monthly prayer meeting at the monastery, occasionally leaving when the phone vibrates. The Sisters pray for him, and he let’s the neighborhood know he's got their backs.

No wonder this place feels like home.

Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter and editor for the Star Tribune, a reporter for WCCO-TV, and a professor at St. Thomas. Now retired, he has no business card but plenty to do.

To learn more about the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis, please visit: