Daily Journal Entries: Sister Caritas Wehrman, SSND and Amy Larocque-Rumano, Associate
June 16th, The beginning, by Sister Caritas Wehrman.
Finally, the day to begin MAP came. I left Chicago mid-Sunday morning on a one hour flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The attendant pushed my wheelchair to baggage, helped me find my luggage and left me in the wheelchair at a visible place to await Amy Rumano. I tried calling her but got no answer. Maybe she was still flying. As I sat there waiting, I realized I did not know who was picking us up, nor did I have any helpful phone number. I told God, "Here I am. You have to make this work. I trust you for helping me in this whole experience." A group came to baggage and I asked if they were from Baltimore. "Yes," they replied. Amy found me and we found Annette outside, got in the car and began our two-hour plus ride through the beautiful Minnesota farmland near the Mississippi.
We arrived at the "Li'L Farm” on twenty acres of beautiful land with trees, a pond, a hermitage, and pine trees. The red barn and fenced area had chickens and housed a noisy rooster and quite a few ducks. The red barn also housed goats, a llama, a sheep and peahens (not peacock) turkeys, potbelly pigs and regular pigs. All were pets, and the children wandered comfortably among them. Each animal had a name. We were shown our rooms and put our luggage there and met the three children. There was a 9-year-old girl who was the sister of twin 5-year-old boys, who quickly adopted me as their best new friend. Sister Francette had prepared a delicious afternoon dinner after the children correctly set the table.
We had very interesting conversations, including such questions as how old are you (directed to me) and why is your hair white, to Annette.
One boy was sure eating cauliflower would make him choke. What a delightful and delicious meal! A partial tour was given after we did the dishes, and the history of the ministry was shared. Children who could not live with their families lived under the guidance and love of the two Sisters. The children got ready for bed, and were read a story, which we all enjoyed. The children went to bed and we adults prayed and, after an interesting day, I went to bed knowing I had two new energetic 5-year-old friends. I went to sleep with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.
First day impressions, Amy Larocque-Rumano
We arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota! My first time here! Driving from the airport to Cambridge I notice many of the same chain stores that we have in the East. Arriving at Li’l Farm Children’s Home, I see the house looks like a “normal” house and not like a “farmhouse”. What was I expecting? I don’t know. I guess I expected a more open country, rivers, mountains, and trees? Economic development is evident everywhere in America. I realized I do not know the history or the issues of the people in this area at all. But that is one reason why I decided to participate in this MAP site – to listen, learn, and experience a bit of what life is like in the Midwest.
Li’l Farm offered an opportunity to be with nature, animals, and the quiet beauty of the day and night there. I enjoyed the rhythm of the household that was structured around care for the animals and the foster children. The structure helped me to be more present with God, His creation and with others around me.
In Li’l Farm, it was the rural culture that I encountered, and to some degree the realities of vulnerable children in this part of the country. Though it was only a day and night, my experience was poignant. The children that we met at Li’l Farm had been there for just over one month and they frequently spoke about their home and their parents. They were thrilled to meet and engage with us visitors and to show us their new place, bedroom, playgrounds, and family. I drew especially close to an older girl, age 9, who was excited to show me the yard and the different playing areas, and who also sought to sit next to me at dinner or during book reading time. The 5-year-old twin boys were adorable, chatty and naturally drew others in.
Sisters Francette explained how she and Sister Margaret of the CP Province of SSND established Li’l Farm 24 years ago and showed us while we were there how she provides a home with a consistent structure and caring environment for foster children to thrive with them.
June 17th - The Next Day on the Farm, Sister Caritas
I awoke early and rested a little more, dressed and brought a cup of coffee along to the porch where I met Amy. We spoke for a few moments and I decided I would walk around and experience the beauty. I did not go far when the twin boys found me and took their place with me, one on each side of me as we walked toward the red barn and the animals.
I looked at the animals. A pig, right in front of us decided to relieve himself as the five-year-old boy squealed “Look, he’s peeing!” His brother said, “They poop and pee all over.” My response, knowing five-year-old boys, was “It’s very important to do that. If we don’t, we can get sick.” We moved to the swings nearby. One climbed on the swing, sat down, and after a few back and forths, asked if I would push him. I tried to teach him to “pump” so he could swing when no one was there to push. The lesson did not take. After a few minutes he moved on to the rings and his brother took his place standing on the side of the swing. I tried to teach him to bend his knees so he could push the seat a little forward and thus move. This teaching took some time.
While they continued to swing and play in the sand, I picked up my coffee and walked toward the flowers in the front of the house. The sun was just starting to shine on the daisies, pansies and yellow and purple irises. The white in the iris seemed translucent in the sunlight. I looked down the road at the trees and I realized how healing I found the trees, the overall greenness, and beauty of nature. I realized I need to find those spaces. Those spaces bring healing and sanity. The bell rang for breakfast.
Breakfast was delicious. The eggs were from the previous afternoon’s collection from the chicken coup. We enjoyed homemade banana bread and ham. Afterward, I sat on the floor with one of the boys as he had told me he would like to read a story to me. His brother joined us as he read Green Eggs and Ham (which he had memorized, his brother admitted he could not read yet). I read (upside down) along with him as we went page by page and coached him at the places he could not “read”. Finally, we reached the area where he could not remember. Unfortunately, we had to stop as it was time to begin to get ready to leave. Later Annette told me she had practiced with him earlier so he could read to me. I was very touched by his effort. I went to get my suitcase and put it in the trunk of the car. Suddenly I remembered my black jacket and searched for my bag with medicines, etc. I mentioned to Sister when I got outside that I was very glad I found it. Sister said, “You listened to God.” I said to Sister, “Yes.”
I hugged the two boys and their sister…, Sister, hugged me tightly. As we started to drive away we waved goodbye and I felt that our time together had been very short. I felt a little sad as we left the two young boys and their sister, I would miss them and not forget them. We headed toward the Mississippi River and drove for almost three hours, crossing the Minnesota River several times. I looked at the rich farm-land and searched for growing corn. We wondered if it would be knee high by the Fourth of July.
We passed, many buildings, green spaces with neatly cut lawns and gardens to finally our destination “The Hill”, Good Counsel. I tried to take everything in as I had never been there. After stowing our suitcases in our rooms, we went down for supper to meet our Sisters, some of whom I knew and many I did not know. After supper, Sister Dorothy gave us a tour and eventually led us to room 116 where we would meet our Community. After introductions and sharing, we were led in prayer. It was the ending of a long and very full day.
Traveling across Minnesota, Amy
June 17th, was a travel day today from Cambridge to Mankato. We traveled to the west side of Minneapolis/St. Paul and saw many large farms as we traveled. It caused me to reflect upon our food supply and how industrialized it has become. Upon arrival at the School Sisters of Notre Dame Mankato campus “Good Counsel,” up on the hill above downtown Mankato, I enjoyed the beauty of this campus, the beautiful and unique chapel, and welcoming sisters. After supper in the main dining area, Sister Caritas and I were invited to meet with our intentional SSND community for the days we would be at Good Counsel.
Through my temporary participation in community life, I became more aware of the tenderness and value of a mutual relationship. This was supported by this intentional community that formed for our stay. Five sisters chose to come together with us for meals and evening prayer and sharing. It is not easy to participate in sharing and receiving in a community of people you have just met, and I am grateful for their openness to us and modeling to me a bit about community life. I noticed that the sharing and openness of one person supports openness and sharing of others. I noticed that prayer time, meals, and schedules for activity give us important structure from which to build community. This structure helped me to focus more on the different needs and interests of others and increased my consciousness of my needs and approaches.
This experience is inspiring me to strengthen relationships in my own family life. Upon return home, I hope to reinvigorate our structure for community through more consistent family meals, more diverse prayers, and greater presence with/listening to my family members.
June 18th – Living Earth Center, Mankato
This day was dedicated to learning about the history and current activities of the Mankato sisters’ engagement in living sustainably with the earth. The Center was originally established by pioneer SSND’s in the late 1990s as the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry to address the impact on communities and the environment of large industrialized farms taking over small family farm life. It also provided leadership in environmental practices on the sisters’ Good Council property. I learned about how the renamed Center for Living Earth, has grown into a network of gardeners, volunteers, and advocates seeking to honor the interconnection of all living things and the earth.
I experienced solidarity with the earth through my tour of the community gardens on the Mankato campus - especially in picking the strawberries and by appreciating that the asparagus, lettuce, and dill pickles in our evening meal that came from that garden.
I also experienced solidarity with people of diverse cultures. I met many sisters that grew up in the farming, rural culture and was inspired by the diversity of ethnic groups gardening together – people hailing from South Sudan, Iraq, Somali, Mexico, the US, and more countries. One of the gardeners, a Hmong originally from Vietnam, found his gardening plot coincidentally next to the garden of a Vietnamese War Veteran, and they have become friends.
Though from different countries, we share a common need for the earth, for food, and indeed for friendship and community among us.
We began our first full day at Mankato Good Counsel with morning prayer in the chapel, in its simple beauty. It was good to pray the Office together. We then had breakfast and I discovered I knew more sisters there than I realized - it was great meeting them again. At 9:00 a.m. we met in Room 116. The theme of the day was focused on the care of the earth and especially what is being done at Mankato. Sister Mary Tachney shared with us the history and development of the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry.
Sister shared how the development of corporate farms brought about less and less small family farms. This influenced and changed the area as families moved off the land to cities, there were fewer people in the smaller towns and fewer students attending schools, especially Catholic Schools. There were fewer members in the local Churches and some of them closed or adjusted their worship times and care for local people. It also affected how the land was cared for.
Seeing these developments, lay people and sisters gathered together and faced the questions of what to do. From these discussions, many ideas came. One proposal by the Sisters was to develop the Center. It took some time for the proposal to be approved but it finally was- July 7, 1994, a director was hired and the center was opened in Sheed Hall. The first year was focused on learning about the needs of the area and gathering people to help plan for what could be done.
Meanwhile, erosion was taking place on the Mankato Hill property. This was made known by a neighbor who discovered that the soil from the Hill was making a home in his back yard. Something had to be done as erosion was washing dirt from underneath the roads.
A study plan was created where they determined that lowering the Hill and spreading out the slope of the Hill would help. The ravine where dumping had taken place had to be cleaned up. A builder had extra soil, clay, and dirt which he did not need and it was hauled to the Hill to fill in and secure the Hill. To me, the description was an example of an amazing plan and project of caring for the earth and restoring the land. Later, appropriate deep-rooted plants and trees were planted to prevent further erosion and ravines. Plots of grasses up on top of the Hill were also planted using a method that absorbs more water so it would prevent the water from rushing down the hillside. All of this was a great accomplishment of cooperation of various people and organizations. As activities grew on the Hill, the Center moved into the main building and grew into the Center it is today.
As we did daily, we participated in the Mass celebrated simply and meaningfully. Lunch followed and an afternoon with some free time to reflect was given. After another brief presentation, we met the present Executive Director, Laura Peterson. Laura shared about the work the Center is now involved in. The Center was preparing an event with the larger geographic community to celebrate the summer Solstice. This involved welcoming many people and participants to the celebration and has been a way of education and outreach. There are many other programs which have been developed over the years.
One thing I noticed in the dining area were containers where leftover skins and food products could be placed in the correct pace for the composting project – this is practiced at every meal. I was very impressed and thought perhaps I could find a way and a group who would like to adopt this practice in my local environment.
There is also a project of community gardening which has been developed over the years. There are many resources available in their library to obtain the needed information. It was an interesting and fascinating presentation and the energy and knowledge of Laura re-awoke my enthusiasm for such issues. Her suggested principle was “Do what you can, d it at your spot, helping others to do big or little things.”
We then visited the community gardens where people “rented” a ten by ten plot of land. Other plots can also be rented in order to make their space in the garden larger. There are all kinds of people who come and garden. Children come and garden with the help of adults and Sisters have plots and gardens- foods grown by the Sisters are used in the convent meals. As we walked through the gardens, we found that there were various ways of gardening and there was a great variety of plants. We would ask Laura what a certain kind of plant was and she would pick a leaf, smell it and tell us what it was. Toward the end of the tour, we found a plot which had not been cared for in a while. Laura checked on her list and found that they were on vacation. We picked the strawberries found there which would otherwise have spoiled. We had them for an evening snack. Delicious!
We shared the evening meal with the Marin community, a small community. After dishes, we prayed and enjoyed good conversation. The rest of the evening was available for reflection, writing and resting, and getting ready for another adventurous day.
June 19th – Learning Center
After morning prayer with the Sisters in the chapel, followed by breakfast, we began the day with a tour of the Learning Center. We saw the different level classrooms. Large rooms were separated into smaller individual spaces for teaching by five-foot dividers. The class levels range from K- 8 grades. Many various supplies and books were arranged in interesting and attractive ways. Colorful books and child-oriented objects were arranged in such a way as to make spaces, places and corners child-centric.
One full-size classroom housed a large and attractive library. Many teacher resources were available. A company which published books donated some for teaching and storybook classes were added. Books and published material were donated to the library if they were not “saleable” perfect. Education was also offered to adults needing to learn to read, write and speak English. The Lauback materials were and are still used with revised editions and further developed skill texts and Phonic education. Later Citizenship classes were added. In 2013 Sister Alice, an SSND from St. Louis, had developed a program of going to the homes of adults who either had no transportation or no babysitting help. This enabled them to get an education at home when they could not attend classes. The Learning Center tried this program and found it helpful, and Sisters and volunteers do this program from the Learning Center.
This began in 2016. The Learning Center is in the process of pursuing 501c3 status, which helps with the fundraising needed to keep this amazing educational program going in the spirit of Mother Theresa and Mother Caroline.
Sister Helen spoke of some of the daily concrete lesson taught regarding reading. Further information was given to us by Sister Joann and Sister Helen. Sister Joann discussed some of the difficulties that keep adults from continuing their education. One of the difficult ones is transportation. Immigrants do not always have a car and need to depend on others to get to class. Sometimes even the minimal cost requested to come cannot be afforded by students as they try to work toward a better job, cover the needs of their children and send money back to their previous home country for needy family members. Some other issues faced by adult students, particularly women, are caring for children when they are sick, and dealing with changing work schedules which conflict with class schedules. Students want to learn and celebrate “I achieved, I achieved” when they completed programs.
Helping parents learn how to explain to a doctor what is wrong with a child. Developing the ability to understand teachers' notes and information told or sent to student parents is another skill that is taught, as it how to write notes to the teacher about why a child was late or why they were not in school These were basic skills, easily taken for granted by an educated English speaker, that are real problems for the immigrant, refugee, and non-English speaking students.
Today we focused on the history and current work of the SSND Learning Center, also on the Good Council Campus of SSND in Mankato. We learned that the center provides personalized one-on-one tutoring, as well as home outreach tutoring in English as a second language, citizenship to adults, and after-school tutoring in a variety of subjects for school-age children. I can see that this personalized support really makes the difference for people that come from far-flung places such as Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, and Vietnam. I can only imagine the adjustments needed just to adapt to the cold of Minnesota, never-mind the adjustments to foreign language and culture.
We had the privilege to hear the personal story of one Somali woman’s journey to live in Mankato. Her name is MI, and we learned of her ongoing struggle to create a better life for her family and to unify it. Thanks to the English language tutoring provided by the Learning Center, she was able to share it herself. She shared with us how she had to leave Somalia as a teenager after being caught in the cross-hairs of fighting. Her father was killed and because a bullet wound to her leg did not get treated or heal after several months, she traveled to Uganda to seek medical care. After living in the refugee camp for some years, she married and had children. Her children were always getting sick in the refugee camp and they were foreigners in this country so she pursued this opportunity to migrate to the US to gain a better life for her children. She could only bring two of her four children.
For the past six years, she has worked diligently to reunite her family – providing DNA testing to prove her relationship with her children, filing documentation, request for photos of her marriage, etc. Currently, her case is in a final pending stage, and she asked for her our prayers as she also attempts a US citizenship test next week.
After hearing this story, my heart breaks and I feel inspired. She continues to persevere despite so many odds and setbacks. Many in America these days seem to be questioning why people come to the US and why US communities should support them. Others seem to question whether immigrants are adequately screened. I feel so sad for this woman and her family and for the many many others whose stories are not told or heard. I feel helpless. This woman asked for our prayers for the successful reunion of her family, which I will gladly offer. Otherwise, I can only hope that SSND efforts to both support and educate others about the true reality of courageous immigrants like Mi, will, I hope, make a difference over time.
June 20 - Time for Goodbye, by Sister Caritas
Like the other days, I participated in the Morning Office with the sisters. Unlike other days I was saying goodbye to the Sisters I had met or had reconnected with. The task after breakfast was to finish packing and bringing the luggage to the entrance area. One of the sisters I had lived with spent time with me, and at 11am we attended Mass. Time for lunch came, and I realized the time of feeling relatively comfortable surrounded by community and the extensive beauty of the “Hill” and surroundings was drawing to an end.
I felt eager to return to Chicago and share my MAP experience with friends and family. I also missed St. Therese and the Chinese community I serve. I knew I had many experiences to sort through, information to think through to see how it can be applied. I also had writing to do. Amy and I brought our luggage to the car and said goodbye to Sister Dorothy and other Sisters. We drove toward Minneapolis through a rainstorm, which made us stop until it let up. We again passed the green wooded areas, farms growing corn and other crops.
Amy and I went to the counter to check in and proceeded to the boarding area. Amy and I were both flying Southwest and our boarding area was near each other so we sat together. We discussed our experience and wrote for MAP. I said goodbye to Amy and told her I would pray she would not have trouble with a storm in Baltimore. As I waited for takeoff and during the flight many ideas and images continued to go through my mind. So many experiences and ideas. Fixed in my mind and heart, probably for a long time, were the two twin boys and their sister. I prayed and continue to pray for them and for the two wonderful Sisters who care for so many children. I am grateful for the experiences and the Sisters. All will be with me for a long time. This was a short but profound experience.