The September 2017 Ministry Stories are features about the St. Joseph Worker Program from various new sources over the years (including a September 2017 Minnesota Women’s Press article!). A fast growing community, the St. Joseph Worker Program empowers women committed to social change to respond to the needs of the times.
New paths to the religious life
The following article appears in the Minnesota Women's Press publication. View the original article.
Above: Mariana Arriaza, photo by Bridgette Kelly.
Below: Students from Visitation School gathered with members of the Visitation Sisters of Holy Mary, courtesy photo.
Some had a goal of expanding spiritually. They came from a variety of faith traditions.
- Mariana Arriaza (above) says of her experience with the St. Joseph Worker Program
The last time many of us saw a nun in a habit was in "The Sound of Music" or "Sister Act."
The number of religious sisters in the United States has fallen from roughly 180,000 in 1965 to less than 48,000 in 2016," according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Yet a look behind those statistics reveals that women haven't disappeared from the realm of spiritually based service that so many nuns once occupied.
Modern day monastery
Women are "called" differently today, says Sister Katherine Mullin of Visitation Sisters of Holy Mary. They're no longer "creatures of habit" wearing black and cloistered behind monastery walls. Instead, women such as Mullin work in their communities and, in her case, doing holy work in one of Minneapolis's toughest neighborhoods. Mullin has been a nun for over 50 years and previously worked as a teacher and admissions director at Visitation School in Mendota Heights. Then, she says, "I felt a calling. The holy spirit gave me a nudge."
That nudge sent her to inner city Minneapolis, where she began to assist with activities at the first sustainable inner-city monastery within the order. In 2001, she joined the four nuns who started the project. They live in two houses kitty corner from each other in North Minneapolis. "Now there are seven of us, including one novice, so we are growing," she says.
Rather than charging into the neighborhood with an agenda of opening a soup kitchen, distributing clothing or running a school, they trusted that their work would begin organically. "We knew the neighborhood would have its own agenda," Mullin says. "The action comes to us. People come for prayer and community. Our houses are like a sanctuary for them."
The women live on alms, contributions from individuals and churches, to do their work. Fondly called "Nuns in the Hood," they meet the challenges of crime, drugs and violence in the area with what she calls prayerful presence.
Says Mullin, "This community has never been threatened, but we have had two or three break-ins. And we have had to put a restraining order on one man. So we do deal with reality, but without the emotion of fear plaguing us."
The first year the sisters were there, a man was shot outside their house. "Two sisters ran out and held his head, praying, talking to him, until the police and ambulance came," Mullin says. "That word got around with his family, his friends and with gang members and it seems from that time on, the sisters were totally accepted and respected."
She adds that after 28 years, "the neighborhood sees our staying power and that, too, speaks volumes. We have had people on our block declare more than once, 'Sisters, we have your backs', as we walk by. We could not really be able to do this, if everything scares us. We, are however, aware of our circumstances and live with our eyes wide open."
"We live a life of discernment," she says. "Each day is different, and sometimes decisions have to be made on the spot. Larger decisions we make together."
They pray four times a day - a contemplative life yes, but one of action, too. The sisters give out grocery gift cards and bus tokens for transportation to job interviews and medical appointments. They send neighborhood children (105 this year) to summer camp, run an annual retreat for women of the neighborhood (about 55 this year), among many other activities.
While the number of nuns may be down, more women (and men) are taking up many of the tasks of religious orders, but as lay people. The Visitation Sisters have created a lay residential community comprised of young adults who keep their regular jobs, but live together ministering in the many ways they can. The Visitation Intern Experience enables young people to live together and minister to neighbors for a year. Women sometimes live with the sisters for six months to a year living a life of community, prayer, and ministry.
Another order, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offers opportunities for laywomen ages 21 to 30 in the St. Joseph Worker Program. In this program, 12 young women spend 11 months living together in an intentional community housed in Rita House, a former convent in Minneapolis. Its vision is to foster "the self-empowerment of women through the values of the leadership, spirituality, social justice, intentional community and living simply, to allow them in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph, to serve where the need is greatest."
Mariana Arriaza, who participated in the program in 2015-16, says she has always had an interest in social justice and wanted to do service work in a tangible way. She graduated from St. Mary's University of Minnesota before joining the program. She says, "I thought about the Peace Corps, but decided I wanted to be closer to my hometown of Faribault."
The opportunity allowed her to explore the possibilities for the work she wanted to do, while living with other young women who were following their passions for social justice. They all continued their own social lives and family activities, but also enjoyed sharing and community nights. "Some had a goal of expanding spiritually. They came from a variety of faith traditions," she says.
Every participant works with a nonprofit and volunteers 36 hours a week. Arriaza worked at Holy Rosary Church, as outreach coordinator for the neighborhood comprised mainly of Latino people. She also worked at its Centro Guadalupano after-school program. Now those organizations employ her. "It was a 100 percent great way to get started and learn after graduation," she says.
Arriaza says she's still exploring the possibilities for her social justice goals.
Communities of religious women are happy to facilitate that process. Sister Katherine Mullin says simply, "The spirit is leading the church in different ways."
To find out more about lay work in the community contact:
The St. Joseph Worker Program
St. Joseph Workers make spirits bright while honing leadership skills
The following article appears in the Catholic Spirit newspaper. View the original article.
From left, Kiki Sykes and Ellen Klahn-Grove wrap a Christmas gift at Jeremiah Program’s St. Paul campus. Klahn-Grove is the family services manager at Jeremiah Program, and Sykes volunteers there as a member of the St. Joseph Worker Program. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit
St. Joseph Worker Program participant Kiki Sykes knows by name the children she serves at the nonprofit Jeremiah Program, and she also knows that the ones experiencing poverty might not receive what they’re wishing for this Christmas.
When Sykes and the eight other young women serving locally in the St. Joseph Worker Program distribute toys to the children later this month, Sykes said she’s looking forward to helping some of them feel “the joy of knowing they’re someone.”
“Around the holiday season, part of the culture is gift-giving, and not every family has the resources to participate in that,” said Sykes, 22, who since August has worked in pre-admissions at Jeremiah Program, which provides support for single mothers and their children. “I’m excited to contribute.”
The St. Joseph Workers participating in the 11-month immersive leadership program started in 2001 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet will organize and distribute about 150 new toys for children and teens at the local nonprofits where they work. The toys are left over from another nonprofit, Sponsor A Family MN, which matches families in need with sponsors who anonymously buy them gifts for the holidays.
The St. Joseph Worker toy distribution, now in its fourth year, offers the women, ages 22-25, the chance to serve the community in a festive way. Usually, their full-time volunteering intensely focuses on health care, direct service, community outreach and advocacy organizations.
“They have a chance to do something outside the realm of their normal work, to just be joyful. Their regular work can be joyful, but to have a little extra joy,” said Andrea Pearson Tande, program coordinator.
Typically, the toys go to organizations including the Jeremiah Program, Project Pride for Living, Learning in Style, the Lift Garage, Catholic Charities New American Services for refugee resettlement and Washburn Center for Children.
Since the beginning of the St. Joseph Worker Program, up to 14 women ages 21 to 30 from across the United States learn each year from the sisters about spirituality, leadership, community and simplicity, and social justice. The program is Christian, though membership in a faith isn’t required.
The women gain career experience and direction to serve the broader community while forming their own living community, said Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Suzanne Herder, who directs the program in St. Paul. St. Joseph Worker programs exist or are forming in several sites in California, Philadelphia and New York state. Some of the more than 150 St. Joseph Worker alumni continue to meet regularly.
The CSJs started the St. Joseph Worker Program after St. Catherine University students asked for more spirituality and connection with them, Sister Suzanne said. The program gives young women “an awareness of their own spirituality, their own leadership skills,” she said. “It gives them a compassionate heart for those in need and for themselves, and we teach them to have a compassionate heart for themselves, so they can do the work with those who are in need.”
Sykes chose the St. Joseph Worker Program after graduating from St. Olaf College in Northfield last spring because it blends social justice and community living.
“I was excited about living with women who are all going through this job experience rather than having it be different spheres of my life,” said the Kansas City, Kansas, native.
“The Jeremiah and St. Joseph Worker programs are hopefully going to provide a platform for [Sykes] to do important work in the future,” said Ellen Klahn-Grove, 27, Jeremiah Program family services manager, Sykes’ site supervisor and a St. Joseph Worker alumna.
Klahn-Grove served in the St. Joseph Worker Program from 2011 to 2012 and sees how it prepared her for her current position.
“It’s taken a few years out now to realize how important and powerful experiences were and how they’ve shaped the things I work and I’m passionate about today,” she said.
Both Klahn-Grove and another alumna, Alyssa Howells, have stayed involved in the program and meet monthly with other program graduates for spiritual sharing, support and socializing. St. Joseph Worker Program was an introduction to nonprofit work, said Howells, who also participated in 2011-2012 and plans to study to be a nurse/midwife.
Retreats, training and weekly spiritual meetings provide the women and sisters opportunities to bond, Sister Suzanne said, adding that the sisters have great hope for the women.
“We really would like to see them be leaders in their community for peace and justice, to be aware of their spirituality and be present to themselves and to others,” she said.
Whether it’s making a child smile with a holiday toy or completing challenging work at a bustling nonprofit, Sykes said she is gaining leadership experience.
“Even if I can’t choose a specific career or vocational path, I’m learning the types of environments I work well in and I enjoy being in,” she said. “I think this is totally a year of discernment and discovery, and I’m very much immersed in the process of that.”
The Meaningful Life and Work of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the St. Joseph Worker Program
The following article appears in the University of St. Thomas Newsroom. View the original article.
Our research began when Sister Marie Herbert Seiter, CSJ, coordinator of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Ministries, asked us to conduct an extensive program review of the St. Joseph Worker Program.
This program is an outgrowth, strategic-planning process in which the sisters grappled with how to sustain the mission and work of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Historically, many sisters engaged with young people in educational settings and were able to teach their values of spirituality, leadership and community while instilling a desire to work for social justice. With the aging of the St. Joseph community, and with fewer women taking vows, the sisters envisioned a program in which young women would live simply in community, grow spiritually, provide meaningful service to those in need and become leaders for social change – the four values espoused by the program.
The vision of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province, became a reality when they developed the St. Joseph Worker Program in 2002. The young women (generally 21 to 25 years old) in the program spend a year in service, living in intentional community and working 36 hours each week at nonprofit organizations throughout the Twin Cities. St. Joseph Workers (SJWs) are provided with training opportunities and other growth experiences to develop the program’s four core values. In addition, they receive housing, a monthly food budget, a small stipend and health insurance. The nonprofit settings in which the workers are placed include sites that provide English language classes for immigrant populations, shelters for women experiencing domestic violence, housing for women and children who have nowhere to go, ministries for young adults, justice advocacy centers, free health care clinics and organic farms for helping children learn how to grow their own food.
This program review seemed like a straightforward task for us, a project that would capitalize on our expertise and experiences in program evaluation and service-learning as well as provide an opportunity for us to learn about a unique service-learning program in our community. Our methods for data gathering involved typical procedures for evaluation work. We learned relatively early in the process, however, that this project would exceed our expectations for learning new things about our community and have a significant impact on us.
First of all, an amazing aspect of our journey was witnessing the transformative power of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the SJWP on the individual and collective growth of the young women. The SJWP is a highly effective program for achieving its mission and serving the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet. We could hear the CSJ mission and values ring in the words of the SJWs. Current and former workers told us how the CSJ mission is reflected in their personal, professional, civic and spiritual lives today.
Before the SJW program I wasn’t civically involved, other than voting, and I didn’t really pay much attention to political issues. Now I follow politics and public policy closely and am conscious of their connection to social and moral issues. I often engage in discussions with people on these topics, send letters to my political representatives and attend rallies to support the vulnerable populations that are too often on the losing end of public policies.
Getting to know many of the Sisters of St. Joseph and seeing how they have made their charism – love of God and the dear neighbor without distinction – into a lifestyle has inspired me to do the same. The young women talked about being advocates for justice and for those in need; being more spiritual, reflective and aware of sacredness in life; being actively involved in their communities; and living intentionally and simply. We also were moved by how the young workers described the Sisters of St. Joseph. As a matter of fact, a highly animated discussion occurred when we asked the alumnae about the CSJs. When describing the sisters, one alumna said, “Phenomenal women, I’m so grateful to be connected to the community. Strong women, decades of commitment to justice; 80 year-olds still working for justice. Retirement to the sisters means closing one chapter and starting something new.” Another alumna said, “They provide a radical example of how to care for people, and they don’t apologize for it. They strengthen women. They meet people where they are and if you’re not there yet, they will help you by their example.” It should be noted that none of the alumnae with whom we spoke had previous associations with the CSJs before their involvement with the SJWP. They provided anecdotes about specific sisters, including comments about how joyful the sisters were (and we heard stories about singing and dancing with the sisters). The alumnae workers had a great deal of respect and affection for the CSJs, which was wonderful to observe. One cannot help but be awed when hearing stories about the sisters’ lives of service and some stories of how spunky they are.
We also found it heartening to validate the benefit the SJWP brings to nonprofit organizations. While it seems obvious that organizations enjoy the added workforce of volunteers, it also can be a drain on their resources and systems. Discovering the motivations of the nonprofits to partner with the SJWP and the value derived from the their participation provided great insight. The workplace supervisors explain that it is beneficial for nonprofits to partner with programs that share their mission and accept the responsibility and burden of recruiting, supporting and assisting in training young adults in yearlong commitments to serve. They describe how their organizations gain by educating others about their mission; building an educated, committed corps of allies for their cause; increasing their capacity to meet the needs of their clients; and reinforcing their relationship with the Sisters of St. Joseph. One supervisor explained, “They [workers] carry our work to other places that we don’t even know about, and the benefit to communities is immeasurable.” They also observe that the workers grow and mature in their worldviews. As one supervisor said, “After these experiences, the workers just don’t have an academic understanding of what it is like to work with disenfranchised populations; they learn what life is really like for them.”
Supervisors acknowledge the benefits of having an on-site worker in terms of their increased capacity to provide direct services to those they serve as well as enhanced advocacy efforts. They described the relationships the workers developed with clients that were so important. And, they shared how they saw the young women workers gain many vocational and life skills during the year. As one said, “It is a two-way street.”
These nonprofit organizations are dedicated to serving or partnering with the marginalized populations in our community. Seeing firsthand the individuals being served in these sites was very moving. We observed East African immigrants demonstrating appreciation for the opportunity to attend free English language classes taught by sisters and other volunteers. We witnessed immigrant, homeless women joyfully singing in a cafeteria as they prepared a community meal. We heard stories about the desperate circumstances of women of Africa who ended up in Minnesota after enduring physical atrocities and fleeing from their homeland. We met individuals who are working to make their communities safer and more economically vibrant.
Observing and learning more about these individuals and the people committed to making a difference in the lives of the marginalized in our community is awe-inspiring and increased our appreciation for the work being done in the Twin Cities. We are fortunate to experience these unexpected outcomes from the evaluation of the SJWP. Not only was it a two-way street for the workplace sites and St. Joseph workers, it was a two-way street for us in that, we hope, the program benefited from our evaluation work, and the evaluation work most certainly had an impact on us.
We are reminded of the dual role of researchers. We approach research projects not only as professionals but also as individuals who enter into relationships with those we interview. In this instance, it was with the SJWs who opened up to us and shared very personal, transformative stories about themselves. Similarly, the worksite supervisors described their thoughts and feelings about those they served – the students, clients, guests and patients. As a result, we as individuals were also transformed through new understandings. We became more critically aware of pressing social justice issues in our local community and developed a broader perspective of the lives of our sisters and brothers in need. We saw the potential to make positive change through the eyes and hearts of the committed individuals who are walking the walk.