A retreat house in the midst of a crime-ridden neighborhood has helped multiple women find the path to forgiveness after the murder of their children. It’s part of the ministry of the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis, who joyfully live the Gospel by reaching out to their neighbors in need.
Mary Johnson has come to be a “spiritual mother” to the man who murdered her son. When he first died back in 1993, her shock hardened into rage. Then she felt compelled to visit her son’s killer in prison.
“What took place at that meeting was way beyond what I could have imagined,” Mary told The Catholic Spirit newspaper. “I said him, ‘From the bottom of my heart, I forgive you, I loose you, I let you go.’ And, he asked me how I could do that. And, I said because of who was within me. I could no longer hold on to all that junk in my heart.”
Slowly, an unlikely friendship formed.
Mary has celebrated it with the Visitation sisters and told her story at the St. Jane House, a retreat center that tries to offer peace and hospitality in a neighborhood plagued by poverty. One Christmas Eve, Mary gathered there with her six other mothers of murdered children to draw support from each other. Over the years, grieving families have met there to share poetry and prayer, tears and triumphs. Together, they heal their hearts and do their part to care for the human race.
Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie said she is blown away by Mary’s forgiving heart.
“My reaction has always been, when I hear her, I just absolutely marvel at how she was faithful to God’s grace,” she told The Catholic Spirit. “It’s that step-by-step faithfulness that leads people to forgiveness. When you think of something that powerful happening because of Mary’s forgiveness, you have to be overwhelmed at the love God pours out on this earth through his forgiveness.”
The Visitation sisters have partnered with National Catholic Sisters Week in a variety of ways, from our NCSW anthem video to a SisterStory oral history to this year's "un(veiled): deconstructing the habit" exhibit. They are such good community members, and we are grateful for their friendship!