Just Living Blog

Hennepin Connections

In his book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin suggests, following decades of growing inequality, America essentially functions in a two-class system: “One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.”

Temin suggests a lot of factors contribute to American inequality. It is so deeply embedded it could take almost 20 years for one to escape poverty—with nearly nothing going wrong in one’s life. 
There is a lot of research about inequality and income disparity. While they all paint an alarming picture of our society, they also begin to draw a clear call to action for change. Research shows that two key components required to make the transformation out of poverty include education and a relationship.  

In 2013, The Basilica’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry leadership prayerfully embraced this research. We recognized, as a faith community, we can offer relationships. We looked across the street and saw the gift and needs of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Ten percent of the students attending MCTC are homeless. Could we as a faith community, partner with MCTC to ensure two key components needed to make the transformation out of poverty—education and a relationship?

In 2014 we created a pilot program called Hennepin Connections: Basilica SVdP Mentoring Program with MCTC. In early May of this year, we completed our fourth year of this partnership—matching MCTC students and Basilica mentors, one-on-one. Each year we experienced profound and powerful results for both the students and the mentors.
The entire program is built on the opportunity to build relationships with students committed to their education. Relationships built through Hennepin Connections are not easy. They often bring people from vastly different cultures, experience, race and class together. This is, indeed the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of Hennepin Connections Mentoring Program.

To prepare for the mentoring partnerships, we offer resources and training for the mentors. We ground ourselves in Vincentian values and spirituality—recognizing we come to this work in humility and faith. Our mantra, as mentors, is “Accept them where they are.” We are called to listen and support, open our hearts and minds, and be willing to be changed by the experience. 
At the end of this year’s program, students and mentors shared the meaning of the experience. It was an awesome and humbling evening. Over and over we heard the importance, for the student, to have someone in their life who was not in crisis, who would listen as they vented and would offer a new network for them in their life.

In sharing his gratitude for this program, a student reflected—without this program, even if he and the mentor had been sitting next to one another at a basketball game, they never would have spoken to one another. Hennepin Connections brought two very different worlds together, and made a difference. He said, “Thanks for creating a space for healthy relationships to happen.”

One woman shared that the mentor was “the missing piece of the puzzle in my life.” Another shared that her mentor helped her find calmness when she felt frantic and overwhelmed. 
The mentors consistently shared the inspiration they received from walking with the students over the year. They felt they gained more than they gave.

The Basilica seeks to transform society through the Gospel of love—sometimes one life at a time. We can, and must, be proactive to build bridges and unite our community. If you are interested in being part of this important work, call the Christian Life office.


Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.” Brothers and Sisters To Us, USCCB, 1979

During the summer of 2016, the Twin Cities experienced a wave of protests and unrest after the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in St. Anthony, MN. The upheaval throughout the Twin Cities was in direct response to the deep and longstanding effects of racism in our state. Uncovered and exposed were the inequalities and injustices behind virtually every statistic of Minnesota’s quality of life: including our state’s education gap, income disparity, homeownership, and violent crime. 

  • On April 29, 2016, the Pioneer Press reported “Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation—gaps that have widened over the past five decades and that soon may create a statewide economic crisis. U.S. Census data show most Minnesota families of color now have median incomes about half those of their white neighbors.”
  • On August 18, 2017, the Pioneer Press reported “Minnesota schools have grown more segregated and the state’s nation-leading academic achievement gap refuses to close. 
    • Black Students: Reading proficiency, 33% and Math proficiency, 28%
    • White Students: Reading proficiency, 69% and Math proficiency, 68%
  • Headline in the Star Tribune on August 17, 2017 read, “Already-low homeownership rates of Twin Cities minorities fall further,” with 75% whites and only 23% blacks owning homes. 
  • A report in August 2017 from the Minneapolis Police Department that covers the period 2009 to 2014 states, while blacks made up 18.6% of the population in Minneapolis, 79% of victims of homicide are black. 

During the summer and fall of 2016, The Basilica leadership intentionally engaged in reflection and self-examination: How was The Basilica living faithfully by actively confronting issues of racism and being a force of racial reconciliation in the community? Strikingly, we discovered that, while The Basilica is engaged in the community in many ways, we are not living up to our mission in this area.

In the fall of 2016, The Basilica Parish Council unanimously voted to support a parish-wide, sustained effort to address the issue of racism. In February 2017, a Basilica team met for the first time—a team to help shape a parish wide initiative for racial reconciliation. 

The team began slowly, prayerfully discerning direction, sharing stories, and developing trust. This Lent, The Basilica officially launched Imago Dei: The Basilica Initiative for Racial Reconciliation. Imago Dei—the Image of God. Rooted in the absolute belief that all humans beings are created in the image of God, The Basilica will devote itself to this effort by praying for empowerment to overcome this radical evil in our lives and communities, by learning about institutionalized racism and its insidious presence in our Church and society, by engaging across lines of difference, and by advocating for social change.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is dedicated to the eradication of racism, and seeks to become a community of racial reconciliation. Look for ways to engage in this important work. This is the work of our time. For more information, contact Janice.

SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 11:00AM-12:30PM
Please join us for the last session in this series and hear first hand from Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson about the power of forgiveness. 

The Immigrant Support Ministry team welcomed the third family we co-sponsor with LSS on February 23rd of this year.   They are a Karenni family of five, two parents and three young children.  The parents were originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  The family came to the US from a refugee camp in Thailand.  The father of the family had lived in the camp for the last 17 years, since he was a teenager.  His wife had lived in the camp for nearly as long

With the help of the Basilica four person mentor team the family has been settling into their new home.  The first task was to get them warm clothing.  Coming from a tropical climate the Minnesota winter was quite a shock.  The mentors have taken them shopping for groceries--and they were excited to find a nearby market that has foods similar to those from their home country.  The team is also helping to find them a dentist for some needed dental work. They have been available to help get their apartment set up with many necessary items. Coming from the refugee camp, the family came with very few belongings. 

The two oldest children have recently started elementary school and LSS will be arranging ESL classes for the adults.  Betsy Hasselman, from the mentor team said that she has enjoyed her time with them so far and has been inspired by their determination as they start the their new lives in the US.  She looks forward to getting to know them more and being able to be part of their journey.                   


The Immigrant Support Ministry team welcomed the third family we will co-sponsor with LSS on February 23rd of this year.   They are a Karenni family of five: two parents and three young children.  The parents were originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  The family came to the US from a refugee camp in Thailand.  The father of the family had lived in the camp for the last 17 years--since he was a teenager.  His wife had lived in the camp for nearly as long

With the help of the Basilica four person mentor team, the family has been settling into their new home.  The first task was to get them warm clothing.  Coming from a tropical climate the Minnesota winter was quite a shock.  The mentors have taken them shopping for groceries. They were excited to find a nearby market that has foods similar to those from their home country.  The team is also helping to find them a dentist for some needed dental work and has been available to help get their apartment set up with any necessary items.  Coming from the refugee camp, the family came with very few belongings.  The two oldest children have recently started elementary school and LSS will be arranging ESL classes for the adults.  Betsy Hasselman, from the mentor team said that she has enjoyed her time with them so far and has been inspired by their determination as they start the their new lives in the US.  She looks forward to getting to know them more and being able to be part of their journey.                   



Our day started this morning at 9:15.  We cleaned this huge gathering room.  After packing up the 40+ cots and them stashing them away we sorted through a great amount of toys, vacuumed the rug to get ready for the next group of travelers.    We got instructions on how the intake process works.

At one 1:30 an ICE van pulled up to the shelter and dropped off 4 families with a total of 9 people.  Usually the processing center feeds them lunch but when they arrived they had not eaten.  The group that came were a father and son from Brazil who were going to Boston, a young mother and a two year old and a seven year old from Guatemala going to Florida, a mother and her 16 year old son from Guatemala going to Nebraska, and a father and his 10 year old daughter going to North Carolina.  After a short interview one of the workers tried to call their US families waiting for them.  We then helped them find a new change of clothes, show them their rooms and help them find the showers.

Every Monday a local church brings a delicious meal of beans, rice and shredded beef.   One of the men that brought the food sat down at our table and talked about why he does this work.  He told us that 5 years ago he was an engineer and very successful owner of a construction company when he had a heart attack.   He said he was lying there close to death when he decided his life had to change.   He decided he needed to give back because his life had been so good so he now makes and serves dinner every Monday night at the shelter.

The things we found out about the families are:  The Brazilian man decided he wanted to go back to Brazil.  He had left two daughters behind.  For him to do that he would not ever be able to get back into the US again, plus he would need to go to a detention center until a whole planeload of detainees needed to go back to Brazil.  The mother with her 16 year old son was pregnant with him the last time she saw her husband.  The 10 year old little girl was complaining of her legs hurting and the dad just said that yesterday they had spent the entire day running.  

On Thursday, February 16, 2017, Basilica parishioners traveled to El Paso, Texas to serve the families staying at a shelter for those seeking asylum in the United States. These comments are from Donna, one of the Basilica members who are serving the families in Texas. 

We arrived in El Paso yesterday afternoon.   During our time here, we will be staying at on the 3rd floor of this beautiful, old convent of the Loretto Sisters—directly across the alley from the shelter where we will be working.

When we arrived a Brazilian woman with two small children was being taken to the airport to catch a flight to Boston to meet family having spent the night at the shelter.  

The morning was spent getting a tour of the facility, and sorting clothes that were collected by the Basilica children.  In the afternoon we met with Eina, director of the shelter.  She gave us a brief history of the shelter and an update on what we can expect to be helping with during our stay. 

In December, there were some days where up to 150 asylum seekers were sleeping at the shelter. The people were mainly from Central America and Brazil. 

People coming to the border are questioned, fingerprinted by Border Patrol and processed at a facility an hour away.  They are required to wear an ankle bracelet with a tracking number. Aphone call is made to a family member or friend who can vouch for them and send them travel money. 

From there ICE will bring them to one of 3 shelters.  Nazareth Hall receives asylum seekers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and people will stay for 1-3 days and then either travel by bus or plane to meet family.   In the past few weeks the number of people seeking asylum has dropped so significantly that two of the shelters will be closing next week.  Starting Monday, Nazareth Hall will be the only short term shelter open.  No one can explain why.  Some possible reasons we heard were increased border patrol and also the new administrations stance on immigration.

We have been treated so kindly by everyone we have met.

Four years ago, when I received the opportunity to temporarily work in the United States, I wasn't thrilled. The thought of being over 8000 miles away from my home of India made me emotional. It meant I could no longer take the next flight home if I was ever upset, unwell, or in need of delicious homemade food.  My family, though, was overjoyed with the news. They told me that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and that I should go for it. Their opinion made no sense to me at the time. But, over these last four years, I have understood and experienced the significance of what they meant. I am so thankful I heeded the advice of my loving and encouraging family. Without my family's hard work, sacrifice, and love, I would not have had the opportunity to come to the U.S.. And  I am ever so grateful to many people I have met along the way who have given me the finest and most pleasant experiences this country has to offer. I am humbled as I share some of these experiences which have been indelibly etched in my heart.

  1. Friendly and approachable people - When I first landed in New York, I had to clear immigration. Blame it on too much movie watching or my wild imaginations, but I expected the immigration officer to be a serious, stern officer whose job was to find paperwork flaws and send the visitor back to their home country. Small wonder I was praying fervently when the officer called my name. To my surprise, he had the most welcoming smile and a cheerful expression. He enquired whether I was an engineer as he went through my papers. I smiled and said yes. I wondered if he was a psychic He mentioned he deduced it from the manner in which I completed the custom declaration form, where I had clearly broke down the cost of each article. He welcomed me to the U.S. and wished me luck for my stay and my job. For this experience, I thanked all the angels and saints especially for helping me meet a kind and jovial immigration officer.
  2. A systematic approach to everything - For a newcomer navigating my way from one destination was an easy experience. Thanks to the well laid out road network and the uniform standard adopted for naming roads, it was ever so easy to find my way to the downtown office from Hennepin and 8th. If I was ever lost, all I needed to do was ask someone. I was always greeted with a warm smile and a friendly tone when I had to do just that. The warmth of the people made a world of a difference to me. I never ever felt like a stranger in my new country. Running a Google search, I could easily know when the bus would arrive at my stop. I learned to keep time. One minute late and I would be running behind a bus until the next stop. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was walking on the, roads especially while crossing a signal. I was surprised to know that I did not have to dodge to avoid passing vehicles. Pedestrians had the right of way. Phew! This meant I could reach my office in peace knowing that I never needed to run for dear life.
  3. A chance to fulfil every desire – One of my lifelong desires was to learn western music. It wasn't easy fulfilling this while in India. So I was ecstatic when I went for my first music class near the University of Minnesota. A chance to watch Cirque Du Soleil perform in Vegas, being humbled by Niagara's beauty, shopping from dusk to dawn on Black Fridays,  watching the first ever snowfall of my life, ease of access to the amazing four-story Hennepin library, I now know why they call America the “land of dreams”.
  4. Work-life balance  - During my first few days at work in the US, I didn't know what to do with my five or six hours of free time after work. I was inspired by my Aunty taking calligraphy lessons every Thursday after work. I would notice many of my friends heading to the gym immediately after reaching home. I slowly began to make use of my free time reading (something I rarely did in India), learning to cook (another rare occurrence for me), watching famous TV shows and visiting the many lovely lakes Minneapolis is blessed with.  

One year my sister wanted to visit me so we could spend time traveling to a handful of major cities in the U.S. We needed two weeks leave to achieve this. I never took such a long vacation prior to this. I spent a few days rehearsing my conversation with my boss. Instead of asking me to apply a "discount" on the number of vacation days, tears welled up in my eyes when my boss happily exclaimed, "Yes!!! Sure! Go for it. Go create the memories you can cherish forever!". 

These are just a few of the many wonderful moments and experiences I have had a chance to realize during my stay here. Every single day I am most grateful to the Almighty for providing this opportunity to live in the United States of America, the land of dreams and opportunities.


In this year of Mercy, the Basilica decided to accept Pope Francis’ call to welcome refugees into our community and joined forces with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) to co-sponsor a refugee family. Last December we held a second collection to raise funds for the effort and our generous community donated enough money to support not only one but three refugee families.  It was an overwhelming response and we were truly blessed and inspired by the generosity of the community.  The refugee committee, composed of approximately 40 Basilica members, quickly got to work to prepare for the arrival of the first family, who arrived safely in February 2016.  Now, almost a full year into our efforts, the committee wanted to share how the funds have been used and the impact it has had on the families we’ve supported.

When co-sponsoring a family, the Basilica provides both financial and mentoring support to the family.  From a financial perspective, the primary way the Basilica helps the family is by paying their rent for the first six months.  When a refugee family comes to the United States, their housing is not subsidized and they are responsible for paying for their own housing.  Coming from a foreign country, many refugees struggle with English at first and it can be difficult to find a job with so many things to work through, especially in their first few months here.  During that time the family is trying to set up basic needs such as registering with the appropriate government offices, obtaining identification cards, getting their children enrolled in school and attending English as a second language classes.  Through the Basilica’s donation of the rent for the first six months, the family has some time to get things in order, search for work and save some money for future needs.  In addition to helping the family with rent, the Basilica also supports the family by providing basic clothing and household supplies.  Each family’s needs are different and varies somewhat based on their culture however, some common items that are provided are winter clothing for the parents and children and some household items such as a used vacuum cleaner, computer and television set to help the family adapt to their new life.

The second way the Basilica provides support to our refugee family is through a mentor team.  The key role of the mentor team is to help the family get acclimated to their new culture and to make sure the family knows that someone cares about their wellbeing.  The mentor team is made up of four parishioners who meet with the family about once a week, helping with various items.  These activities vary from family to family but some common themes have been helping the adults prepare their resume and fill out job applications, taking the family to the grocery store so they can buy food, helping the family budget for expenses, teaching the family how to navigate the bus system, and helping them obtain library cards at their local library.  The mentors also go on fun outings with the family taking them to places such as Como zoo and other local parks to expose them to the great things in our community. 

Thank you to everyone that has supported our efforts to co-sponsor a refugee family in this year of mercy.  The families are grateful to the Basilica community for our support and encouragement along their journey.  If you would be interested in learning more about the refugee committee and how you can get involved, please visit the Just Living blog at mary.org or contact Tracy Droessler at tracy.droessler@gmail.com.

The second refugee family being sponsored by the Basilica and Lutheran Social Services arrived in mid-July. The family is originally from Iraq, but they had lived in a refugee camp in Turkey for the last few years. A group of parishioners from the Basilica welcomed the family and helped them get settled into their apartment in suburban Minneapolis.

The husband and wife have three elementary-school age children. While they are grateful to be in the United States, they are getting used to living in a new country. That involves finding activities to keep children occupied, making sure there is enough food in the refrigerator, and setting up television and internet at home.

The family has found a school and daycare for the children. The father is also going to the adult education center located nearby.

The Basilica will co-sponsor the family for six months. The money raised by the parish community last December will go towards helping this family with rent, groceries, and other basic expenses. A team of four volunteers from the parish will work with the family directly to help them get acclimated to living in Minnesota. The volunteers will work in conjunction with Lutheran Social Services.

If you would like to get involved with the Refugee Family Initiative, please email Janice Andersen. 

In the early 1900’s, not that long ago really, my great grandparents immigrated to America from Europe.  They came here with few possessions but big dreams of the opportunities that their new home might give to their children.  As a parent I can imagine the fear of the unknown they felt in coming to a new place so far away from their homeland, but also their hope that everything that they had heard about the great United States was true.  That this was the land where their children would be able to grow up and work towards whatever goals they set for themselves.  Instead of being limited by poverty or an oppressive government, where the choices are few. 

I saw that same hope in the family of refugees that a group of Basilica parishioners welcomed to Minnesota in February.    They had been living in a refugee camp for over 20 years but their hope had not been extinguished.  They knew that they had been given a precious opportunity and they were ready to make the most of it.   The nervousness on their faces when they arrived at the airport was transformed to smiles when they saw the group gathered to greet them waving both American and Somali flags.  

When the Basilica mentor group that I was a part of had our first meeting with them to get introduced, we asked what their goals were in their new home country.  All of the children in the family talked about getting an education and helping to support their family.  They are close knit family.  The two older sons protective of their parents and younger sisters, and the parents nervous about getting settled and being able to make ends meet in a place where they still had so much to figure out. 

The four members of the Basilica mentor team along with the families’ case worker and other staff from Lutheran Social Services kept in touch via email, keeping each other up to date on how the family members were doing and discussing the different needs they had.  We worked together to help them explore and become familiar with their new home.  While they came from a very different world than the US I had a glimpse of just how much young people, from any means, gravitate towards a common love of music and social media.  On a trip to the library to get library cards the “kids” (ages 14-21) had the opportunity to have some computer time.  While they needed a little assistance to start using the keyboard they were all four soon logged onto either YouTube or sites with music videos and totally immersed in the experience with their respective earphones on.  On a family trip to Como Park both parents and kids delighted in the animals they were seeing for the first time.  The parents were pointing out antelope and bison that were similar to those they had known back in Somalia, their homeland, although the children have never seen it having been born in the Kenyan refugee camp. 

The family decided in June to move to southern MN to be closer to family members, but I know that having been a small part of their journey was an amazing gift for me.  I understand better now my history, the great amount of courage it took for my family members to journey to the US from so far away to make a better life, not only for their own children but for generations to come.  We are truly blessed to be able to live here and to have the opportunity to pay it forward and share the American dream with others.