Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Poverty and Poetry Parent Peace House

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Poverty and Poetry Parent Peace House

Article excerpt

MINNEAPOLIS - Poverty and poetry are twin pillars of Sr. Rose Tillemans' life.

"Lift us into lightheartedness and laughter as we chip away at the walls which divide us," she wrote in "Prayer for Justice Seekers." "Sing soft songs in our ears when our efforts seem to flip-flop. ... And please, God, don't allow any of us to turn into cranks on our justice journey together."

If poetry has been Tillemans' reaction to many events and developments, poverty motivated her to create Peace House eight years ago. It is a place of meditation and midday meals for Minneapolis street people.

She credits Sr. Marie Philip, her French teacher at the College of St. Catherine in 1941, with leading her to the poor. "She encouraged us young women to go out to the Ramsey County Poor Farm and visit the patients there," Tillemans said.

In the meantime, Tillemans entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and, obedient to her superiors, became a teacher and librarian.

In the late 1970s, she began working at the Free Store in Minneapolis, where poor people came for clothing and household good& There she began to dream of her street church: one that would offer more than goods and necessities; one that would offer spiritual nourishment. "At the Free Store, we never had time to sit down and visit with people. The phone rang constantly, and there were deliveries and people asking for vouchers, money and help, irons and ironing boards and blankets."

One night in a convent in 1979, Tillemans watched a "60 Minutes" segment about starving Cambodians. Their plight inspired her to live a simpler life, serving the poor, working for justice and preaching nonviolence. She's been arrested numerous times during protests against way, violence and defense contractors.

In 1980, Tillemans moved into an inner-city housing co-op. Since 1983 she has lived there with Franciscan Sr. Mary James Ramaekers. They share their bungalow with refugees, their "cellar dwellers," almost 40 since 1980.

In 1985, Tillemans'dream - Peace House - sprouted in a former Franklin Avenue Laundromat. With folding chairs and a few cushions, she sat alone the first day. …

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