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Poverty and poetry parent Peace House.

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. And the second day. "The third day a man came in and brought a candle. We kept that candle in the window as a sign of light and hope and spirituality," she said. "Then gradually, through word of mouth, people started to come, and we had coffee, and we began to have meals. We began to have volunteers."

Peace House is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. At 11 a.m., the doors are locked and meditation begins, followed by lunch. About 20 to 30 people come each day. Tillemans estimates a community of about 40 has evolved, a ragtag community where poor and comfortable, blacks, whites and American Indians mingle. Mental patients fraternize with professors, alcoholics with volunteers from the suburbs.

"Some come every day, some maybe once every two weeks. Then some disappear for a year or two and come back. They travel the tracks and come back, "Tillemans observed. "We've had beautiful people, lovely writers and musicians. Music therapists come once a week. We write our songs and we sing, just have a good time."

A simple flyer describes Peace House. Interspersed with pictures of people there are words: "A space for quiet, hospitality, conversation, reflection, affirmation. A gathering place where stories are beard, truths exchanged, wisdom shared. A center for prayer, meditation, expression of needs and concerns. A house where bread is blessed and shared. A community where responsibilities are divided and efforts are combined."

Rose Tillemans is at home in Peace House, where she loves and is loved. There she has become a radical feminist to whom Eucharist consecrated by a clerical caste has lost meaning. Rather, she said, "I am just very energized by the real beauty and dignity of people and what can be done." She embraces the gospel that wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is present. "I don't believe he ever spoke of being locked up in a tabernacle in the form of a wafer and hidden away in the dark," she said.

For Rose Tillemans, poetry and poverty and peace teach her, day after day, that we are all blessed sacraments.
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Title Annotation:Sister Rose Tillemans; Networking
Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Sep 24, 1993
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