Rock the Prairie

Dianne Towalski poses for a picture with headliner Phil Vassar at the Albany Rock the Prairie event Sept. 9.

On Sept. 9, I had the opportunity to cover my favorite kind of event — a country music festival! This isn’t something we would normally do for The Visitor, but as a fundraiser for Mother of Mercy Care Campus, a Catholic nursing home and care center in Albany, it was newsworthy.

The Rock the Prairie event featured three local bands: Edge of the Ledge, a local Albany band; the Levi Pelzer Band, a local group from Little Falls; and The Devon Worley Band from the Twin Cities, who performed before headliner Phil Vassar took the stage.

“It’s just cool when the community comes together like this to support the elderly,” Vassar said. “We’ve all been in that situation, my grandma was in a nursing home like this one until she passed away a couple of years ago at age 90. It seems like in society today a lot of people forget about [our elders] and just kind of put our old folks away, so it’s really neat for us to be able to do this.”

Headliner Phil Vassar performed at Mother of Mercy’s “Rock the Prairie” event in Albany Sept. 9.

Although he’s not Catholic himself, Vassar said he has many friends and family members that are, so he’s familiar with Catholicism. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, so I know that several of his songs have references to faith, including his hits “Prayer of a Common Man” and “This is God.”

He didn’t really want to talk about his own faith, but it is obvious to me that he’s a faithful person. I also couldn’t help but notice the cross tattooed on his right forearm.

Headliner Phil Vassar performed at Mother of Mercy’s “Rock the Prairie” event in Albany Sept. 9.

I asked him specifically what prompted him to write, “This is God,” which is actually God talking to us about how we need to work for peace. He said when he wrote it in 2002, 9/11 was still in the news, as well as other instances of violence. He was on an airplane — where he does a lot of his writing — and was discouraged about the hatred and violence in the world. The song has been described as a call for accountability and a reminder that there are consequences to actions, with God pleading in conclusion for all of his creations to permanently unite in peace and love. As we were talking about it, we agreed that it’s maybe even more relevant now than it was then.

Click here to listen to “This is God.”

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

Welcome to the farm!

Joe and Toni Borgerding will be welcoming the people of the St Cloud Diocese to their organic dairy farm in Belgrade for the annual rural life celebration coming up Aug. 13. 

I have covered many of these celebrations over the years and it’s always fun. I enjoy seeing the farms, the animals and the crowd of people that come out to the Mass with the Bishop. But another thing that I like about it is interviewing the host family for the preview story. It’s always so interesting to hear about how they got started in farming and what farm life is like. This time Joe talked a lot about why they went organic with their farm, too.

This year I tagged along with Kristi Anderson. Joe and Toni and their family were so welcoming! And I’m sure they didn’t expect to be taken to so many different locations for the photo shoot!

We were only able to use one picture, but here are a few of the outtakes, including one adorable photo bomb. 

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

Circles of Understanding

Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land … Love them as you love yourselves. Lev. 19:33

Many people in the St. Cloud area have been struggling over the fact that we have many Muslim refugees living in our community. Some struggle because they are afraid. With the increased attention from national news, it’s not hard to understand. But it shouldn’t be that way.

Refugees from Somalia make up the largest number of Muslim residents in the area and have been coming here for many years. Many of them are citizens now, which is why we need to make an effort to get to know them. Their stories are fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking.

On March 24, people from different faith communities gathered at Discovery School in St. Cloud for the second “Circles of Understanding” event.

Sponsored by the St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group, a group that Bishop Donald Kettler helped to create, the events aim to bring people from varied faith backgrounds together in small groups to get to know each other. Many from the Somali community participated.

“So much of what is causing the fear that seems to be rampant is misconceptions, false ideas or ‘fake news’, and people not sitting down with each other,” said Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities and an organizer of the event.

“In Circles of Understanding, people spend two hours together, getting to know each other.  Not playing a game and not checking their phones, but really talking and listening with their hearts open. No distractions, no entertainment, but just listening and sharing stories and thoughts,” she said. “People are really amazing when they are given the opportunity to be a part of Circles. You can see it on their faces. Walls of fear and misconception disappear. That is what Jesus did and that is what we are all called to do…to sit with and to listen.  What comes from a heart open to listening is the Spirit’s work.”

This effort is something that is very close to our bishop’s heart.

“As a priest and bishop, an important part of my ministry is to bring unity between people and God as well as strive to unite people in the community,” Bishop Donald Kettler said in a column last year. “Since arriving in the diocese three years ago, I have worked to foster peace and unity among our faith communities.”

“Get to know better some of our Somali-Muslim brothers and sisters,” he recommended. “Search for opportunities to share a conversation or a meal.”

And the timing of the “Circles” event couldn’t have been better because earlier in the week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a reflection titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times.” The reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” according to a news release. In this short document, the bishops encourage Catholics to reach out to immigrants and refugees in their communities.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life,” the reflection says. “They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

You can read the whole reflection here: http://usccb.org/news/2017/17-054.cfm.

You never know what someone has been through in their life. Take the time to get to know these new members of our community. You won’t be disappointed.

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

The 12th Day of Christmas

Using video and storytelling, Dianne Towalski tells interesting tales of what happens “behind the lens” in her latest blog post.

Blogger and Visitor photographer Dianne Towalski completes our 12 Days of Christmas series as she shares her top 12 favorite photos of 2016 and the stories behind them. Click here to view the video.

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

Batches of bouja blend tradition, stir up memories

When I go on assignments for The Visitor, I take a lot of photos. Sometimes it’s hard to choose which ones are published, and most of the time, no one gets to see all the others. So this blog is a great opportunity to share some of those behind-the-scenes photos!
 
I recently visited Holy Spirit’s bouja kitchen with writer Carol Jessen-Klixbull to see how their famous soup is made. In 2004, I also photographed the process for a story in The Visitor, but this time I was able to taste the results of all the work that goes into it. Definitely worth getting up early on a Sunday morning for!
 
Enjoy a look at these pictures that didn’t make it into the Oct. 7 issue with Carol’s story, “Batches of bouja blend tradition, stir up memories.” 

 

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Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. She worked for The Visitor as a full-time photographer from 1991 to 2005, before taking a job first as a page designer and then as a multimedia reporter with The Catholic Spirit in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where she worked from 2005 to 2014. She and her husband, Joe, returned to work in the Office of Communications and The Visitor in 2014. They live in Sauk Rapids and have two children. Erin, 24, lives in southwestern Minnesota and works as the watershed coordinator for the Heron Lake Watershed District. Christian, 17, is a senior at Cathedral High School. They are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids. Dianne’s likes: Anything photography related, the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks, SCSU Husky hockey, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota United FC, country music, fashion and good red wine.
Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

Much-loved schoolteacher turns 104

The Visitor gets a lot of story ideas from readers. Sometimes we get a great idea but, for whatever reason, we can’t pursue it. Many times space is an issue — which was the case last week when one of our long-time readers, Rita Reker from St. John Cantius Parish in St. Cloud, called to tell us about a fellow parishioner celebrating her 104th birthday. There was no room for the story in the print edition, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Tillie Schaefer and help her celebrate her birthday. And maybe put together a little video (see below).

On Mondays and Fridays she and a group of friends meet at McDonalds after Mass to have breakfast and play cards. On June 24, the group celebrated her birthday with her favorite lemon cake and songs, including one Reker wrote especially for her.

Tillie has been a member of St. John Cantius since marrying her late husband, Art, when she was 24. Friends pick her up to take her to daily Mass, although she said she started a walking workout this past spring to make sure she could walk to Mass if she needed to. “I found out I can walk about a mile without sitting down,” she said. “So I knew I was safe.”

Tillie was a much-loved schoolteacher, beginning her career in the 1930s. She taught in Mayhew Lake, Browerville, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud and St. Benedict High School in St. Joseph. Later in her career she taught special education classes for the St. Cloud school district. She taught many of the children and grandchildren of the friends who gathered for her birthday.

Joyce Dinndorf, one of the many friends on hand to help Tillie celebrate, said that all five of her children had Tillie as a teacher. Her daughter Elizabeth Dinndorf is currently president of Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina. Joyce said Elizabeth keeps Tillie’s picture on her desk and tells her students that she is where she is today because of Tillie.

I asked Tillie what her favorite part of teaching was and she was quick to answer that it was her students. She loved all of her students and was blessed with good parents to work with, too, she said.

Here’s a short video from the celebration.

 

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. She worked for The Visitor as a full-time photographer from 1991 to 2005, before taking a job first as a page designer and then as a multimedia reporter with The Catholic Spirit in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where she worked from 2005 to 2014. She and her husband, Joe, returned to work in the Office of Communications and The Visitor in 2014. They live in Sauk Rapids and have two children. Erin, 24, lives in southwestern Minnesota and works as the watershed coordinator for the Heron Lake Watershed District. Christian, 17, is a senior at Cathedral High School. They are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids. Dianne’s likes: Anything photography related, the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks, SCSU Husky hockey, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota United FC, country music, fashion and good red wine.
Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer.