When Allison Boisvert started a job leading social justice programming at a Catholic church in Eden Prairie, she took up a new practice: leading church members on tours of impoverished neighborhoods around the Twin Cities.
She had tried to retire, but it hadn't lasted long. After more than 20 years with Catholic Charities, retirement was, in a word, boring. So after just a few months, she picked herself up and got the new job.
"It was really influential for both parties," said her oldest son, Patrick McMonigal. "She loved it because she loved teaching, and they loved it because it opened their eyes to the world around them."
Boisvert, who was known for her sense of humor, fierce honesty and devotion to social justice, died June 28 after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 72.
Allison Claire Boisvert was raised in Grand Marais, Minn., and had a turbulent upbringing. As a teenager, she ran away from home, experimented with drugs and spent some time in jail.
As a young woman she had a daughter and two sons, and after their father left she worked two or three jobs to make ends meet. The experience affected how she approached social services work later in life.
"She knew what it felt like to be on the other end of that," said her sister, Jeri Boisvert.
At 28, Boisvert earned her GED. She went on to get an entry-level case manager job with Catholic Charities and eventually worked her way up to lead its housing and emergency services division. She grew the organization's services for people experiencing homelessness, "creating the solution for people that nobody thought to create solutions for," said Tracy Berglund, senior director of housing stability.
Boisvert was raised Catholic, but her passion for social justice work was inspired by something else.
"She was a hippie," McMonigal said. "That's why it was ironic that she rose to the two positions that she had, because they weren't really things that hippies thought about. But the ultimate goal was to help your fellow man, and that's the bottom line."
In the mid-1970s, Boisvert met Charles Beattie through their mutual work with a chemical dependency program. The two fell in love and were together until Beattie's death last year.
After her attempt at retirement, Boisvert became Social Justice Minister at Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie. In 2010, she was one of the first recipients of Catholic Charities' "Keep the Dream Alive" award, in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The job at Pax Christi was interrupted after just a few years, when Boisvert learned she had pancreatic cancer.
Still, she remained active. She got her friends into meditation and worked on a book about the cycle of poverty. She kept up a passion for making art, often working on several projects at once.
"We got incredibly lucky with her, because pancreatic cancer usually kills people within six months, and we had four years." McMonigal said. "She was able to really fulfill a lot of the things she wanted to do and tell people what she wanted to say."
In October, Boisvert spoke to a crowd of about 200 close friends and family members at a "pre-funeral." She talked about being present and understanding the pain of others. She had decided at the end of her life that she didn't want a traditional funeral, Jeri Boisvert said.
"She said, 'I don't really want a funeral, because I won't be there and what fun will that be?' "
Allison Boisvert is survived by three children and three siblings.
Emma Nelson 952-746-3287