Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in a beautiful community garden called St. Mary’s Organic Farm in Monroe, Michigan. It is a community garden in the truest sense of the phrase. My guide for the morning was a warm, passionate woman named Sharon McNeil who serves as the ecology director and organizer for the garden.
She, with the help of parolees, judges, lawyers, Catholic nuns, schoolchildren, retirees, and everyone in between tends the two acre garden. Individuals and groups take responsibility for plots where they grow vegetables for themselves and those in need. There are also perennial gardens for the birds and butterflies.
The garden is a ministry of the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an order of Catholic nuns. Several hundred retired nuns live adjacent to the garden in a old, beautiful convent.
One of my favorite stories from the morning was Sharon’s description of their annual “Festival of the Worms.” Each year, in the spring, Sharon acquires a whole lot of worms from a vermiculturist or a bait shop. With several hundred people gathered, they release the worms to nourish and bless the garden. Also during this festival, one of the retired nuns, who served in Alaska for many years, does a four direction eagle feather blessing.
The mission of the garden is caring for the land, building community and yesterday, when I was at the garden, a group of Detroit seniors came for their weekly visit. This group of 8-10 African American elders have a plot in the garden where they grow tomatoes, kale, and collards. As a special treat, one sang a thirty minute gospel concert for the nuns. Listen for a taste at the end of the video. It was wonderful.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from this day was the undogmatic, welcoming, humble spirituality that was shared through this garden. There is a beautiful mural on the wall of the old barn behind the garden with the dying words of Sister Mary Fran Gilleran inscribed above it. This sister, who was the president of the IHM, said as she passed over, “I am having wonderful dreams…..wonderful images of God. God is a garden.”
I believe I agree.