July 5, 2010
Lisette and Dana McArthur, Fr. Mitchell Fidyka and Jack Stevens take a momentary breather in St. Albert Holy Family Parish’s Mary’s Garden.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Lisette and Dana McArthur, Fr. Mitchell Fidyka and Jack Stevens take a momentary breather in St. Albert Holy Family Parish’s Mary’s Garden.

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

It’s a gift to the eyes and to the senses. Mary’s Garden at Holy Family Church is a beautiful place filled with flowers, plants and trees that allow one to experience God’s creation, and that invites prayer and contemplation.

The garden, adjacent to the church building and easily accessed from inside the church through a side door, is an enclosed space — a walled courtyard — filled with all types of flowers and plants that honour Our Lady.

During the summer, it becomes the main entrance to the church. Appropriately, a marble statue of Mary is at the centre of it. There is also a water fountain and a memorial to the unborn in front of a small statue of St. Francis.

Making sure things grow in the garden is a five-member garden committee — the only ones allowed to plant. For the sake of achieving harmony and balance, the committee has been following a specific design, which they developed with professional help some years ago.

“We’ve got a very good map of what the garden should be in five years,” says Dana McArthur, one of three committee leaders visiting the garden June 22.

The garden is in its third year of maturity right now and contains mostly perennials, including lilacs, roses, carnations, lilies, irises, ladies’ mantles, petunias and pansies.

“Most of the flowers are Marian colours and that’s what we try to keep: the pinks, the whites and the blues,” McArthur points out.

“We have grapevines here right by the windows,” adds his wife Lisette, pointing to three grapevines covering the windows of the tabernacle chapel. “We have also clematis and they (have) big blue flowers, which is Mary’s colour.”

Pointing to heaven

Lisette loves the good-looking little spruce, topiary, standing in a corner. “I love the spiral shape (of it) because it’s pointing up to heaven,” she says.

“The three lilacs in the back there will grow up to the height of the wall,” adds her husband proudly.

There are also artemisias in the garden. “Touch them and then smell your hand,” says Lisette, who then proceeds to tell a story.

“As I say, beautiful things happen in Mary’s Garden. One day I was planting and didn’t have a spade and a parishioner showed up and said, “Would you like a spade?” Surprisingly, the parishioner also happened to have some nice dirt and more plants.

Dana stops and points with his finger: “These are bleeding hearts. Those there are ferns. And then that’s a lamium.” Accompanying the McArthurs on the garden tour was their friend and garden committee member Jack Stevens.

The garden space has been around since the church was built about 20 years ago but it was never really developed well.

“There were some people that made some good attempts but the garden needed to be redone. We redid the soil. Over three years the garden has taken to be in the shape you see now,” Dana noted.

“The first effort was to revitalize the soil; pretty much like faith, you have to bring energy and life to the soil so it can sustain life,” adds Lisette.

Her husband agreed: “Yes. It’s very much like growing faith; you have to start with good soil. If you start with good soil, everything will be good.”

The committee started with a $1,500 budget and didn’t use it all. “That bought us a lot of our perennials and a lot of the soil and the soil conditioners that we needed,” Dana said.

“We had a lot of donations. A lot of people would come with the type of flowers we needed. We actually sold some of the irises that were here to get some more money and buy better plants.”

Place of prayer

Mary’s Garden is a prayer garden. “It’s a place to come for prayer and meditation or the rosary, of course,” Dana explained. “The garden is one aspect for us to show the beauty of our faith.”

Lisette described the garden as a place to celebrate beauty. “Everything here has a spiritual meaning, beginning with the clamshells of the fountain for baptism and rebirth,” she explains. “It is also a place where you can feel in community with Mary. I see a lot of people praying the rosary to Mary here. I think when people come here they get moved.”

Favourite for weddings

Father Mitchell Fidyka, the pastor of Holy Family for the past five years, is a big supporter of the garden. “It’s good for mediation and reflection,” he says. “ We try to keep it nicely.”

The priest says the garden is a favourite with wedding couples who love taking their pictures in it. Some of them dedicate their marriage to Mary.

The garden is also decorated in the wintertime. The cherry tree, which has a prominent spot in the garden, and all the pathways are decorated with bright lights.

“It’s a very beautiful place even in winter.”

Fidyka says people sometimes question the need to make the garden so special. “They say, ‘Why make it so expensive for the Church? God doesn’t need so nice a sanctuary.’ And I say, ‘Maybe God doesn’t need it, but we need it.’”