“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” ~ 1 Peter 4:10
Only 2 short years ago, the 8th grade class at St. Charles School was deciding what to leave behind as a parting gift to the school upon graduation. They completed multiple fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for this and other class expenses. At the suggestion of one of the parents, the children decided on landscaping a long-forgotten area of the church & school grounds. This thoroughfare starts on the northeast end of the St. Charles parking lot and leads to a small courtyard tucked between the church office, rectory and gym.
And this was how the St. Charles Prayer Garden began, from a small seed of an idea by one parent, Jenny Nice. The idea to find a way to utilize this space in a more meaningful and purposeful way.
The class of 2011 didn’t have a lot of money, but they had a vision, free labor and worthy leadership. Under the guidance of Jenny & Mike Nice, the St. Charles Prayer Garden started with cleanup of the area. They removed some of the plants & bushes that long ago lost their zest for flourishing, and simply split and relocated several perennials already located elsewhere on the grounds. In Jenny’s words, “the garden started simple, but has the potential for so much more.” Upon completion of the initial phase of the Prayer Garden, Father Steve Amann blessed the garden among the presence of the children who worked so hard to make it a reality and St. Charles principal, Sister Margaret Pietsch.
Jenny’s goal was to create a place where people could slow down and be intentional. She wanted a space where you could unplug, center and breathe. It was important to her that the school children also have a safe place to practice stepping back and taking a breath as well. If you belong to St. Charles parish and don’t know Jenny Nice, that is only a testament to her humble hard work behind the scenes. Jenny has a legacy of using her gifts to serve others. She dedicated ten years to keeping the church interior beautifully decorated throughout the liturgical calendar, and, she is very involved in countless other ways both with St. Charles school and church.
The space is set under the canopy of a 60ft evergreen tree that provides shade, privacy and a lovely habitat for many different types of birds. I got lucky enough to catch a cardinal resting on one of the birdhouses the day I took these pictures. And this too is Jenny’s hope, to transfer this reawakening of space into a reawakening of faith. Jenny told me she felt a push/pull relationship with the space in terms of wanting it to be secluded and conducive to prayer for those that use it versus wanting to spread the good word about St. Charles’ very own secret garden. A garden you could very easily pass by if you didn’t look carefully.
What about future maintenance & funding? Jenny and her husband Mike do the lion’s share of upkeep and watering. The primary source of revenue for this space is the sale of cream-colored ceramic memorial stars, on which you can write the names of loved ones to honor their memories. The church has sold about 90 stars so far and they are displayed from May until September, or as long as the weather cooperates. This year Jenny also applied for and received a generous grant from the Burlington Area Garden Club. Collaborating with Terri Condroski and other volunteers, structure was then added to the garden. Jenny’s long-term goal is to have the garden be part of the biennial Garden Walk in 2015. To spread the word and pay it forward so that more people can enjoy the space. Her hard work and dedication to this space is inspiring. “As long as I’m breathing this garden will be here,” she added.
One of the things that most impressed me was the care and attention paid to the selection & quantity of each plant, stone and structure utilized in the space. Each element in the garden is a purposeful symbol of Christian faith and God’s unending love for us. So far, there are 12 Christian references Jenny has laid out in the garden.
Jenny is already dreaming about the addition of several more Christian referenced areas within the garden. Picture a Pentecostal Garden with the striking colors of fire, red, orange and yellow. She is also envisioning a holy family area where Mary, Joseph & Jesus are represented each by their traditional floral symbols, iris, daisies and nasturtium.
Jenny’s idea really began to take root when another member of St. Charles found out what Jenny and the 8th grade class had done in the Prayer Garden. He became inspired, too. Schawn Schoepke works for a concrete construction company called Coello & Associates as a Flatwork Supervisor. Because the area that became the Prayer Garden started as a thoroughfare, a large portion of the space in the Prayer Garden is sidewalk. Schawn commented that, “We have so much space filled in our world with natural gray concrete, sidewalks, roads, basements, garages, etc. Acid staining is a simple way to change something basic into something unique and colorful.” And you will see Schawn’s acid staining technique gracing much of the paths here. Schawn thoughtfully researches all the images he uses, draws out the image on the surface and then uses a diamond blade to cut in the designs. The colors are a combination of acid and concrete stains.
Schawn, as well as Jenny have a vision for the growth and continuation of this special place. I asked Schawn why he felt compelled to do this and I loved his answer. In his words, “It is something that takes time and thought and I enjoy doing it. I also realized the time I spent on it, even thinking about it, was like a type of prayer. I know I am not an artist, but sometimes as I worked on it, I felt good, it felt right. I felt like maybe God smiled just a little bit our way for trying to make something others might enjoy.”
Schawn also told me that as he worked on the sacraments and days of creation sections he had different kids who play on St. Charles parking lot and playground stop by. And as children often are, they were inquisitive and quick to share their own ideas. Schawn said it was a joy to answer their questions. One of the children told him that, “it was ok if some of the things were not perfect because only God gets things right.” Wow, a good reminder to us all. Schawn also mentioned a little girl that said she thought the people at her church would like this stuff, too and that even though Schawn was Catholic he should do the same thing on their walks.
One of the things about Christian Stewardship that most appeals to me is the matching of an individual’s God-given gifts to the needs of others. Multiplying the resources entrusted to us to serve more than just ourselves, but to serve those that could benefit from them as well. The idea that “As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord” (US Conference of Catholic Bishops).
We all have gifts to share and seeking a match for those gifts is such a rewarding and meaningful journey. Jenny Nice & Schawn Schoepke are such wonderful examples of taking their God-given talents and sharing them with others. In talking with Jenny & Schawn, I was moved by their deep desire to pay it forward, spread God’s love and make a contribution for the sole purpose of fulfilling others. Thank you Jenny & Schawn for all that you do. Thank you for multiplying your gifts.
If you would like to learn more about the Prayer Garden or purchase a Memorial Star, you can contact Jenny Nice at (262) 767-0740. Memorial Stars are $10 each.
If you haven’t visited the Prayer Garden yet, I encourage you to do so. Take a moment to appreciate the space. All are welcome. If you have school aged kids, it would be a great activity to see if they can find all of Jenny & Schawn’s Christian symbols among the peace, and the quiet. Before you go, you can print off a complete list of the symbols here if you like.
“Make time for quiet moments, as God whispers, and the world is loud.” ~ Author Unknown