All are welcome at prayerful spot at Immaculate Conception

Submitted by Mary Wentlent

As a little girl, I spent many afternoons poring over the book Flower Children by Elizabeth Gordon. The imaginative pictures fascinated me. A little older I would imagine God with his paintbrush, dabbing color on the fall trees. As an adult, I look at the intricacy of so many flowers and plants and challenge anyone to tell me there isn’t a master designer.

On Sunday, July 9, 2017, I was fascinated again. Msgr. John P. Putano gave a special blessing to the new Marian Memorial Garden at Immaculate Conception Church in Greene. Over 70 people attended the celebration, which included a sprinkling of holy water on the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which is central to the garden, as well as a stunning stained glass creation of the Joyful Mysteries, created by parishioner Clyde Eckler.

There are two wooden benches where people can relax and reflect.  A covered gazebo offers cool shade for your visit. There are over thirty flowers in the garden, labeled with their name as well as their biblical significance. At the entrance to the garden is a wooden arbor that is home to a young but robust trumpet vine, whose biblical significance is “Mary’s praise and shouts of joy.” A dogwood tree symbolizing Christ’s passion greets visitors as they enter the garden. There are rosary beads and a booklet of prayers specifically dedicated to Mary, for visitors to use in the garden. Ardent seekers can look for the Regina Caeli Bell to ring before reciting that beautiful prayer.

This garden was built with donations by parishioners and community members, in memory of their loved ones. It is unique; filled with plants and decorations that sing to your heart and spirit; a quiet place to help you find inner peace as you connect with God; a place of beauty and quiet contemplation.

Other parishioners have the same reverence for the garden as I do:

Pat Husband said, “The new Marian garden at ICC has been created by the work of many so that we all can take a moment to stop in and have a quiet meditation and visit with the Lord and soak up the beauty of nature He has created.”

Joanne Moxley observed, “The garden was created with love by our parish family. It is a place where you can sit and remember someone dear to you and feel God’s presence and know that He holds all of the departed, the living, and us in the palm of His hand.”

“I have enjoyed working in the garden,” Kathy Ives said, “seeing it become such a beautiful place of respite, and being able to take moments in prayer to the Blessed Virgin.”

“So happy for our beautiful Marian Garden,” Nancy Amell said. “The love we have for our Lord, our church, and all of our loved ones makes it so special. I feel at peace sitting in beauty and knowing everyone is sending their love to us and watching over us from heaven. Our Immaculate Conception Church Family is so special and it means so much to all of us. Blessings from heaven!”

Joan Trepa said: “I always feel so close to our Lady and our Lord when I enter the church proper and no one else is around. But when I spend a few minutes alone in the garden, that feeling of closeness is even more intense. The beauty of nature and the beauty of the garden put together just makes me feel that my prayers are heard that much better. I sit in the quiet and just soak up the beauty and am comforted by the closeness that I seek. It is truly a place for growing closer to our Mother Mary and to Jesus and a wonderful place for prayer.”

As a convert to Catholicism, I continue to learn about the many people that came before me, that also marveled at the touch of the master’s hand. When I first read about a “Mary Garden,” dedicated to the Blessed Mother, I naturally was intrigued! The honor given to Jesus’ mother was a beautiful realization, and the fact that so many people over hundreds of years have gone to her for intercession and comfort, was a powerful awareness. Armed with my love of flowers, I dived into my research of a Marian Garden.

The idea of a Mary Garden dates to the Middle Ages, when many flowers referred to the Virgin’s life and virtues. Every monastery and convent had a special Mary Garden of flowers to adorn the altar.

It was because of the abundance of flowers in May that it became Mary’s month, and the people delighted in decorating her statue and altar with flowers. The tulip, known as Mary’s Prayer, was said to represent Mary’s fullness of grace. Its upward-facing cup or chalice reflected Our Lady’s openness to grace.

The first record of a flower named for Mary pertains to the potted marigold or calendula, in a 1373 English recipe for a potion to ward off the plague. The first garden we know of that was specifically dedicated to Mary was one created by the Irish St. Fiacre in the seventh century. The earliest record of a garden explicitly called a “Mary Garden” was in a fifteenth-century monastery in England.

The first Mary Garden open to the public in the United States was at St. Joseph’s Church in Cape Cod, Mass., in 1932. The garden was created by Mrs. Francis Crane Lillie, using her recollection of the symbolic herbs and flowers that she had encountered in England.

More than 30 flowers and herbs are connected to legends about Mary’s life. Mary is associated with the passage from the Song of Songs: “I am a flower of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (2:1). A legend from the second century says that when Mary’s tomb was opened to show Thomas that her body had been assumed into heaven, it was filled with roses and lilies.

All are welcome to travel to Greene and visit the garden, located on the church grounds of 15 beautiful country acres. The Church of the Immaculate Conception has a thriving parish family that sincerely accepts its mission of being a disciple of Christ. The church functions without a resident priest; Msgr. John P. Putano is the administrator. Retired priests travel from Binghamton to celebrate Mass.

See you in the garden!

Mary Wentlent is the parish manager at Immaculate Conception Church in Greene. Research for this submission explored studies done by people who have been equally fascinated with the Blessed Mother’s association with flower gardens. Over the years, afternoons spent in the garden led to tales meant to inspire and encourage faith. Some stories became legends, and these tales were tweaked by the poet or storyteller for the audience. The information should not be noted for its historical accuracy as much as its intent: to encourage one on a lifelong journey of devotion to Mary, our Blessed Mother.

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