Growing in community

Elizabeth Starr
Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, and parishioner Peggy Mumm dig the first plant for the church’s new garden project on June 22.

By Elizabeth Starr
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Members of the Garden Ministry at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City joined together June 22 to dedicate the church’s first community garden.

The project aims to promote health, build community and to better integrate the English-speaking and Hispanic populations in the parish. Many parishioners at the dedication said they want to build community between the cultures. The garden, they said, will help do this. The vegetables now growing in the garden are ingredients for salsa: tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro.

Platinum partners Roger Reilly from Hills Bank in Iowa City and Dr. Martin Izakovic from Mercy Hospital-Iowa City both spoke during the dedication.


Reilly, a parishioner at St. Patrick, expressed his excitement in the project. “Your mom always said to eat more fruits and vegetables, and with this project we will do that.”

Dr. Izakovic mentioned the importance of the collaboration among Catholic institutions, “especially with schools, parishes and hospitals.” Both partners said they were proud to be a part of the project.

The event began with an opening song, “Morning has Broken,” followed by comments from Reilly and Dr. Izakovic, a blessing by Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor at St. Patrick, a closing song, “For the Fruits of This Creation,” and planting of the garden by community members.

When planting began, Fr. Juarez was allowed to go first, followed by each platinum partner. After that, all the community members joined in.
The project is starting with two 4-feet by 4-feet garden squares in the center of the northwest lawn of the church but will grow to encompass the entire 2,600-square-foot lawn. The preliminary garden design includes benches and spaces to gather, as well as a cross-shaped walkway. The vegetation will grow along the garden’s perimeter.

Fred Meyer, the garden’s designer, said the final design is meant to feed and foster community. “Often when we think of gardens, we think of tilled-up space. But that is modeled after crop fields that use big machinery.…We wanted to design it not for machinery but for humans — the humans in this church.”

The cost of the small garden squares was $400, while the finished project will cost about $60,000. The preliminary design will be released to parishioners for comment in a few weeks with an open feedback session on July 22. Phase One of construction is scheduled for fall.

Lindell Joseph is a parishioner at St. Patrick and a faculty member of the University of Iowa’s nursing program. In 2015, she facilitated a focus group at St. Patrick to examine faith, health and healing in the parish. During the meeting, participants voiced the need for a vegetable garden to prevent and treat diseases. This focus group resulted in a ministry called “Healthy Habits” to promote health and well-being in the parish. From this ministry emerged the garden initiative, which has now evolved into a new group called the Garden Ministry.

Fr. Juarez chose a garden quote from Genesis to include in his blessing: “Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food;’ and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:29-31 NASB).

“Through the efforts at St. Pat’s, this garden is one result of creating a healthy environment while fostering community,” Fr. Juarez said.

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