By Barb Arland-Fye
On my weekly trips into the office during this long season of the pandemic, I water the African violets, stroke their leaves gently and talk to them softly, encouraging them to grow. Maybe they miss my daily presence. One of the plants uprooted itself from the soil and died. Now another African violet has uprooted itself!
Of the remaining two pots of African violets, one is thriving but the other one seems droopy, almost sad. While some of God’s creation has thrived during this pandemic for lack of human touch, some of my lovely African violets have not. Their failure to thrive comes to mind as I gaze at Mary’s garden when entering or leaving Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire.
During this month of May dedicated to Mary, our pastor asked us to honor Pope Francis’ request to pray the rosary daily for an end to the pandemic. Deacon Matt Levy and his wife Lisa are leading us to pray the rosary in front of Mary’s garden on the south side of the property, weather permitting.
The beauty of Mary’s garden and the statue of the serene Blessed Mother at its center inspire contemplation of my faith and a deeper appreciation for God’s awesome creation. The plants and shrubbery in Mary’s garden thrive under the tender care of parishioners Molly and John Jungk and others, including the landscaper hired to mulch the three-tiered garden. Everything thrives in Mary’s garden, which is a blessing but also testimony to the vital role the gardeners play as stewards of God’s creation.
Molly and John refer to the garden as “the grotto.” It holds a special place in their hearts because more than a decade ago they nursed it back from neglect and disrepair. The longtime parishioners asked each other, “Wouldn’t it be great to plant something around the statue?”
Having received the blessing of our pastor at the time, the late Msgr. Leo Feeney, Molly and John purchased some perennials to plant around the statue. The funds came from a modest memorial for John’s sister. The parish replaced an old retaining wall and eventually the space blossomed into a three-tiered garden with many helping hands.
“When I’m there doing my work, it’s me and God,” Molly says. “I talk to John’s sister and Pauline” (one of our parish’s matriarchs who died in 2015). A memorial rock inscribed with Pauline’s name, sits at the foot of the garden. Molly says, “I’ll tap on the rock and say, ‘How are you doing, old gal?’”
Siberian irises, which Molly and John transplanted from their own yard, love their home in Mary’s garden. Atop their slender stems, the irises will soon bloom in brilliant purple. Oddly enough, “the ones I have at home don’t bloom,” Molly says. “I think it’s Mary,” she adds, that encourages the irises to grow.
Other plantings that thrive in Mary’s garden are purple coneflower, hostas, daylilies and yellow chrysanthemums. The story of the daylily reminds me of the preciousness of life. “The daylily’s botanical name, Hemerocallis, means ‘beauty for a day,’ and indeed most daylily flowers open in the morning and die by nightfall,” according to Gardener’s Supply Co. of Burlington, Vermont.
On May 1, Pope Francis asked Mary to help everyone in the world recognize that they are part of “one great family and should care for one another, especially those most in need. Encourage firmness in faith, perseverance in service and constancy in prayer” and “have God intervene with his hand” (Catholic News Service).
We ask God to intervene in all things, great and small. Maybe even for the sake of my African violets.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)