By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
SOLON — St. Mary Parish recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its church building by constructing a handicap-accessible rosary garden in the backyard.
“It’s like we opened up a new section of the church,” said Jeri Bollwitt, the parish’s director of religious education. “Our community is growing and we need to grow with that and have inviting, welcoming spaces.” The State Data Center reports that the Solon population grew 48% between 2010 and 2020, following the trend of many corridor communities.
The garden’s design consists of granite beads, a cement path, an Assumption of Mary statue and landscaping. It expands on a rosary garden that an Eagle Scout constructed several years ago. “We wanted to grow, not replace,” the original rosary garden, Bollwitt said. The scout and his family gave their blessing and worked with the parish to incorporate elements of the original design, including bricks from the original church, a rock bed and stepping-stones.
Parishioner Alan Wieskamp, an architect, donated his services to help staff develop an old-meets-new design. “I had not done anything like this before,” he said. “I’ve worked on parks and outdoor spaces, but nothing that was this contemplative and such a literal representation of our faith.” Inspiration for the design came from his late grandmother’s rosary, which includes a six-sided “Hail Holy Queen” medallion.
Parishioners donated to the $60,000 cost of labor and materials. Contractors removed cement stairs and created a handicap-accessible pathway from the back door to the garden. Youth group members assisted with fundraising talks and collections and spent three days mulching and completing other outdoor tasks.
Knights of Columbus donated money for the statue and installed it as a group earlier this summer. In the cavity beneath the statue, they created a time capsule that includes a rosary and a parish bulletin.
Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula blessed the rosary garden on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15. The parish is waiting for some garden elements to arrive, but the parish was adamant about celebrating on the feast day. Foam insulation board cutouts serve as placeholders for the granite rosary beads, which are scheduled to arrive before winter. Five family-sponsored granite benches are also on their way.
The garden “looks so pretty, even before we get the next steps done,” Bollwitt said. The sun setting behind the archbishop-elect as he blessed the garden added to the special feeling of the day. “It warmed my heart a lot.”
Bollwitt plans to visit the rosary garden with her faith formation students. “Kids learn better through being able to interact with something and this is pretty hands on. They can walk along the beads, stand on a bead as they participate and, hopefully, make a head and heart connection by experiencing the rosary in that manner.”
The space invites parishioners and guests to congregate and get to know each other. Faith formation parents can enjoy fellowship with each other while they wait for classes to finish. Parishioners can enjoy Doughnut Sundays and other social events in the garden.
Most of all, Bollwitt hopes the rosary garden will bring peace to all who spend time there, a place to enjoy the quiet and listen to God’s voice. “One dad shared that his high school-aged daughter looked at him during the dedication and said, ‘Dad, it’s just so peaceful out here. I want to just come sit out here; do you think they’ll allow that?’ ‘Yeah, that’s what this is for,’ he replied.”
“There is something special about sitting alone in the silence of contemplative prayer,” Wieskamp said. “This garden now offers an option to sit outside and listen to the breeze through the trees, birds singing or the buzz of Cicadas.”