Graceful Gardens
Parishes Provide Places for Prayers and Memorials
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
July 18, 2019
G ardens as places of prayer and petition have provided the scenery for crucial moments in salvation history. 
From Eden to Gethsemane some of the world’s most dramatic events have been played out among trees, flowers, and exotic plants.
In the Garden of Eden the first parents, Adam and Eve, were created and enjoyed the bounty of God’s handiwork. 
They enjoyed it at least until the fall into sin, and their banishment from that fruitful place.
But since then, gardeners have labored to create and recreate beautiful landscapes at many venues large and small, while sometimes battling weeds and droughts, ice and frost that can damage decorative plants or memorial brickwork.
Jesus chose the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion as the location to petition God the Father when he prayed: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but thine be done” (Lk 22: 42).
Many parishes around the diocese also cherish their prayer and memory gardens, including at the Downtown St. Patrick Parish in St. Charles, which features a walled pathway, topped with flowers and ferns, leading to an alcove where a statue of the Virgin Mary stands.
At Holy Cross, in Batavia, the Stations of the Cross are spread along the border of a wide lawn and at the halfway point is a shrine to Our Lady. Also here, a peaceful lake glistens at the edge of the prayer garden, where a statue of a young Jesus and nearby benches seem to invite visitors to sit and take a quiet moment to pray.
At St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Rockford, many visitors are attracted to a 2-acre memory and prayer garden adorned with trees, blooming perennials, a variety of statues, and illuminated bronze Stations of the Cross. 
Some visitors make a habit of bringing their lunches to enjoy a quiet moment there, to pray and perhaps to remember a loved one now deceased, said Mike Juliano, who has worked on the garden with the help of other volunteers for 20 years. 
 As chairman of the garden committee, he also designed the backdrops and illuminations of Stations of the Cross located along the path through the garden, which is open 24-7. 
“It’s amazing how many people from different churches in the city will come and have a sack lunch and say the rosary here,” Juliano said.
The Garden of Eden must have been beautiful, Juliano says, but to him the St. Anthony of Padua Memory Garden, while not more beautiful than Eden ”is just as beautiful,” he says with a smile. 
This garden won a city-wide landscape award a few years ago, he adds.
Many families honor the memory of their loved ones with their names carved on bricks at entry ways to the garden, or placed on plaques near statues or on the walls.
In winter, the memory bricks must be swept clear of snow and ice, Juliano says. If chemicals are used to clear the ice and frost the bricks can disintegrate, and then must be replaced, he says.
 Some bricks are sturdier than others. “You have to make sure you get the right bricks.” 
Juliano’s wife, Ann Marie, together with other women of th parish, often help with the upkeep of the garden, too.
It was professionally planned and landscaped to include a wide variety of trees, shrubs, benches, a fountain (now a dry floral display,) a large double arched entranceway, a walkway with memory bricks, an underground sprinkler system and a serpentine pathway. 
“There’s a lot of women who show up and help with the garden,” Ann Marie says.
Having a professional landscaper from the beginning is very important, according to Leo Lynch, office manager at St. Anthony of Padua.
“We have got a good support system here. We have people who show up and do all the trimming. It all has to be done by hand, and it just looks great,” Lynch says.
“The thing about having a landscape artist is to make sure there is always something blooming,” he adds.
“And things bloom here at different times. There is always something going on whether it’s how the burning bush looks in the fall, or roses in the spring and summer.”
The garden was begun by a generous donation in the will of a parishioner. “We have had some generous donations that help for the long haul,” Lynch adds.
The garden was designed to celebrate the Italian heritage of the people of South Rockford, a pamphlet about the garden states. A monument to Christopher Columbus, who is credited with great fortitude in bringing the good news of Christ to the New World in 1492, as well as a statue of St. Jude, patron saint of the despairing, and a statue of St. Anthony of Padua holding the baby Jesus are all featured in the garden.
Also on the site is a Queen of Peace Shrine, honoring Our Lady. It was built about 75 years ago after an elderly Italian parishioner walked from house to house in the neighborhood and collected funds to build the shrine. 
Petitions are placed in front of a glass-encased statue of Our Lady in the form of decorated candles and the donations of coins, which are left before the shrine to honor her. This devotion is very popular with Hispanic parishioners, Juliano said, and the money left is given to the needy.
For decades the shrine was a favorite place for newlywed couples to be photographed, including the Julianos, who were photographed there on their wedding day. The tradition has become popular with hundreds of other couples through the decades.