Plants Have Stories in the New Cathedral Prayer Garden
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
December 3, 2020

For centuries, clergymen and members of monastic orders have worked with plants that have been grown and hybridized when religious communities were often remote or cloistered requiring self-reliance and by-products from plants.

The cycle of the seasons goes hand in hand with liturgical calendars, and the slow and steady work of tending ornamental and edible crops aids contemplation. Over time these plants have become prized for their many unique and desirable characteristics and qualities.

The eight upright evergreens behind the wall and Mary statue are a hybrid variety of Arborvitae named Techny after the Divine Word Missionary campus in Techny, a suburb of Chicago. They are a cold-hardy, strong branched variety that is desirable in northern climates.

There are several ornamental crabapple trees, named ‘Cardinal’s Robe’ by Father John Fialla, because of the red-pink color of the flower that represents the color reserved for Cardinals.

Likewise, there are Father Fialla lilac varieties, such as Little Boy Blue, that have been chosen because of their size, color and hardiness.

Some of the perennials chosen were hybridized by Brother Charles Reckamp and Brother Stefan Franczak, a Jesuit, and have significance with colors and names such as Jan Pawell II.

From Rockford, Roy Klehm, a well-respected nurseryman and grower who personally knew many of these religious plantsmen and who also grows many of the developed plant varieties has had a significant role in keeping these special plants in production.

The eight shade trees that have been planted around the circular plaza each represent one of the bishops that served the Diocese of Rockford.

The circle of the Mary plaza is significant as it symbolizes eternity as it has no beginning or end. The Mary statue and walkway that leads to and from the circle plaza also looks and points to the Cathedral for a strong “connection,” according to Matt Adas of Arc Design who designed the project.

The Mary statue that was chosen is Our Lady of Guadalupe, representing the oldest approved Marian apparition that occurred in Mexico when she appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec who had converted to the Catholic faith. This representation has come to be known as the “Mary of the Americas.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is also a powerful symbol of the committment to life as she is with child in this image.


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