BY SR. CATHERINE ANNE SOLEY, R.A.
This summer I had the joy of sharing something very dear to me with a young woman who came to love it almost as much as I! Since joining the Worcester community in 2009, I have found refuge and delight in our community garden. The garden has been my teacher, my spiritual compass, and my ministry. There I have found precious solitude as well as the satisfaction of working with others.
It was through our relationship with the College of the Holy Cross here in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, that we welcomed a summer intern into our Semillas da Vida Garden.
“I don’t know much about gardening, but I am willing to learn.” With this prophetic statement, so began our work together.
Brianna is a sophomore at Holy Cross, planning to major in Classics. She grew up in this area. Brianna’s father teaches literature at Holy Cross, her mom is a school librarian. I was struck by her simplicity in our initial interview. Three things became clear right away: the importance of faith in her life, her intellectual curiosity, and her genuine openness. All three vital to a successful experience of something so new.
Brianna entered whole heartedly into the physical work of the garden. She came to a very personal understanding of the term “rocky soil!” It takes tremendous determination to turn the existing dirt here in Worcester into life sustaining soil. She turned the compost, weeded, watered, and planted. A fair skinned red head, she endured sun poisoning and insect attack.
“Sr. Catherine, look at this…!” Whether in person or via a text message, her awe and wonder at God’s continuing creation was a real delight. As she spent more time immersed in this constantly changing environment, she really began to understand that we are participants in an unfolding story. We are workers like the bees and butterflies, but it is God who is creator.
Along with the work, I offered three books for her to read: “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on creation; “Three Wings and a Prayer”, the story of the migratory monarch butterfly; and “Thirst”, a book of poetry by the American poet Mary Oliver. My hope was that these would give her diverse understandings of what she was living in our garden.
An enthusiastic, perceptive companion in the garden, Brianna’s energy renewed my own. She accepted her role as student with the garden as her teacher. Our partnership over these months became an experience of transformative education for us both.
In addition to being an avid gardener, and much to the delight of the sisters and their friends, Sr. Catherine is also a dedicated bread-maker, drawing on her years of professional baking experience before she entered the Assumption. In the last few years, she has also been drawn to the practice of spiritual direction, successfully completing a course of study at the Jesuit Center in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She is currently undertaking a course for certification as a spiritual director with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston.