In the Spring Garden with Sister Mary

In the Spring Garden with Sister Mary

All creation is a garden and we just happening to be wandering through it. - Sister Mary Schmidt, OSB

We are God’s co-workers… - 1 Corinthians 3:9

It’s spring and Sister Mary Schmidt, OSB is in her glory.

She soon will plant lettuce, spinach and broccoli. She will put in tomatoes and other warm-weather vegetables a little later.

She’ll ring the garden with marigolds (“the rabbits don’t like those”) and plant zinnias and sunflowers too.

She will do it to help put fresh food on the Sisters’ table, and to nourish her own soul.

“I try to take this little space and make it as beautiful and full of good food as I can,” Sister Mary says.

Sacred Soil

Here in the garden, science and spirituality blend happily.

Kneeling to dig a shallow trench, peppering it with tiny seeds, covering the seeds with earth, we begin again the miracle of creation that is scientifically predictable and understandable.

The seeds sprout, roots reach down for nutrients, stems and leaves reach up to the sun.

“The garden is a place of prayer for me,” Sister Mary says. “It’s quiet out here as I work with God to bring forth new life. I pray here.”

She’s in good company. Adam and Eve were created in the garden. Jesus went to the garden to pray. Scripture is filled with references to gardens.

“The beauty of creation began with a garden,” Sister Mary says. “And life ended for Jesus in one.” 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour – William Blake

A microcosm of the world, the garden. Every color and shape grows there, either above or below the soil.

No matter which plant it is, it needs sunshine, nourishment, water. Some plants grow better alongside one neighbor than another. Some need sandy soil, some loamy. 

“The garden reflects the merciful, gracious God who creates for us,” Sister Mary says.

“I can’t wait to hear the birds sing in spring, and the baby birds begin to peep. I can’t wait to see the little green things begin to grow. It’s a such a wonder. Each little seed knows what it’s supposed to be.” 

Vessels of the Altar 

Whether working in the garden of the world or in our own little backyard patch, Benedictine Sisters share a core value of stewardship.

That is, everything comes from God and must be cared for with reverence, to be preserved for following generations.

Sister Mary says our culture is not succeeding at that.

“We are all responsible for the earth,” she says.

“We are depleting the materials of the earth because we value them more than we value people. We value coal more than the miners. Anything we touch becomes more important than the worker.

“Our earthly garden is a mess today. We need to remember that it isn’t really ours to begin with. It’s God’s. It reflects God’s generosity to us. We need to begin showing our gratitude by taking care of it.”

As Pope Francis says in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, “It is not enough, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

And as St. Benedict said more than 1500 years ago, “Treat all goods as if they were vessels of the altar.”

In the monastic garden, Sister Mary says that means composting, recycling, weeding and caring for the tools.

It also means harvesting and preparing fresh food to nourish her Sisters. 

Some Practical Matters

Of course, some seeds don’t sprout, some seedlings wither, some plants don’t bear fruit, and others suffer blight. 

Then there are the marauding deer. 

“They managed to eat the plants even through the netting that I put up,” Sister Mary says.

“I finally sat on a bench one night to see how. I imagine 20 deer watched me from nearby and thought, ‘Sure, that’s Mary sitting there. We won’t show her how we do it.’ I finally did catch a buck slitting the net one night though. He reared back on his hind legs and sliced the net with his front hoof.”

It’s safe to say that Sister Mary has a fraught relationship with many of the animals other Sisters find charming.

As for the seed or plant that fails to grow, Sister Mary has some advice.

Try again …

“The asparagus didn’t grow one year. It was too cold and rainy. So I tried again. 

“If something isn’t growing, put your hands into the soil. If it’s too cool and wet, most plants won’t grow well. Give the soil time to warm up. Reseed. My squash seeds rotted several times one year. I reseeded 2 or 3 times.”

… and plant in the right place.

“I don’t bother with carrots,” Sister Mary says.

“They don’t grow well here. Something in the soil. Plants have their likes and dislikes, just like us. They won’t thrive where they don’t belong.

"Some people are planted where they shouldn’t be, too, whether in jobs or other activities. We all need to be in the right soil to thrive.” 

Planted in the House of the Lord (Psalm 92)

Whoever, whatever, wherever we are, we depend upon the actions of all for our own wellbeing.

In the garden of the world or in the garden of our own tilling, each of us makes a profound, daily difference.

“I can’t go into the garden without feeling I’m a very small speck in all of this,” Sister Mary says. “I’m here only by the grace of God.

“That’s true of everyone. We are called to be cultivators of our own lives. To sow seeds of love. To nourish what is good within us, and to produce mercy.” 

Because we are all part of the whole, the actions we undertake – recycling eggshells for the living ecosystem of the garden, handpicking weeds without bee-killing pesticides, foiling rabbits and deer without harming them – ripple out, as gentle waves upon a lake.

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another,” Thomas Merton writes. 

Planted shoulder-to-shoulder as we are, we are as interdependent as droplets in the water we drink and molecules in the air we breathe. Your breath becomes mine, and mine, yours, in the garden we all share. 

Sister Mary offers spiritual direction at Benet House.  Contact her at or (309) 283-2100.

Comments (0)

Add a Comment

Allowed tags: <b><i><br>Add a new comment: