Mary garden at St. Mary, Bloomington, is among winners of national contest

This Mary garden at St. Mary Church in Bloomington has been named the third-place winner in the community garden category of the 2021 Mary Garden Contest sponsored by the Museum of Family Prayer.

BLOOMINGTON — A little more than two years ago, a statue of Mary in need of cleaning was surrounded by overgrown evergreens in an alcove between St. Mary Church here and the parish rectory.

On Aug. 18, a beautiful Mary garden created in that same spot received national recognition.

The garden at St. Mary Church, 527 W. Jackson St., has been named a third-place winner in the second annual Mary Garden Contest sponsored the Museum of Family Prayer.

“I’m thrilled, and so pleased,” said Suzanne Weber, who tends to the Mary garden with help from Catherine Metsker and other members of St. Mary’s liturgical environment committee.

Photo provided by Suzanne Weber

The national contest began in 2020 to help families find peace and joy while quarantined at home. It continued this year as a way to share the Catholic faith and recognize special places of beauty that inspire prayer, love of God, and love of the Blessed Mother. Three top winners were named in three separate categories — community gardens (in which St. Mary’s garden was entered), family gardens, and mini gardens.

“We were overjoyed with the amount of Mary gardens we received from all over the country and the world,” said Father James Phalan, CSC, national director of Family Rosary which, like the Museum of Family Prayer, is a branch of Holy Cross Family Ministries. “Our winners’ creativity shone through, as well as their love for our Blessed Mother, Mary.

“When people view these gardens, we believe they will be inspired to build their own,” added Father Phalan.

Weber credits Father Gregory Nelson, pastor of St. Mary Parish, for trusting the volunteers to improve the alcove area. The bushes were removed, the statue cleaned, and benches, columns, a stone walkway and lighting were added. All costs were covered by fundraising.

“It’s really pretty at night,” said Weber.

It’s also very pretty in the daytime, as the variety of flowers and grasses — roses, dianthus, purple salvia, yellow daylilies, and itea among them — bloom in season throughout the year. The garden and alcove — which is framed by the church, rectory, and a connecting chapel — is now the site for a rosary group’s gathering at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday from spring to early fall.

Photo provided by Suzanne Weber

The national award, which comes with a prize package to benefit the parish, is not the first recognition the St. Mary garden has earned. It has also garnered a city beautification award.

Weber said she entered the Mary garden contest at the last minute after Metsker had seen an invitation published in The Catholic Post. The first-place winner in the community gardens division was from St. Leonard Church in Boston, and the second-place winner was from St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Marshall, Michigan.

Winning entries in all categories have been posted to the Museum of Family Prayer website. The site also includes advice on planting and caring for a Mary garden, as well as other suggestions for families to pray together.

The Museum of Family Prayer is dedicated to the work of Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, who was known as the “Rosary Priest” and popularized the phrase “The family that prays together stays together.”

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