Garden of eatin’

Posted Sept. 15, 2008, at 7:46 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:17 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The vegetable garden at Graymoor Monastery in Garrison, N.Y., made quite an impression on Patrick Quinn when he was growing up 50 miles south in New York City.

This summer, decades after the Winterport man last visited the Franciscan Atonement Friars, Quinn created a garden in the monastic style at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Ohio Street.

“This garden is meant to spread the Peace of Christ — Pax Christi [in Latin],” he said last week. “All of the food grown in the garden is given away to members of the parish and to needy individuals and organizations in the community. Our prayer is that other churches will start community gardens for the health and welfare of all people.”

The organic vegetable garden that includes lettuce, corn, peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, basil and numerous varieties of tomatoes is on land at the edge of the church parking lot. It is devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Small statues of her are scattered throughout the rows.

Quinn, who moved to Maine in 1976, named the garden Dona Nobis Pacem, which means “Grant us peace” in Latin, the former social worker and peace activist said.

“Monasteries often owned large tracts of land,” he wrote in an essay about the garden. “They were large landowners in their own right with communities of peasant villages to oversee and manage. They also provided shelter for travelers and pilgrims, and health care to the wider communities.”

In creating the garden, Quinn followed the instructions set out in the sixth century in “The Rule of St. Benedict,” by the founder of Western monasticism. Quinn used sticks and tree limbs to create trellises and cages for the plants to grow on. At the back of the garden, he built a bench for rest and meditation. Quinn also prayed and sang while he worked, as the monks do.

Because the garden is organic, he used no insecticides, Quinn said. It was not plagued by insects until the corn began to grow and a flock of aphids discovered it.

“I prayed, ‘Dear Lord, I need some friends to come and eat the aphids,’” he said. “My prayers were answered. I don’t know what these little black things are, but they’ve eaten every one.”

The Rev. Thomas Lequin, 64, pastor at St. Mary’s, has served a lot of parishes in Maine but never one with a vegetable garden, he said Sunday after Mass.

St. Peter Catholic Church in Bingham helped support itself with the sale of raspberries that parishioners cultivated on church property, the priest said.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Lequin said of St. Mary’s garden. “It’s been especially nice for our elderly parishioners who used to have their own gardens but can’t do that anymore.”

St. Mary’s is one of the few city churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland with enough land to support a garden. It sits on a 19-acre plot on Ohio Street between Interstate 95 and Griffin Road. The parish moved to that location in 1980 after the original church on Cedar Street in Bangor was destroyed by fire in February 1978.

“It’s a good use of the land,” said Lequin, who is moving to western Maine at the end of October. “I hope it will continue.”

Quinn would like to plant and tend the garden again next year.

“It’s given me a great closeness to God and feeling of peace,” he said.

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