When the Canticle Garden on the grounds of the St. Coletta of Wisconsin St. Francis Center in Waukesha is complete, it will serve many different purposes.
It will be a site of pilgrimage where visitors can learn about and prayerfully reflect on the ecological issues affecting “our common home” as highlighted by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’.”
It will be a gathering place that will serve the general public and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities alongside one another.
It will be a living, breathing work of art — both natural and man-made — drawing its inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation, which refers to aspects of the natural world (sun, moon, water, fire and even death) in loving, familial terms.
“Laudato si’ is a call from Pope Francis to heal our broken relationships with God, creation and each other,” said Mario Dealca, senior director of Franciscan values and mission at St. Coletta of Wisconsin. “As Franciscans, we care about God, the earth and all creations. This is a way of bringing that message into the community.”
St. Coletta of Wisconsin, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi that has served the IDD community for more than 100 years, “was a ready-made partner with us when it came time to consider a site for the Canticle Garden,” said Fr. Al Veik, O.F.M. Cap.
Though it will be located on land owned by St. Coletta, the garden is being planned and funded by Works of Mercy Ministry, a group that serves the special needs community. The garden is a response to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, an initiative of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The Action Platform is designed to aid groups and agencies of all sizes and in all sectors — from families to parishes, religious congregations to educational institutions and even corporations — to carry out the message of “Laudato si’,” which emphasizes the “universal communion” of all creation.
That message was something that already existed at the heart of Works of Mercy’s mission, said Fr. Veik, a chaplain for the group. What “Laudato si’” provided was a spiritual rallying call for those principals — “an invitation to lead the charge,” said Fr. Veik.
“Laudato si’ was a really evangelizing moment for our spirituality,” he said. “It sought to animate the community to address what has become a crisis of the globe itself. As a community, we’re called to step up and do a conversion of our hearts that leads to a conversion of the way we actually live.”
Works of Mercy was incorporated in 2013 but is descended from a long line of similar ministries dating back 30 years, all working to foster relationships, understanding and “a greater appreciation of a Franciscan spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood in the world.”
From Works of Mercy’s standpoint, the preeminent sisterhood and brotherhood relationship has been between persons with intellectual disabilities and the wider population. “Laudato si’,” likewise, emphasizes the interconnectedness of all creation and the overlapping issues at the heart of the world’s ecological crisis.
“That sparked a tremendous interest out of our own spirituality,” said Fr. Veik of the encyclical. In the past year, the group aligned itself with the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which identifies seven goals for working toward the care of our common home and offers resources to help groups carry out those goals.
“When the platform came forward, we saw an opportunity to join with the IDD community and their families to work together to do something concrete that might help them and the community to make a difference through this medium,” said Fr. Veik.
The property where the garden will be located is a former Anglican monastery and has been owned by St. Coletta since 2015. It also contains a chapel and housing for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Works of Mercy engaged Unique Services, a landscape architect in West Bend, to design the garden plan. Inspired by other canticle gardens around the country, the garden will feature seven stations representing Brother Sun, Sisters Moon and Stars, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Sister Death, Brother Fire and Mother Earth. Sculptures will mark each station, and the group has sought to utilize Wisconsin artisans, including creators from Door County and Lake Mills, whenever possible. It will take about a year for the sculptures to be designed and produced, said Fr. Veik.
The garden will also offer programming that will make it a destination for parish groups, religious education programs and others who are seeking to learn about ecological issues within the context of Catholic social justice teaching. There are also long-term plans to renovate the chapel.
About $200,000 of the needed $500,000 has been pledged for the construction of the garden. Private donations from individuals and religious congregations affiliated with the Laudato Si’ Action Platform have comprised most of the donations, said Fr. Veik. Several parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are also supporting the garden, including Holy Apostles in New Berlin, which will make the Canticle Garden the beneficiary of their mission appeal.
Partnering with Works of Mercy to benefit the garden was a natural fit, said Fr. Arul Ponnaiyan, pastor at Holy Apostles. The parish will also be reading “Laudato si’” through book clubs and small groups. “It really goes well with our discipleship programs here at Holy Apostles,” said Fr. Ponnaiyan. “We teach people, we help people grow in their discipleship in terms of relationship with God, with others — now, with ‘Laudato si’, we are extending beyond not just God and neighbors but also our mother planet Earth, the common home.”
Construction on the garden is expected to begin sometime in 2023.
Fr. Veik said that he prays “that the Canticle Garden might generate within all of its pilgrims the eyes and hearts of mystics like St. Francis of Assisi to see and experience the interconnectedness of all of creation — inspiring a renewed wave of effective care and protection for our common home.”
To learn more about the Canticle Garden, visit canticlegarden.com. For more information about the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, visit laudatosiactionplatform.org.