FRIDAY HARBOR – Michele Gosinski has had a devotion to the mother of Jesus since she was a little girl.
“I’ve had a statue of Mary in my garden in all the places I’ve lived,” said Gosinski, a member of St. Francis Parish in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
So when she saw a 2017 “A Catholic Home” column in Northwest Catholic about planting a Marian garden, Gosinski thought a Mary garden would be the perfect way to beautify a space behind the parish’s office building.
Gosinski and her husband Teddy are in charge of grounds and maintenance for the church property, as well as the parish cemetery and the homes of their two parish priests. “We’re very involved,” she said. “It’s just a passion of ours.”
She brought the Marian garden idea to the parish staff, and then to the rest of the 248-household congregation to enlist help.
After a year of planning and months of planting, the garden was blessed August 5 by Heralds of Good News Father Watson Paramasivam, the priest administrator of St. Francis.
“It really beautifies the back yard,” said Jan Steckler, St. Francis’ pastoral assistant and member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. “Now we have a place for people to sit outside to meditate and pray.”
Someone absconded with this statue of Mary soon after it was installed in the new Marian garden at St. Francis Parish on San Juan Island. With the help of parishioners and photos on Facebook, it was found six miles away at San Juan Island National Historical Park. Photo: Jan Steckler
Coming to fruition
The first challenge was to make sure the area was fenced. “We have a lot of deer and they eat everything,” Gosinski explained.
The yard was already fenced on three sides, so Steckler’s husband Dennis, a welder, donated a wrought-iron gate and fence to close up the fourth side, a project completed in 2017.
Next, Gosinski drew up a plan for the garden in the spring of 2018. Then she went to fellow parishioners for donations of time and money; about $2,500 has been collected so far.
“It was a small but dedicated group of people that brought my plan to fruition,” Gosinski said. “Those who came to volunteer at our Saturday morning work sessions really had no idea of the scope, but they don’t know me.”
It was a big project that included creating raised beds, building stone walkways and planting flowers with Marian significance, including bleeding hearts, carnations, hydrangeas, lavenders, lilies and roses, Gosinski said.
A parishioner donated a stone bench and volunteers built a pergola that provides a protected place for people to sit and pray, but can also be used for parish functions.
Working in the garden has been a form of prayer for Gosinski, who has had several family members facing illness. “I find it’s been comforting to meditate as I work in the garden,” she said.
Parishioners John and Kate McDowell helped with the garden’s stonework. “It was wonderful to work together and help the church,” Kate McDowell said.
Parishioner Dennis Steckler works on the wrought-iron fence and gate that he built to help prevent deer from entering the new Marian garden at St. Francis Parish in Friday Harbor. Photo: Jan Steckler
McDowell, who has had a lifelong love of Marian gardens, said she was thrilled to see the completed project.
“You walk in and see Mary and see the beauty that surrounds her,” McDowell said. “It’s such a peaceful feeling, and it helps you thank God for all you have.”
Mary missing, then found
Choosing the right statue of Mary for the garden was important, Steckler said, and she quickly found the perfect one with an online search. “I just fell in love with her,” said Steckler, who donated the statue.
After being on back order for months, the statue of Mary finally arrived and was set in the garden in early July. Although the 4-foot-tall resin statue couldn’t be seen from the street, it disappeared a week and a half later.
“It was traumatic,” Gosinski said.
At first, Father Paramasivam thought the statue had been removed for repairs, Steckler said. But that wasn’t the case. So Steckler called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, notified the local newspaper and sent an email asking parishioners to keep an eye out for the missing statue.
Many in the parish advised her to order another statue, Steckler said, but she decided to wait.
“I knew we would get her back,” she said.
Parish volunteers built a pergola to provide a protected area for people to pray in the new Marian garden at St. Francis Parish in Friday Harbor. Photo: Jan Steckler
Soon, Steckler got an email from a parishioner who reported seeing pictures on Facebook of people posing with a statue of Mary at American Camp, part of San Juan Island National Historical Park, located about six miles from the parish.
Steckler and Father Paramasivam drove over immediately. Using the picture from Facebook, a ranger was able to point them to the correct spot, Steckler said. They waited for a sheriff’s deputy to arrive, and he helped them carry the 30-pound statue to the car.
The natural setting suited the Mary statue, Steckler said: “She looked like she belonged there, facing the sea.” But now the statue is back home in the parish garden, bolted into a new concrete base.
McDowell called it a blessing that the statue was found. “At Mass on Sunday, Father [Paramasivam] told the story about finding Mary and said, ‘We had our first miracle,’” McDowell said.