EVERETT – At St. Mary Magdalen Parish, parishioners are connecting with their faith in a new parish garden.
“Instantly it’s become a place of prayer for a lot of people,” Father Hans Olson, St. Mary Magdalen’s pastor said of the Our Lady of Lavang prayer garden completed last year. “Every day, there’s someone there,” he said.
The garden’s centerpiece is a statue of Our Lady of Lavang, who appeared to persecuted Catholics in 18th century Vietnam.
“Every time we feel like we want to get close to Mary, we stop by and say a little prayer,” said Hai Nguyen, a St. Mary Magdalen parishioner who helped manage the garden’s construction.
At parishes around the archdiocese, outdoor sacred spaces are part of the faith community’s fabric — places where parishioners can encounter God, honor Mary or pray the Stations of the Cross.
Patron saint, Stations of the Cross
Outdoor prayer spaces were also recently added at St. Columban Parish in Yelm, and its mission, St. Peter in Tenino.
At. St. Peter’s, a Mary grotto was constructed, while at St. Columban a statue of its patron was placed in a wooded area behind the church, a space that was blessed in November 2020.
“There’s always people who go out and visit” the new space, said parishioner Steven Slater. Men from the parish built a sturdy base — extending 2 feet below ground and 4 feet above — for the statue, Slater said. There’s a paved pathway and the parish plans to add Stations of the Cross and fencing.
Stations of the Cross are also featured in the prayer garden at St. Augustine Parish in Oak Harbor, which was developed to provide a place to pray when the church is closed, said Debbie Gallo, a former parishioner who helped coordinate the project and now lives in Hawaii.
Parishioners raised money and the project was completed in 2018 in just four years, instead of the 10 years that had been planned, Gallo said. Her then-neighbor produced the stained-glass images for the stations; in 2020, a memorial to the unborn was added. In addition, a portable altar is available for Mass.
“It was a godsend during COVID. We did everything in the prayer garden,” said parishioner Theresa Frazer.
“Everything” in the outdoor space included the pastor, Father Paul Pluth, celebrating Sunday Masses, distributing Communion after Mass, officiating at two weddings, celebrating two confirmation Masses and hearing confessions.
“It was quite useful for many things we couldn’t do in church” because of pandemic restrictions, Father Pluth said.
Anyone passing by is welcome to stop at the garden, Gallo said. “We wanted everyone in Oak Harbor to feel welcome, to meditate and to pray,” she said.
Gardens draw regular gatherings
Although some parishes have developed gardens more recently, Immaculate Conception Parish in Arlington has had a prayer garden for decades, said Barb Leder, pastoral assistant for administration. Her kids were young when the garden was developed and now they’re adults, Leder noted.
Parishioners “like to go out there and sit in the quiet,” she said. The garden path is shaped like a rosary, and the parish has hosted weeknight events for parishioners to pray the rosary along the pathway, then enjoy a potluck meal afterward, Leder said.
On Saturday mornings at St. Mary Magdalen Parish, members of the parish’s Vietnamese community gather in the garden to say the rosary and pray for freedom of religion and improvement of life in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese community spent about three years raising money, designing and building the prayer garden, parishioner Hung Vu said in an email. Their vision was introducing Our Lady of Lavang to all members of their culturally diverse parish, Vu said.
The prayer garden is also “a great model” for passing the Catholic faith to the younger generation, “who need to be inspired for continuing to live their faith,” Vu added.