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Connecting with Creation

This article is reprinted from the summer 2012 issue of HOPE

This Archives photo shows the Congregation’s earliest greenhouse.

The Sisters of Providence have been connecting with creation since their foundation more than 170 years ago.

“We have a little green-house where we shelter our flowers from the heavy frosts,” wrote Sister Mary Therese (Dorothy) Schmitt, to her friends. “Then we cut them, they thrive so quickly. Last year we had flowers for six months.” Sister Mary Therese entered the Congregation in 1867 and died in 1937. “We are making sacrifices by cutting the beautiful flowers for the chapel; but that is the special aim in cultivating them,” she wrote. “Faith alone is not sufficient for all kinds of characters, so we adorn the house of the Lord with flowers which have been cut without pity.”

According to the Sisters of Providence Archives, the earliest greenhouse was located west of St. Anne Chapel, facing south. It was built by Pére Michel Guthneck in 1849. Sister Celestine Bloomer says in her “Reminiscences” that it was chiefly used for botanical studies. “Dear Sister Maurice Schnell was in an ecstasy of delight when new and rare flowers were brought in,” wrote Sister Celestine in “Reminiscences.”

No other names of sisters working in the greenhouses are documented in Archives until Sister Anne Berchmans Taylor (RIP), who had charge of the greenhouse from 1974 until 1979. Sister Agnes Celeste Clouser (RIP) began as assistant in 1976, then took over in 1979 when Sister Anne Berchmans suffered a stroke. Sister Louise Gertrude Bordenet (RIP) and Sister Evelyn Kelley (RIP) have also worked in the greenhouse.

The records between 1856 and 1896 name 12 men who were called gardeners, but it is not known what their duties were.

Also, Archives records mention that in 1979 clients from Katherine Hamilton Special Services in Vigo County, Ind., worked in the greenhouse for therapy. Some retired sisters who were experiencing difficulty in adjusting to retirement also benefited from gardening in the greenhouses throughout the years.

This is the first growing season for the new greenhouse that sits in the orchard, near the organically grown gardens.

Today, the staff, sisters, volunteers and interns at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, are planting for the first season in a new greenhouse made possible by generous donors last year.

The vegetables grown organically in the current greenhouse will be moved to the gardens and harvested throughout the growing season for the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA shareholders pay up front for their vegetables, fruit, honey and value-added products and pick them up either weekly or every other week.

Produce is also sold at the Downtown Terre Haute Farmers’ Market, prepared by the Sisters of Providence Food Services staff for the dining rooms and donated to local food pantries and homeless shelters. The amount of fresh produce delivered to area food pantries and homeless shelters is made possible by CSA members donating above the cost of their share for this purpose. About 900 pounds of produce was donated in 2011.

Groups of all ages, and individual high school and college students are getting their hands dirty while learning and giving service in the greenhouse and gardens.

Those working in the little white house that houses the gardener’s office and huge sink for cleaning freshly picked vegetables see the large frame by the door that includes photos of Sisters Agnes Celeste, Anne Berchmans, Louise Gertrude and Evelyn and the words: “In memory of the Sisters of Providence who cared for the greenhouse in their later years. The one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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