Fuqua Park evolves
It was the autumn of 1971. Standing amid weeds and dead tree limbs by a small lake, a priest friend of Sister Jean Fuqua’s visiting Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on a quail hunting trip envisioned something more. “This site could make a nice recreation spot for your sisters. Jean, you should work on that.”
So Sister Jean did. She began a decades-long restoration project and engaged many others in the effort. Originally known as St. Joseph’s Lake, the area around the lake was christened in 2014 as Fuqua Park. Today, what was once an overgrown area serves as a backyard resort of sorts for the Sisters of Providence.
Located on the far north east corner of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods grounds, the area offers a place for a person to connect with nature, to retreat and to pray. In warmer weather, it attracts sisters to swim, picnic, fish, bird watch, paddle a canoe or row a boat. Others just relax on a chaise lounge with a good book or with friends.
“This space truly reflects our SP value of caring for creation. We pay attention to what we plant and how we use the resources and when we choose furniture or other items, we stay away from plastics and use more natural options,” said Sister Jean, a former staff member of the Congregation’s White Violet Center for Eco-Justice ministry.
A 1922 newspaper clipping describes St. Joseph Lake as “an immense artificial reservoir covering seven acres . . . for the purpose of supplying water for the operation of the Institute. Its splendid location among the trees and its natural beauty makes it an ideal place for the pleasure jaunts of the young women.” The original lake was 500 ft wide x 1400 ft long consisting of seven small ravines that emptied into a large one. Springs and rainfall provided the 50 million gallons of water ranging in depths of 14 to 27 feet.
“In 1981, we enlarged the lake to what it is now,” Sister Jean said. “Pete Farmer (RIP), a trustee of Saint Mary-of -the-Woods College, had a contract with J.I. Case (manufacturers of earth-moving equipment) that needed to be tested before being put on the market. He was looking for digging projects for not-for-profit groups. So the company dug the cove behind the main house to a depth of 20 feet in the middle and gradually sloped it to provide a sandy-bottom beach with shallow water for non-swimmers.”
From 1972 until now, the development and maintenance of the lake area has been a hands-on project that has involved numerous Sisters of Providence.
“No work orders existed in 1972,” Sister Jean laughs. “We had to haul everything away by hand to clear the area. Then we had to build what we wanted to add which sometimes required some maneuvering. For example, the 12 original steel barrels for the raft were delivered to Woodland Inn, our home, and we had to roll them down to the lake with broomsticks.”
More such interesting facts abound in an archives-style binder created by Sister Jean. Fact: Sisters contributed to the project every summer by putting coins and cash in “donation cans” placed in strategic places. This practice ended in 1978, when then-General Superior Sister Loretta Schafer added a St. Joe’s Lake line item to the budget. Fact: In 1975, Sister Mary Pius Regnier offered a donation for a row boat “received perhaps in tribute to her re-election.” Between 1978 and 1982, Don and Shirley Cowdrey, friends of Sister Jean, constructed the main house and then added the “outhouse” and storage building. Many SPs and friends have shared in evolving the area and continue to maintain the grounds — cutting grass, cleaning up natural debris left by winds, planting and caring for pots of flowers, and, in general, assuring that “it is a place that people will want to come to be in God’s creation,” Jean said.
In the binder’s final entry, Sister Jean writes: “This is a history in the making. You are the living history and proof that this could be done!”
(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)