By Jim Mount
FORT WAYNE — Like a seed planted in the ashes of what once was, the community gardens on the campus of St. Henry Parish at Paulding and Hessen Cassel roads in Fort Wayne are growing the parish into something new.
After the closing of the school, St. Henry has found new life as a community center and one of the main attractions that has taken off like a wild shoot is the community gardens. Starting off small, St. Henry’s began offering the community gardens as a service to the community, providing an opportunity for neighbors to get to know each other and to plant and raise food together.
From its inception two years ago, the community gardens have grown with boxed plots starting to fill the adjacent north field of the campus.
When Msgr. Julian Benoit Academy located in the former St. Henry’s School, closed in 2006, the parish was left with a vacant building. St. Henry pastor, Father Dan Durkin, and property manager Paul Gerardot contemplated the impact the closure of the school would have on the struggling southeast side parish. Losing the school was a blow that left St. Henry struggling to find a new role and service they could provide absent the school.
For over 50 years, the parish had served the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and the community at large as a school and parish.
“We took a leap of faith with what the Lord wanted us to do,” Gerardot says about the establishment of the community garden. Soon after came the formation of the community center and with that in place came new avenues and ideas of how to utilize the campus for the benefit of the community — hence, the creation of the community gardens.
“We started it with no expectations of growth,” explains Gerardot about the community garden. “I initially had about 16 4×8 (foot) boxes and wound up the first year ballooning to 90 boxes. This year, we’re close to 300. We also have Twila, who’s running the thrift store, and she’s a volunteer. She donated the hoop house, which we hope to have up by Thanksgiving.”
The garden outreach has spread to the neighborhood, involving local residents in the planting and cultivation.
“The community gardens, from my perspective,” says John Morgan, a 38-year resident of the Hoevelwood neighborhood, “has been very helpful and beneficial to me as a neighbor because I’m able to raise a lot of vegetables on my own. I have eight plots there and I’ve raised so many vegetables I’ve been able to share with my neighbors, family and friends throughout the city. It’s been very fruitful for the neighborhood.”
Morgan also has high regard for the staff of the gardens saying, “The staff there that runs it and controls the community gardens has been more than helpful to everyone down there in any way that they can, advising and giving any aid that they have been able to provide to help grow our gardens.”
For Father Durkin, the community garden is a blessing, fleshing out a new role for St. Henry. With the gardens, according to Father Durkin, the opportunity exists to bring different people together in a common effort as well as to teach the young the values of appreciation and gratitude.
“It brings people together,” Father Durkin says, “Working together, all different nationalities of people in the area and the garden have benefited those who’ve chosen to participate and cultivate in the garden. It’s also a good teaching tool to teach the young people what is required, the care needed to cooperate with God’s graces, to help things grow. It can help them to understand because we don’t always realize where our food comes from, that it comes from God through our efforts.”
“It’s still serving,” Gerardot says about St. Henry offering the garden, “Still doing something good. We don’t have a school like what we went to growing up, but it’s still doing a service.”
And that’s something any community can benefit from.
For more information about the community garden, contact Paul Gerardot at 260-441-7000, ext. 126. The boxes are available at no charge. Participants in the fall harvest sale are encouraged to give a portion of their profits to church.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.