One of the 80 plots at Villa St. Joseph Retreat and Ecology Centre at harvest time. Photo courtesy of Villa St. Joseph Retreat and Ecology Centre

Villa St. Joseph stresses care for God’s creation

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  • September 27, 2015

Even before Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ was released to the world in June, Villa St. Joseph Retreat and Ecology Centre in Cobourg, Ont., was teaching others about the importance of caring for all of God’s creation.

Sr. Linda Gregg and Sr. Mary Rowell, Sisters of St. Joseph, have worked to help co-ordinate retreats, events and special seminars that integrate eco-theology in a practical way.

Rowell said it’s important that the retreat centre cultivates green space that allows visitors an opportunity to be still.

“It’s increasingly difficult in our time to find places that encourage silence,” said Rowell. “It’s also the beautiful setting. It’s right on the lake (Lake Ontario)... and people are drawn to that where they can walk out in nature throughout the seasons.”

Villa St. Joseph is not only for those who attend retreats. Gregg and Rowell say it’s important to them and the retreat staff to engage the local community as well. To that end, the centre is hosting its annual day of fun for the local schoolchildren on Oct. 5 to mark the feast day of their patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, which is celebrated the day before.

The sisters will lead the children through the centre’s grounds and tour the community garden where the children will learn about where their food comes from. They will visit the milkweed fields, which are the natural habitat for monarch butterflies. They will also visit a statue of St. Francis where the children can say a prayer for their pets.

The children’s favourite St. Francis celebration tradition is a tag game the sisters invented based on the legend of St. Francis and the world of Gubbio.

“It’s kind of one of the magical stories about St. Francis. There was a wolf that was annoying this little town of Gubbio. The story goes that St. Francis... he tamed the wolf,” said Gregg. “So the tag game is where a couple of kids have mitts and they are the wolves, one of the children is dressed up as St. Francis and the rest of the children are townspeople.”

The retreat centre also has a large organic community garden with about 80 plots that local gardeners cultivate throughout the growing season.

Every year, the community celebrates the harvest with a barbecue for the local gardeners. This year’s barbecue took place on Sept. 19. What is left over from the harvest is donated to local food banks.

“I think the discipline of having a retreat and ecology centre, we are called to integrate the two very clearly,” said Gregg. “To have a contemplative dimension to an ecological faith is very important because it’s the being with each other and being with the earth.”

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