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John Stokes and Mary's Gardens

Portage Mary Garden

St. Catherine of Siena Parish Mary Garden Portage, Michigan

church exterior

In 1993 a superb Mary Garden was established at St. Catherine of Siena Parish Church in Portage, Michigan - through the initiative of Pastor Fr. Thomas Stanley, S.M., noted in Mary Garden annals for his planting in 1954 of the first Mary Garden at a diocesan shrine, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes at Bergamot, Dayton, Ohio.

The St. Catherine of Siena Mary Garden, extending along the entire sunny south side of the church building, was designed with a free-form border and a central path, terminating in two loops around circular terminal beds - as an harmonious enhancement blending in with the building structure.

As a focal figure for the Mary Garden's beds of symbolical Flowers of Our Lady, Father Stanley and the parishioners conceived and commissioned the specially crafted bronze "Mary, Model of the Church" statue, installed in the spring of 1986 and dedicated and liturgically blessed that summer by the Most Rev. Alfred Markiewicz, Bishop of the Kalamazoo Diocese during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the diocese.

Blessing by Bishop Markiewicz

Fr. Markiewicz during the blessing

In a representation of the Second Vatican Council's presentation of Mary as Model of the Church, Mary is portrayed in the beauty of pregnancy with the fruit of her womb, Jesus: "The Woman" of Genesis whose seed God promised would conquer Satan; the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth who conceived "the Son of the Most High" by the Holy Spirit; and The Woman of Revelation, "with child, and in anguish of delivery", saved from the enmity of the dragon.

A special contribution to Marian symbolism is made by the protective flowers growing up around Mary in the sculpture, and, by extension, in the Mary Garden - representing, in the words of Revelation, the saving action of nature protecting The Woman and thwarting the dragon, portrayed here as under her heel.

This sculptured representation of The Woman, with child, and holding a rose in her hand, is mirrored by the tulips, strawberries and roses of the surrounding Mary Garden. The tulip is held to be a emblem of The Woman from its symbolism of her soul opening upwards in prayer to a filling with grace. The strawberry is a symbol of Mary's Virgin Fruitfulness through its bearing of fruit while still in flower (and of her Perpetual Virginity through its continuing to flower while in fruit). The rose, "the Rose wherein the Divine Word became incarnate" of Dante and venerated in the rose windows of the great cathedrals, is a medieval symbol of the miraculous "Flowering stem of Jesse" of Isaish's prophecy of the birth of the Messiah.

"Clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars", the Woman of Revelation is symbolized in the Mary Garden by marigolds (Mary's Gold), lunaria (Moon Flower), cornflowers (Mary's Crown) and daffodils (Mary's Stars). The daisy, "Mary's Flower of God", brings to mind Mary's own pondering of flowers in her heart on her trip to visit Elizabeth, as symbols of the blossom, Christ, she was to bear. Dragon Arum represents the subdued Dragon, with red flames issuing from his mouth, and Mary's own protective action is represented by dill, "devil-away".


Further, all the Spring flowers of May are seen as mirrors of Mary's fruitfulness, as set forth in Hopkins' "May Magnificat":

. . . What is Spring?-
Growth in every thing- . . .
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Nature's motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:

Spring's universal bliss

Much, had much to say

To offering Mary May. . . .

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation."

Moved to reflection by "Mary, Model of the Church", and by the surrounding flowers mirroring the statue's symbolism, the visitor to the St. Catherine of Siena Parish Mary Garden is likewise called to reflection on the many other "Flowers of Our Lady" of the Mary Garden - symbolizing the fullness of Mary's life, mysteries, excellences and prerogatives, in her intimate union and close cooperation with the saving action of her Divine Son and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The John Stokes and Mary's Garden collection was transferred to the Marian Library in May 2013. In addition to his archives, manuscripts, artwork, and personal library, John S. Stokes also donated his extensive website. It was transferred to the Marian Library in 2010. This particular entry is archived content original to Stokes' Mary's Gardens website. It is possible that some text, hyperlinks, etc. are outdated.


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