By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
PELLA — Taking inspiration from the lush prairie surrounding St. Mary Church, and his own love of fresh air, Father Jeffry Belger wanted to do something special for the church building’s fifth anniversary in July. A rosary trail calling people to the prairie — and also to prayer — seemed like a natural choice for the parish’s pastor.
“It is like walking with God,” he said.
The seed for the trail had been planted in Fr. Belger’s mind two years prior, when the land surrounding the church was converted from farmland to prairie. “The moment we did that, I started seeing an opportunity for using the space for the parish itself.”
As someone who enjoys a rustic stroll after he’s “had enough of being inside doing paperwork,” he decided to mow out a trail around the property. He started referring to it as his rosary trail, since it was just long enough to pray the rosary while walking at a standard pace, a little less than a mile.
With the fifth anniversary of the church approaching, and with the support of his parish, Fr. Belger’s creativity began to flow. He imagined ways in which he could make the rosary trail special and inviting. He decided to install sets of posts depicting the five mysteries, so walkers could contemplate any one of them as they followed the trail. Parishioners Randy Borgerding and Daniel Langenfeld helped him dig holes for the beams. Afterward, solar lamps were installed so that people could walk an illuminated path as darkness sets in.
The drawings came courtesy of Sister Mary Grace Thul, a Dominican from Delaware, whose artwork Fr. Belger discovered online. “I asked her about using the pictures, and she was just thrilled. She said yes!” Fr. Belger recalled. The drawings were first displayed on the beams in temporary fashion — laminated paper. The permanent images were exposed onto aluminum by Pella Engraving and placed on the beams last week, said employee Lowell Van Wyk, a deacon candidate from the parish.
Parishioner Aaron DeJoode added to the trail by creating a prayer garden for his Eagle Scout project. Fr. Belger said the trail and garden go hand-in-hand.
When looking at the property aerially, the trail makes the chain of the rosary, while the cross-shaped garden represents the crucifix.
Bishop Amos blessed the trail while he was at the church for the Rite of Candidacy for Holy Orders Mass July 19, praying, “Lord, send your blessing upon all who walk this trail, to pray the rosary with lips and hearts and bodies in honor of the Mother of your Son. As they meditate on the mysteries of Christ Jesus, help them to affirm by their actions the truths they treasure in their prayer. At the end of their days, may they be led into your presence by the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Fr. Belger said Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been enjoying the trail, which is adjacent to a large city park with trails of its own. “Several people told me they have been on the rosary trail and they have been praying. There are neighbors who are not Catholic that are using it, and I fully expect they will be Catholic soon,” he said with a chuckle. “At least, that is my desire!”