By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
WHEATLAND — An early morning thunderstorm whipped through the prairie, tossing and twisting tents set up for a 20th anniversary celebration of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat just hours before the fundraising event.
By midafternoon, the sun glowed over the Prairie as guests sipped wine, listened to the Barley House Band’s foot-tapping music, admired artists’ works and dined on garden-picked produce, locally raised meat and homemade rolls.
“What we have right now is God’s gift to us,” a grateful Sister Margaret Kruse, OSF, director of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat, told guests. She thanked them for their support, which helped make possible the 20th anniversary celebration of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary’s acquisition of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat.
Sr. Kruse also noted that plans are being firmed up for the Prairie’s programming, which will focus next year on care for the earth and climate change. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the fifth anniversary of “Laudato Si,” the encyclical of Pope Francis that addresses “Care for Our Common Home.”
The Prairie, which straddles Scott and Clinton counties along the Wapsipinicon River, abounds with wild flowers, native grass prairie woodland and rolling hills. Pollinator strips line either side of the entrance road where monarch butterflies flit to and fro. A sitting area with benches and shade trees overlooks the Prairie’s pond. A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary adds to the sense of spirituality. A rock garden swale takes an artistic approach to erosion control.
Sister Joann Kuebrich, CHM, the Prairie’s first director, reflected with nostalgia and joy on how far this place of peace and quietude has come. She remembered when her teaching colleague and friend, the late Father Vincent Fabula, OCSO, purchased the property in the mid-1990s for use as a retreat center. The property required extensive restoration, including renovation of a Victorian house.
Fr. Fabula died of cancer in 1998, just months after the retreat center opened. The property reverted back to his religious community, based at New Melleray Abbey in Peosta, which invited the Sisters of Humility to purchase it. They did so in 1999.
“The spirit of the Prairie is here; it’s a beautiful location,” Sr. Kuebrich said. “The spirit of the place is so important. It’s a place where one finds God in the quiet. In the stillness, we hear God’s voice. All are welcome to have that experience in this beautiful setting of God’s creation.”
Offering hospitality and service to people of all faiths in a sacred space of peace and beauty promotes respect for all creation, the Sisters of Humility believe. Their supporters, some of whom volunteered at the Spirit of the Prairie event, return time and again, drawn to this out-of-the-way place to refresh themselves.
Volunteers Jane Cox of Walcott and Sandy Miller of Clarence, expressed appreciation for the Prairie during a brief lull from filling guests’ plates with barbecue chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, sweet corn and homemade rolls. “We have a great time when we come out,” said Miller, who visits the Prairie with her quilting group. “We meet so many interesting people,” said Cox, who loves organic gardening, a staple of the Prairie.
Three Boy Scouts and two adults from Troop 92 in DeWitt volunteered with cleanup. The Scouts — Sam Gravert, Garrison Chrones and Adam Feller — kept an eagle eye out for dishes that needed to be cleared from tables. “It’s a good experience for us,” Chrones said.
John and Linda Molyneaux of Davenport volunteered to do dishes, and actually enjoyed doing them by hand. “I enjoy the people. I enjoy the food. I enjoy doing something that keeps the event going,” John Molyneaux said. Linda is a CHM associate and serves on the Prairie’s advisory committee.
Barbara Kieper of Palo, who coordinated the kitchen crew volunteers, said that when she served as pastor of a church in Bennett she would bring church groups to the Prairie. Today she serves on various Prairie committees. “You find the spiritual in the beauty of the grounds and in the art that people create,” she said. She’s an especially big fan of the “Cosmic Walk,” a two-mile nature trail with 22 stone markers that tell the biblical story of creation expanded with insights from science.
Still, the Prairie needs to convince more people that it’s OK to take a break from their busy world. “Just like church, it’s tough to get people to stop and breathe in the spirit that’s here,” Kieper said.
(Editor’s note: For more information about Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat, go to www.chmiowa.org/retreat or call (563) 336-8401.)