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Grace of the Garden

Sister Grace Scola gardening nun Encore Magazine
At 91, this nun brings others fresh food, flowers and fun

She’s 91, but Sister Grace Scola is still growing.

Since this nun retired four years ago, she has turned her talents to gardening and providing food, flowers and fun for the more than 100 nuns residing at the Congregation of St. Joseph of Nazareth, on Gull Road.

“I just want to beautify our property and provide fresh tomatoes to the sisters, many of whom grew up on the farm,” Scola says. “They so appreciate home-grown tomatoes!”

During the spring and summer Scola grows tomatoes, herbs, roses and other beautiful flowers in her garden plots on the Nazareth campus. Last summer she tended to 19 tomato plants and grew sweet basil and parsley in “special pots” to enhance the salads made in the Nazareth kitchen. And those “welcoming” pots of mandeville flowers near the east entrance of campus were hers, too.

“My dad always looked forward to having a garden every summer,” Scola says, “and Sister Mary Catherine Beda, a farm girl herself, taught me many things about gardening, especially how to organically enrich the soil.”

Although she’s a self-described “Detroit city girl,” Scola says she has always had an innate love for farms. Before she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1946, she leapt at an opportunity to work on the family farm of one of her “sister friends.”

“Deep down in my heart I must be a farm girl,” Scola says. “I was born for the outdoors and the wide-open spaces. I love being close to Mother Earth, to dig into the soil and enjoy the fruits of my labor. Nothing is more peaceful and delightful than to listen to the birds and cicadas on a quiet summer evening.”

Scola also enjoys cooking, so she and Head Nurse Jana VanAntwerp of the Nazareth Assisted Living Area created the “Meet and Eat Program,” which provides a special time for small groups of the assisted-living area’s 38 sisters to gather for a family-style, home-cooked meal of meat, potatoes, vegetable, salad and dessert, complete with linen tablecloths and napkins, fine china and goblets, candles and flowers. This opportunity occurs every two or three weeks from October to April. The groups of sisters are kept small so they can enjoy a “fancy dining” experience as well as camaraderie.

When members of the Nazareth Alumni Association learned about these dinners, they presented Scola with an annual donation to buy food and supplies. Some of Scola’s friends as well as the Nazareth sisters donate to the fund, too.

Occasionally Scola will hold tea parties at which the sisters partake of “tea and crumpets.” Then there is the annual Mardi Gras celebration Scola established. There’s a parade in the congregation’s dining room, and whichever sister finds the plastic baby Jesus in her piece of King Cake becomes king for a year and also chooses a queen for the next year’s Mardi Gras.

“When I retired at Nazareth, I knew I wanted to do something to be helpful to the sisters,” Scola says, “so I work with the assistance of others and the social committee to organize various activities. I recruit other sisters and laypeople to help. After all, ‘many hands make light work.’ It’s important to invite others to be involved so that all may enjoy the event. It is my joy to reach out to our sisters, and I’m most happy when I’m planning projects that bring an element of surprise.”

All these activities keep Scola very busy for her age. “Keeping busy and active is important, especially when arthritis sets in,” she says. “Of course, doctors always advise me to keep moving.”

Before her retirement in 2010, Scola was a pastoral minister for 25 years at Holy Family Parish in Grand Blanc, where she reached out to the bereaved, shut-ins, senior citizens and the St. Joseph Guild. She also served as principal at the former St. Jerome’s School in Battle Creek, taught at several parish elementary schools and taught French at St. Agnes High School and Powers Catholic High, both in Flint.

Scola says that she doesn’t feel that she is doing anything extraordinary in planning activities for the sisters. Instead, she sees this work as a means to gather everyone together to enjoy one another in friendly conversation.

“I’ve always treasured my call to be a Sister of St. Joseph because we have dedicated our lives to serve others,” she says. “That’s what religious life is all about. We have the privilege and freedom to use our God-given gifts and talents to minister our services to and for others.

“God has blessed me with energy and health so I have to ask myself, ‘What can I do?’ That’s what motivates me, and I do enjoy it.”

Olga Bonfiglio

There was no better writer to take on our story about the economic redevelopment of the Northside than Olga. She has taught urban development at Kalamazoo College for several years and was the host of Public Voice, a Community Access Center show interviewing local urban redevelopment leaders. She has previously written for the Huffington Post, U.S. Catholic, Planning (the trade journal for urban planners) and the Kalamazoo Gazette.

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