Gardening around the Congregation

Posted by Spalding Hurst

July 23, 2021

For Sisters Anne Marie O’Shea and Ann Whittaker, the practice of gardening has provided a powerful avenue for community and peacebuilding. Sisters Anne Marie and Ann have lived in the Catherine Spalding House in Brockton for over twenty years and have spearheaded its transformation to, as they call it, “a healing place, a real gift to us and to the community”. Today, Anne Marie and Ann tend a bountiful kitchen garden, a luscious herb garden, and a native pollinator garden – the harvests of which they enjoy and share with their community.

Anne Marie and Ann’s city of Brockton, Massachusetts is home to a strong community of Hmong refugees, an ethnic group that migrated from Laos following the Vietnam War. It was these refugees, specifically the women, that inspired Anne Marie and Ann to garden. The Hmong women organized and oversaw gardens on the land, and this empowered the refugee community to lead other initiatives on the property such as afterschool programs, summer camps, and women’s retreats. College students and community volunteers became involved by clearing land and planting; a community beekeeper kept bees on the property. Before they knew it, Anne Marie and Ann’s grounds had become a place where everyone could be grounded in and inspired by Mother Earth. 

Today, Anne Marie and Ann continue the work of the Hmong women by caring for their own gardens. Anne Marie and Ann grow greens in shaded areas of their yard, including kale, Swiss chard, and bok choy. They also grow tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Anne Marie and Ann acknowledge that their gardens provide “plenty for us and plenty to share”, which they do with frequency. They believe in the utility of edible landscaping, so they grow herbs such as parsley, lavender, and basil in their front garden, along with native plants such as black-eyed Susans.

In considering their garden and the community that motivated them to get involved, Sisters Anne Marie and Ann share that:

“It is the land where we meet the sacred; this has really spoken to us in a way that is holy. We see reflected in the land what is happening to us [and our communities] internally, and we bring to the land the pain of the world.”

Anne Marie and Ann’s lifestyles are a testament to these values that they hold dear. They strive to eat plant-based meals – vegetables, grains, and occasionally fish. What they don’t grow themselves or receive from neighbors, they buy from organic, local farms. Anne Marie and Ann also compost, a process that results in rich fertilizer for their gardens.

Thank you, Sisters Anne Marie and Ann, for sharing a glimpse into your passion for a happier, healthier Earth!

By Julia Gerwe


  1. Eugenie Coakley scna

    The garden and land around Catherine Spalding House are a sight to behold; they emanate a peace borne of a land that is prayed over and attended. Thank you Ann and Anne Marie!

  2. Sister Ann Susan

    Thank you, Anne and Anne Marie, for all you have given and done for all of us, Your Sisters.

    thank you

  3. Tess Browne

    Ann and Anne Marie set the welcome table for all who enter Catherine Spalding House, including SCN/As in MA. Two weeks ago at our SCN/A “reunion”, we enjoyed fresh salad greens from their garden. You two are blessing to so many🙏🏽💞🦋🐇🦃🐿

  4. pat bartolo

    What a side coincidence! I am in the middle of reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, a non-fiction account, given to me by Kenna, one of our college interns here, both harrowing and enlightening on each page.

  5. Ann Palatty

    An excellent example of caring for our common home.

  6. Maggie Cooper

    Wow! What you are doing is wonderful and inspiring! What a creative venture! Thank you, Julia, for helping with the story!

  7. Elizabeth Field

    “It is the land where we meet the sacred; this has really spoken to us in a way that is holy.” I love your statement here, and the inspiration you share in this!


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