A legacy of land conservation

Car McGinley Care for the Earth Leave a Comment

As the sisters at Holy Wisdom Monastery celebrated the summer solstice on June 21, 2022 with the many communities that call the monastery home, Mike Carlson, executive director of Gathering Waters, presented the sisters’ community, Benedictine Women of Madison, with a Land Conservation Leadership Award. The sisters received the 2022 Land Legacy Award for their conservation efforts spanning nearly 70 years.

“The Benedictine Women of Madison have created a thriving natural area that is a haven for native plants and animals, and a special place that visitors can experience and enjoy. Gathering Waters is grateful to the sisters for their dedication to land conservation and for sharing the monastery grounds with the community. The Land Legacy Award recognizes individuals, families or organizations whose extraordinary generosity and leadership has significantly benefited land conservation in Wisconsin” –Gathering Waters

Reverence for creation is a deeply held Benedictine value. When the sisters arrived on the land, that today is Holy Wisdom Monastery, they put down roots, literally and figuratively. Early care for the earth practices included planting trees, contouring and planting grass waterways, converting highly erodible hillsides to woodland and savanna areas using the government Conservation Reserve Programs and holding volunteer workdays.

In the 1990s the first master plan for the grounds was created and several major restoration projects started. In 1996, Lost Lake was dredged and 85,000 cubic yards of silt was removed in order to return the glacial lake to its original size. Prairie restoration began in 1996 and continues today. More than 120 acres of prairie and oak savanna was seeded using seeds collected or donated by volunteers. Since then, several threatened and endangered species have been spotted at Holy Wisdom, including the Red-headed Woodpecker, rusty-patched bumblebee and regal fritillary butterfly.

In 2010, the sisters received the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for their new monastery building, and at the time was the ‘greenest’ building in the US for a LEED new construction building. In 2012 they purchased 53 acres adjacent to monastery land that was slated for development. In 2014, the Friends of Wisdom Prairie community started as a group committed to caring for the earth at the monastery. Also in this year, they installed 463 new solar panels that generated 60% of the building’s energy use. Their goal is to generate 100% of their energy needs onsite within the next two years.

The sisters did not accomplish this work alone. They worked in partnership with coworkers, hundreds of volunteers, agencies and organizations. Beyond their work on the monastery grounds, the sisters have partnered with Dane County on the restoration and stewardship of county lands, including the North Mendota Wildlife Area next to the monastery. They have set aside land for a planned biking and hiking path that will connect to Governor Nelson State Park in the future.

“The sisters at Holy Wisdom rejoice today as we receive the Land Legacy Conservation Leadership Award from Gathering Waters. Members of all the communities of Holy Wisdom share in countless ways in our mission of care for the earth. We rejoice together.” –Sister Mary David Walgenbach, OSB, Prioress

We invite you to come to Holy Wisdom Monastery to experience the quiet beauty of creation and see the restored land. Walk the nature trails, volunteer on the land and donate to support the sisters’ care for the earth efforts.

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Click to read award nomination letters

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