Holy Wisdom Monastery Makes Visionary Land Acquisition, Launches Wisdom Prairie Project

Mike Sweitzer-Beckman Benedictine Bridge, Care for the Earth, Wisdom Prairie Project Leave a Comment

The new Wisdom Prairie Project land is adjacent to the monastery grounds (see monastery in background). Restoration efforts will turn the rows of corn into native prairie.

“Restoring the Land, Protecting the Lakes.”

That’s the theme of the latest visionary project of the Benedictine Women of Madison, known as the Wisdom Prairie Project.

Learn more about the Wisdom Prairie Project through this five minute video.

The sisters are pleased to take a leap of faith in living out the caring for the earth portion of their mission by acquiring 53 acres of farmland adjacent to their current property with the help of a $1 million lead gift from an anonymous donor.

“Caring for the earth is increasingly important in an area that is rapidly urbanizing,” said Mary David Walgenbach, OSB, prioress of the Benedictine Women of Madison. “Now is the time to look at this parcel of land that was up for sale, and we hope that the community will support us in the efforts to conserve more open space, restore it to prairie, and ultimately improve the water quality in the Lake Mendota watershed.”

Mendota overlook
Holy Wisdom Monastery overlooks Lake Mendota. Restored prairie protects the lake by absorbing runoff containing phosphorus from reaching the lake.

The 53 acre parcel was on the market beginning in 2011 as part of an estate sale. There were other buyers interested in the property, which could have led to the urban development of 50 single-acre homes. The sisters had a different vision for this parcel: open space for guests to enjoy and restored prairie to reduce the runoff of pollutants (especially phosphorous) into the Lake Mendota watershed across the street. The sisters are also partnering with Dane County to construct a bike trail on the north side of Lake Mendota, with hopes of connecting Governor Nelson State Park to the trails on the Pheasant Branch Nature Conservancy in Middleton. This parcel was the ‘missing link’ from having this happen.

Restored prairie on the grounds of Holy Wisdom Monastery. The beauty attracts guests and wildlife.

The sisters acquired the property in September 2012 for $1.7 million, with the feeling that it is the right thing to do to preserve open space on the north side of Lake Mendota. An anonymous donor stepped forward with a $1 million lead gift, and a fundraising effort was launched to raise a total of $1.9 million to cover the cost of acquisition and restoration of the property.

“We support the sisters’ work to care for the earth at Holy Wisdom Monastery, reducing phosphorous runoff in the Lake Mendota watershed through prairie restoration,” said Don Heilman, President of the Clean Lakes Alliance. “The monastery is a treasure for all those who enjoy our open spaces and lakes.”

The sisters’ board chartered a Land Management Committee, made up of six volunteers and staff, to set policies and guidelines for the restoration efforts and volunteer involvement on the property. The monastery also hired Biologic Environmental Consulting to conduct a 12 month study of the property and create a land management plan in order to best integrate the new parcel into the current monastery property. Prairie restoration efforts will begin after the study is complete in December 2013.

“The monastery land is an island of ecologically valuable habitat in a sea of agricultural and residential land use,” said Mike Healy, restoration ecologist at Biologic Environmental Consulting. “If this land wasn’t prairie, it wouldn’t support nearly as many species of animals and plant life. It’s worth noting that in addition to this being a large parcel on its own, there is some habitat connectivity for birds in Governor Nelson State Park across the street.”

In August 2012 we formed a planning team to begin shaping the fundraising effort and design materials to support the vision of the project. We hired longtime monastery volunteer Greg Armstrong in December to help with our fundraising efforts. Greg brings over 20 years of experience as the retired director of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and jumped in with grant writing, research and outreach to potential donors.

We’ve been meeting with members of our Sunday Assembly and Oblate communities, as well as care for the earth enthusiasts, about our efforts. In July, we had 60 of our neighbors over to learn more about the project.

To date, we have raised $1,320,000 from generous individuals, foundations, corporations and government agencies. Here is a sampling of who has supported us so far (for a complete list, click here):

  • American Printing Company
  • Bank of America Foundation, Inc.
  • Consulting for Non-profits, LLC
  • Herbert H. Kohl Charities
  • High Wind Association Foundation
  • John C. Bock Foundation
  • —MGE Foundation
  • —Middleton Community Endowment
  • —Monona State Bank
  • —US Fish & Wildlife
We still have $580,000 to go, and we need your help and involvement to make this a success.

If you are interested in learning more about the Wisdom Prairie Project, taking a tour, volunteering your time, connecting us with influential people in the community, or making a donation, I would love to hear from you. Please let me know if you would like me to mail you more background materials about the Wisdom Prairie Project. Contact me at mikesb@benedictinewomen.org or 608-836-1631, x124.

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