Drive back into the wooded acres that surround the Province Center for the Clerics of St. Viator, in Arlington Heights, and a garden surrounded by a white picket fence pops up.
Rows and rows of vegetables are planted, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, beans and asparagus, while a bed of flowers and another of herbs serve as its gateway.
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Planting the vegetables is a new effort this summer for the Viatorians, including lay associates, priests and brothers. Working under the leadership of the Rev. Daniel Hall, CSV, they are calling it the Viatorian Community Garden, with the intention of donating most of its fresh produce to local food pantries.
"We as a community have been very blessed," says Hall, a social studies teacher at St. Viator High School and assistant football coach. "This is something we can do to help those around us. We see it as our responsibility and our mission."
They gathered June 16 to bless the garden -- and the gardeners -- as they head into the heat of the summer and its growing season.
"We see this as a ministry," says Br. Michael Gosch, CSV, assistant provincial. "We have the land and the resources to grow food for people less fortunate."
They are approaching their growing seriously, having divided their garden into 14 raised plots and have set up walking paths between them. They also have run a water source out to the garden to ease the watering process for the many gardeners.
Their move into gardening came by way of one of the chefs who cooks for their special events. Chef Tom Leavitt of White Oak Gourmet in Arlington Heights has been involved in the sustainability movement for years and he consciously tries to purchase his ingredients from local sources.
When cooking for the Viatorians, he encouraged them to think about establishing a garden to produce their own vegetables and in general, adopt a more environmental mindset. He even made a presentation before their Provincial Council on the subject, which eventually led to the garden.
"As a chef, I'm really committed to educating people," Leavitt says, "and moving the next generation back to the land."
Hall and his group of gardeners decided to take it a step further, and produce nutritious vegetables not only for the Viatorian community, but for local food pantry clients. They figured it coincided with the congregation's mission, which is to reach out to "those accounted of little importance."
Already, they have reached out to officials with the food pantries at St. Mary Church in Buffalo Grove and to St. James Church in Arlington Heights, as well as ones at Wheeling and Schaumburg townships.
"We're committed to finding ways to help combat poverty and hunger in the Northwest suburbs," Gosch adds.
For Viatorian Associates, like Joan Sweeney and Faith Dussman, both of Arlington Heights, and Adam Clementi, technology director for the community, they jumped at the chance to try their hand at gardening for a cause.
"It's very satisfying to help those who are having a hard time putting fresh, home grown vegetables on the table," said Sweeney, who works as the community's archivist. "We just have to make sure that enough vegetables come in."
The garden also brought them back to their roots. Nearly 60 years ago, the Clerics of St. Viator converted 80 acres of farmland in Arlington Heights into their province center and headquarters for the congregation of priests and brothers working in the United States.
Many of the Viatorians who were novitiates in those early years, remember growing their own food on the land as part of their formation.
Now, with the establishment of a garden this summer on some of their back property, it seems their connection with the land has come full circle.