The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ROB HOWARD Church

Ev­ery gar­den story is about trans­for­ma­tion: from bar­ren ground to oa­sis, from one type of gar­den to an­other.

But the story of the gar­dens around St. Pa­trick’s Church, at King Street East and Vic­to­ria Av­enue South, just east of down­town Hamil­ton, is one of a much greater trans­for­ma­tion.

It’s the story of a church be­com­ing a key­stone, a linch­pin, of the com­mu­nity around it.

King and Vic­to­ria is one of the busiest in­ter­sec­tions in the city: 18wheel­ers, com­muters, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans fight for space as Vic­to­ria car­ries Moun­tain traf­fic to the North End and King nar­rows for its pas­sage through the core.

It’s not an area that gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has come to. Many of the area’s res­i­dents are liv­ing in poverty, with ad­dic­tions and/or men­tal health is­sues.

There is more to this story: up to 350 peo­ple come to St. Pa­trick’s for a hot breakfast and lunch ev­ery day of the year.

A free bar­be­cue is held ev­ery Fri­day, for which neigh­bours pa­tiently (for the most part) line up.

But this is a story about its gar­dens. The sad part is that most Hamil­to­ni­ans will only glimpse the gar­dens from their cars, trav­el­ling at 50 kilo­me­tres an hour or im­pa­tiently wait­ing for a light to turn.

This sum­mer, though, it’s hard to miss. From Vic­to­ria, the bright pink of dozens of well-tended hy­drangeas, ac­com­pa­nied by pur­ple-flow­er­ing hostas, is a bea­con in a grey area. A fab­u­lous per­gola — con­structed by a parish­ioner in mem­ory of his fa­ther — stretches from the side­walk to the church’s (ac­ces­si­ble) side en­trance.

It’s only when you get closer that you see the fish carved at each cor­ner and the cross at each end.

From King, two great wide flower beds bracket the en­trance path, curv­ing like em­brac­ing arms.

The “head gar­dener” here is An­drea Fack­el­mann, parish­ioner and leader of a tiny band of fel­low vol­un­teers who have trans­formed the prop­erty. They are in­spired and guided and en­cour­aged by Fa­ther Tony O’Dell, pas­tor at St. Pa­trick’s for the past five years.

Fa­ther Tony talks with deep com­pas­sion for the church’s neigh­bours who live in des­per­ate cir­cum­stances, some in “six by eight rooms — they have no space at all.”

The church space, in­side and out­side, is for them, he says. This was a vi­o­lent neigh­bour­hood, he says, with a lot of ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling and gang ac­tiv­ity. He and the pas­toral team set out to build a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship, to make friends with the neigh­bours who live in rooms above the stores and bars across the street. Now, he says, the guys sit­ting on the stoop across the street watch out for the church, and for him as he walks around the area.

Fa­ther Tony en­cour­ages the flock to live the gospel, to take their faith out from Sun­day masses to the world around them the other 6½ days of the week. He talks of the “church out­side” and of two great sig­ni­fiers of that; the first was rip­ping down the fences that used to sur­round the prop­erty.

The other sign of change at St. Pa­trick’s was the in­stal­la­tion of a bronze sculp­ture, “Home­less Je­sus,” by Cana­dian sculp­tor Ti­mothy Sch­malz, that de­picts Je­sus as a home­less per­son, sleep­ing on a park bench. It’s not the cen­tre­piece of the gar­dens but, sit­u­ated on the street cor­ner, it’s the anchor.

Mean­while, An­drea and her team — “Luigi and Karen and An­na­marie” — started re­plant­ing hy­drangeas on the Vic­to­ria Av­enue side of the church and clean­ing up a small cor­ner bed by the car park.

“Three years ago it was a mud hole,” says An­drea.

Now it over­flows with healthy bushes and or­na­men­tal trees.

Last year and this year, bor­ders along­side the church and flank­ing the two-month-old per­gola were la­bo­ri­ously dug over (it’s clay here) and old roots were re­moved so they could be re­planted.

The new bor­ders out front are planted with shrubs and small trees and grasses, more hy­drangeas, hostas, an­nu­als and, ap­pro­pri­ately, car­di­nal flower. Two won­der­ful con­tain­ers over­flow­ing with plants stand be­tween the bor­ders and the church’s main en­trance. It’s done in peace­ful soft greens and yel­lows with small splashes of red. It all says “wel­come.”

“Peo­ple try­ing to re­cover from al­co­hol or drugs — they’ve told me they like to come here. It has peace and calm,” says Fa­ther Tony. “We want to cre­ate a place for (our neigh­bours), a space for them.”

“A wel­com­ing space,” adds An­drea.

Rob Howard lives and gar­dens in Hamil­ton. Find him on Face­book at Rob Howard: Gar­den writer or email him at gar­den­writer@bell.net

A ded­i­cated group of vol­un­teers has trans­formed the gar­dens at St. Pa­trick’s into a show­piece in the core.

Fa­ther Jay Pa­chocki in front of the church.


A new gar­den trel­lis cov­ers the Vic­to­ria Street side en­trance, where peo­ple us­ing walk­ers and wheel­chairs can safely en­ter the main sanc­tu­ary of the church.

“Peo­ple try­ing to re­cover from al­co­hol or drugs — they’ve told me they like to come here. It has peace and calm,” says Fa­ther Tony O’Dell.


The church gar­dens are a pub­lic space en­joyed by ev­ery­one in the area, not just parish­ioners.

Head vol­un­teer An­drea Fack­el­mann can’t be­lieve how lush the hy­drangeas look in the gar­den.

Tiger lilies, cone flow­ers, hy­drangeas and hostas add colour to the gar­dens around St. Pa­trick’s Church.

This is the story of a church be­com­ing a key­stone, a linch­pin, of the com­mu­nity around it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.