The “little piece of heaven” behind St. James Catholic Church in Aitkin began with an idea a few years ago by Father David Forsman.

His vision of an outdoor Stations of the Cross, path and nature area have been realized. Now in its third growing season, the four-acre pollinator habitat project is reaching its full glory. All are welcome and encouraged to visit the Stations and nature area to clear their heads, reflect and drink in God’s creations.   

The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus’s last day on Earth as a man. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation. The Stations are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage as a person moves from station to station. At each station, the individual recalls and meditates on a specific event from Jesus’s last day. Specific prayers are recited, then the person moves to the next station until all 14 are complete. They are commonly found in churches as a series of 14 small icons or images, and can also appear along outdoor paths as at St. James. The Stations are most commonly prayed during Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays, and especially on Good Friday, the day of the year upon which the events actually occurred.

The nature area consists of pollinator habitat to benefit bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife, as well as human visitors. It was established by preparing an unused former hayfield for seeding in June 2017. Students at Totus Tuus (“Totally Yours”), an annual summer week of religious education, learned about pollinators as one of God’s creations and their importance to our food supply, then spread seeds by hand. A diverse array of native wildflowers and grasses was also drilled into the soil. The site will be maintained by prescribed burning one third to one fourth of it each year to stimulate native plants, reduce non-native plant competition, recycle nutrients, and maintain benefits to wildlife that aid plant pollination. Bluebird houses, a kestrel nest box, and an osprey nesting platform also grace the area.          

All are welcome to share in using and appreciating this “little piece of heaven”. St. James is located at 299 Red Oak Dr., Aitkin. Visitors can drive around to the left/south of the church, park near the little garage, and walk across the lawn to where the path begins and Stations of the Cross pamphlets are available. A bench awaits visitors near the end. Deep gratitude goes out to the many volunteers who helped make the Stations and nature area vision a reality. To fully love God and our brothers and sisters, we must respect, steward and share his creations on this Earth.

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