Posted 24 September 2011, by Cindy Hadish, Eastern Iowa Life (SourceMedia Group), easterniowalife.com
HIAWATHA — With more than 40 years in the making, Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a nature festival.
After purchasing farmland in 1962 as a potential site for a regional headquarters, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wis., had numerous offers to buy the land on the Cedar Rapids/Hiawatha border.
“The sisters could have made millions,” says Prairiewoods Director Barry Donaghue of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. “But they said, ‘Let’s see if we can make it an oasis. Let’s take care of it.’”
Betty Daugherty, a Franciscan nun and one of six founding members of Prairiewoods, initiated weekly committee meetings to determine the future of the site.
“It was a gradual process,” says Daugherty, who still resides at the center at 120 E. Boyson Road in Hiawatha.
Joann Gehling, another Franciscan nun and founding member, says planning began in earnest in 1994, once the philosophy was determined to combine ecology and spirituality into what would become known as an ecospirituality center.
Gehling, who lives near the center, says other religious communities had similar undertakings elsewhere in the country, but nothing like Prairiewoods existed in Iowa.
Their vision, based on the Franciscan philosophy of God revealed in the natural world, included restoration of the prairie and ecological practices, such as the use of natural materials and renewable energy in the buildings.
Doors of the center opened in 1996.
With 30 acres of tallgrass prairie and 40 acres of oak woodlands, the site offers the oasis that the sisters envisioned.
Picnickers and hikers walk the center’s woodland trails. Business workers find respite at retreats in the center’s main building, which sports meeting rooms, a fully-staffed kitchen and meditation room with inspiring view of the woods. Meals, cooked to perfection by chef Jill Jones, use produce grown on-site and other local foods.
One hundred solar panels generate 22,500-kilowatt hours of electricity annually and classes use a new building as a solar training facility.
Artists and writers find solitude in Prairiewoods’ two hermitages. A 19-room guesthouse also provides overnight accommodations.
People of all backgrounds and faiths use an outdoor labyrinth and traditional sweat lodge.
As Donaghue describes it, the center isn’t focused on Catholicism or any particular religion.
“We don’t proselytize,” says Donaghue, who has studied and ministered in Australia, England, Ireland, France, Israel and the Fiji Islands. “Basically, we’re trying to get people to think.”
With that in mind, Prairiewoods is home base for groups such as Wednesday Women, who meet 10-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays to explore topics related to spiritual growth, and Green Living Group, which meets 6:30-8 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month to discuss subjects such as voluntary simplicity.
Holistic treatments, including massage and reflexology, are scheduled by appointment.
Prairiewoods also offers retreats and events, including Nature Fest, scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, to celebrate the center’s 15th anniversary.
The celebration features music, games, blessing of animals, an ice cream social and environmental art and poetry from Iowa winners of the 2011 River of Words.
In a column Daugherty wrote about exploring ecospirituality, she notes that “eco” comes from oikos, a Greek word for “home.”
“Hence, ecospirituality is not about a relationship with a God in a far-away heaven,” she writes. “The Divine can be found in our daily lives, in our human relationships and in our relationship with Earth.”
What: Nature Fest at Prairiewoods
Where: 120 E. Boyson Rd., Hiawatha
When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2
Other: Event features live music by Deep Dish Divas and Bob Ballantyne; games, nature tours and outdoor activities. Ice cream social begins at 1:45 p.m.; message from Sen. Rob Hogg and storytelling at 2 p.m.; blessing of animals at 2:45 p.m. and more.
The event includes the only Eastern Iowa showing of winners of River of Words, an environmental art and poetry competition for youths ages 5 to 19.
More information: www.prairiewoods.org