Faithful at a Delaware County parish have been recognized for their efforts to bear fruit – literally.

St. Cornelius Parish’s “Matthew XXV Garden” in Chadds Ford earned second place in Penn State Extension’s 19th annual Fall Festival, which took place Oct. 1 in Smedley Park, Springfield.

Judges from the extension program’s Master Gardener program – part of The Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences – said they were “quite impressed” with parishioners’ ability to successfully launch a vibrant garden “in just two years.”

Produce from the Matthew XXVV Garden at St. Cornelius Parish in Chadds Ford enables clients of the St. Agnes Day Room in West Chester to prepare fresh food for their families. (JoEllen Muntz)

This fall, the one-acre plot — established in the spring of 2021 — yielded an abundant harvest of tomatoes, peppers, squash, greens, root vegetables and herbs, along with a 10-pound watermelon.

Children in the St. Cornelius Parish Religious Education Program (PREP) also planted rows of flowers – which, along with the produce, were donated to St. Agnes Parish in West Chester for its Dorothy Day Room outreach to those experiencing poverty and homelessness.

“Between last year and this year, we’ve sent over 2,000 pounds down to the St. Agnes Day Room,” said St. Cornelius pastor Msgr. David Diamond, adding he set aside two prized watermelons for Archbishop Nelson Pérez, who is reported to have enjoyed them.

Day Room clients are “grateful for the farm fresh produce which they love to prepare for their families,” with homemade pico de gallo topping the list, said Barbara Kirby, director of outreach services at St. Agnes Parish.

In addition, “the beautiful flower bouquets cheer our Day Room guests with their vibrant colors,” she said.

The garden is a form of “catechesis that reaches even the youngest” of St. Cornelius’ parishioners, said Msgr. Diamond.

Named for the Gospel passage Matthew 25:31-46, in which Christ exhorts faithful to serve him by caring for the poor, the garden instills respect and compassion for the individual, the community and creation itself, Msgr. Diamond said.

“We introduced the children to the garden during the summer,” he said. “We blessed the garden after Mass, and talked with them about the need for caring for our common home, as Pope Francis urged in Laudato Si’.”

As it builds both faith and service, the project fosters lay involvement in parish life, he said.

A “core team” of some eight parishioners, with a group of some 12 to 16 volunteers, “has really taken over” the management of the garden, said Msgr. Diamond.

“My pastoral model is to say yes and then get out of their way,” he said. “Things are flourishing on this parish campus that have very little to do with me. I’m trying to empower people.”

Volunteer Regina Smith said the garden project is “the most rewarding” thing she’s ever done.

“To actually be involved with growing the food that we give to hungry people, and then seeing the looks on their faces when we deliver it — it’s just so wonderful and uplifting that we can help,” she said.

With Msgr. Diamond’s blessing, the garden is set to expand next year, thanks in part to funding from the parish’s Knights of Columbus council.

Irrigation drip lines for seedlings will be installed — a move welcomed by Msgr. Diamond (“I was actually out there moving sprinklers around, and that didn’t work too well”) – along with hives from a local beekeeper.

“The bees will pollinate the garden, and the beekeeper told me, ‘Next year, your garden is going to explode,’” said Msgr. Diamond.