No matter the amount of adversity that befalls us, Father Francis Foley holds that we should always “…turn to God to recognize His abundant love and blessings.”
Since last August, those he guides as the pastor of St. Gabriel Parish have had the opportunity to call on the revamped holy space’s St. Mary’s Garden to augment their devotion to their creator and to seek solace during perplexing periods.
“I am eager for everyone to see it as an oasis of hope, faith, and spiritual fulfillment,” Father Foley said on Saturday, as ample morning sunlight provided a comforting complement to the garden’s components.
“People stop here all the time to pray. I value that because I know they respect the sense of beauty and peace that everything here is trying to convey.”
Marking his two-year anniversary at the Grays Ferry parish this month, the pastor, whose previous time serving the Lord includes a much-enjoyed stint as the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Chaplain, relayed that, as with many other sections of the city, his South Philadelphia community has been experiencing rough times.
Having arrived at St. Gabriel’s a year after the pandemic had halted plans to celebrate its 125th anniversary, he sought to make good on the “A Glorious Past and a Brilliant Future” theme by addressing, among other considerations, the state of the garden. Random trees and weeds had come to count as unwanted congregants, so Father Foley looked to make the substantial green space a true source of inspiration yet again.
“The purpose of the modification was to highlight all that is good, and true, and beautiful,” he said of bolstering belief and encouraging rejuvenated connections with Christ, unions that he feels tie in perfectly with the three-year-long National Eucharistic Revival that on June 19 will be one-third complete.
“Renewal has to do with the inside and the realization that a relationship with our Savior doesn’t disappoint.”
To strengthen individuals’ interior resolve, Father Foley is making great use of the church’s landscaped exterior through statues of Christ the King of Peace, which came from Sharon Hill’s Holy Spirit Parish, and Our Lady of Grays Ferry, a find from the ecclesiastical exchange that has the Blessed Virgin Mary and a young Jesus standing together as eternal resources for the hopeful, with the child planted atop a globe.
Two patios have also joined the garden, with the priest having recently helped to add engraved pavers with personal sentiments inscribed on them to the areas.
“This is a beautiful parish,” Father Foley said as he walked across the flower-heavy garden that also serves as the burial grounds for three of the first five pastors of Saint Gabriel’s. “I see what we have tried to do here as a little uplift for the people and a further way to acknowledge God’s continued presence among us.”
With spring set to succumb to summer soon, he looks forward to having even more welcoming weather to draw his flock to the haven and mentioned wanting to set up tables and chairs so that post-Mass gatherings can occur there, too.
Given the unifying allure that the garden possesses, Father Foley would like to see it become a means to attract more couples to have their weddings at Saint Gabriel’s, as the green space serves as a perfect symbol for growth and trust.
No matter the season or calendar date, the spot, which will soon welcome a brass sundial and will, come Advent, feature a Nativity scene, will always serve as a figurative beacon, with literal lights assisting matters at night.
“We can’t deny the depth of the challenges we face,” Father Foley stated. “We can’t yield to them either. Prayer helps. Every attempt to connect with God does the same, and this garden has the ability to give us additional hope.”
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