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A Sacred Place of Reflection and Prayer
Rachelle Garbarine

Chances are that on a visit to Cardinal Gibbons you wandered away from the bustle and discovered the Stations of the Cross Prayer Garden, a ribbon of green set hard against the school. Now, this sacred place of reflection and prayer, which embodies the faith life at the center of our school community, is undergoing renewal.

The stations that stood vigil in the garden for nearly a decade are gone and will be replaced with hand-carved wooden stations on loan from St. Francis of Assisi parish in Raleigh. (Mark DeLaRosa pictured above left holding one of the stations) The stations graced the walls of the parish’s church until they were removed some 20 years ago and stored in the friary’s attic.

Blessing of the garden with Bishop Burbidge circa 2009

Discussions about renewing the stations and the garden at Gibbons began over the last year and work is proceeding in stages. Completion is expected before the Lenten season of 2019, notes Theology Educator Mark DeLaRosa, who traditionally prays the stations with his students during Wednesdays in Lent. Mark is a prime mover behind the change together with members of his department and retired landscape architect Jack Arnold, a former Gibbons Theology Educator. Jack, who recently re-engaged with the school, designed the original garden that hundreds of students and classroom and office educators created over 14 weekends.

The garden is dedicated to the memory of two Gibbons students - Brandon James Allen and Thomas Austin Cope - who died in a car accident during their sophomore year. It was a gift to the school by their fellow Class of 2009 students. Meanwhile, Ben Halula ’11 created the stations as his Eagle Scout project. Designed with a decidedly modern look, the stations were arranged in three groups of four stations, along a flagstone path shaded by trees and shrubs. Former Bishop of Raleigh Michael Burbidge blessed the garden and stations in the fall of 2009, (pictured above right) during our school’s 100th anniversary Homecoming weekend, drawing a huge crowd of students, educators, parents, and friends of Gibbons.

Principal Jason Curtis said the “history of the garden speaks to our community’s ownership of spiritual formation opportunities, as well as the commitment to spaces on campus where we can have both shared and individual faith experiences.”

Since then time and nature took their toll. “After almost 10 years of student use as a place of solitude and reflection, the Memorial Garden was in need of renewal,” notes Jack.  To refresh both the stations and the garden discussions ensued among Mark, Jack, and Gibbons administrators. The stations, however, proved to be beyond repair, Mark notes, adding that he reached out to Ben who graciously agreed that the stations he created be replaced. 

Refreshing the Prayer Garden

Ultimately, all parties involved decided that using the stations from St. Francis, which need little restorative work, was the answer. At the same time, the garden has been refreshed. Under a bright blue sky one spring day Mark, Jack, and a group of students and parents (pictured left) spent time, “filling in the open areas of the garden with ground covers and hedge plantings as well as adding some additional camellia bushes,” Jack says.

The old abstract stations also have been removed. All but the black poles on which they rested remain, awaiting the more classic stations from St. Francis parish, “which are sculptured in wood and will be mounted in protective enclosures,” notes Jack. This renewal project when complete, adds Mark, will return to Cardinal Gibbons, “a powerful instrument to help us pray the Passion and Death of Christ.”

Principal Jason Curtis said the “history of the garden speaks to our community’s ownership of spiritual formation opportunities, as well as the commitment to spaces on campus where we can have both shared and individual faith experiences.”  He added, “the use of the stations from St. Francis will help remind us of the legacy of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, who ministered the school from 1996 to 2004, and our wonderful partnership with local Catholic middle schools and parishes, including St. Francis.”