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PLACE OF PRAYER Sacred Heart Administrator Fr. Kien Kieu is overseeing a new prayer garden at the Anza parish. LEFT: The garden includes several statues including St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. TOP RIGHT: Parishioners tend to the garden. BOTTOM RIGHT: A fountain was used as a beautiful flowerpot. BOTTOM LEFT: A parishioner paints a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

By Leslie Ann Brosterhous

ANZA—There is something new and exciting at Sacred Heart in Anza. It’s a brand-new outdoor prayer garden for everyone to enjoy!

Father Kien Kieu, Administrator of Sacred Heart, is heading up the project, which spans 1.5 acres on the church grounds.

“When I got here in 2020 and looked around, I knew I could be of help but I didn’t know just what to do,” he said. “So I asked the Virgin Mary, ‘What can I do to help these people?’”

His prayer was answered. “I saw that the people needed a special place for prayer in their times of need,” Fr. Kieu explained.

Fr. Kieu said since churches aren’t always open, especially during the pandemic, people often find themselves without a special place to pray. He felt that this prayer garden, which is open every day except Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., would help address that problem.

Taking on projects of this size is nothing if not typical for Fr. Kieu. He has also helped secure a new well for the parish, which had been in desperate need of replacement when he arrived. “There was so little running water when I came here, I could not take a shower!” he said.

Fr. Kieu has worked on many similar projects at his former parish assignments over the years, including a prayer garden he started at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Indio in 2014.
In his second year of work on the garden at Anza, most of the funding will come from donations, not just from the parishioners themselves but also from people Fr. Kieu has known around the world over the years, including some in his native Vietnam.

The centerpiece of the garden will be a massive marble monument that he is having built and shipped from Vietnam. Figures depicted on it include Our Lady of Fatima, St. Joseph and eight angels. The monument stands more than six feet tall and should arrive by the end of the year (the parish is just waiting for shipping permits and county approvals).

Having the monument built in Vietnam is a prudent decision, cost-wise – the cost of constructing it in Vietnam is about $300,000, as compared to $500,000 if it was made in the U.S., according to Fr. Kieu.

And Fr. Kieu is all about saving money. He does much of the work himself, including growing many of the flowers for the garden.

“I grow many flowers here and we will have all different colors of flowers, all the colors of the rainbow,” he said, “and they are so cheap, I can get a big bag for $2.00!”

Fr. Kieu might do a lot of the work himself, but he has also gotten a lot of help from his parishioners. Linda Burdick, one such parishioner who volunteers on the project, said she was impressed with Fr. Kieu’s work. “It was all weeds before and now people can come here to pray,” she said.

“We plant flowers with Father and take care of the 20 fruit trees and keep the grounds clean,” she explained. Burdick said they also help with painting and putting cement for walkways and they also work on the shade cover area, where people can gather after Mass.

According to Fr. Kieu, the only two significant expenses for the garden itself were the cement and the shade cover, totaling about $3,500.

The grounds will be divided into two sections: the monument will be placed on one side, and on the other side, there will be statues including the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Jude, each costing about $4,000. These statues were funded by donations, according to Fr. Kieu.

“Fr. Kieu will do anything to help us and he works harder than anyone,” said Burdick. “He will use things we already have here at the church and turn it into something new and beautiful. Like our old fountain – it had to be moved for the garden. So Father placed it at the front of the church grounds, making it into a lovely flower planter.”

The garden will be connected throughout with brick and stone pathways and Fr. Kieu is doing almost all of this work by himself. “Even when we say to him, ‘Father, we can hire someone to do this for you and make it easier,’ he tells us there is no need, that it is better to do the work ourselves,” said Burdick.

And so he does just that: brick-by-brick. Fr. Kieu accepts brick and stone donations of any kind or condition.

“The bricks are all different and some are broken, like people, and when you put the parts back together and join them with others, they become whole again. We are like the bricks: when we come together, all of us imperfect and work together for the Lord, we create something whole and beautiful. I call it a community of love for God,” said Fr. Kieu.

Leslie Ann Brosterhous is a freelance writer from St. Vincent Ferrer, Menifee.