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St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Riverside gave students a peaceful space to pray and beautified their campus with their new rosary garden, unveiled in October during the Month of the Rosary.

“We have very little space at St. Catherine’s. But one of our big goals is to make sure that we have Catholic icons and things so that when they’re on campus, students feel very much connected to their Catholic faith. It’s very important to us,” said St. Catherine Principal Theresa Heron.

Ever since she was appointed principal, Heron would notice the students using the small strip of empty land that now holds the garden as a quiet space during recess. It gave her the idea of transforming the little area into a place of prayer.

In 2020, Heron and a group of parents started a monthly rosary group that was held over Zoom due to COVID. Each class would take turns leading the Rosary, and Heron said it began to lead to a real love of the Rosary among the school community.

That, coupled with the previous idea to make a prayer garden, led to the decision to start turning the nondescript small piece of land into a beautiful rosary garden dedicated to Our Lady.

After holding a fundraiser which raised over $25,000, the garden was built this summer, with the help of a parent who is a landscaper and donated his time and talents to the project. The garden includes a large rosary made of stones, a Marian grotto, a fountain and some stone benches under the shade of a tree, with lush green grass underfoot. There are plans to install a display that explains how to pray the Rosary and the mysteries of the Rosary, as well as an outdoor Stations of the Cross in an adjacent space.

The Stations will also include a Way of the Cross Pathway with each stone sponsored by school parents. The school is planning on holding another fundraiser to pay for the Stations and hope to have the entire project completed in the next six months.

The garden will now be the site of the student body rosaries, and Heron said students are enjoying having the new space. “At recess time, we’ll go out there and the students are sitting there in prayer or in quiet ... Sometimes they’ll bring out books to read and that’s just their beautiful time to spend with Mary,” said Heron. “The fountain is always going so it’s just very peaceful. Again, we’re associating the beautiful things, our Catholic faith, with every day school. So it’s a part of their school day as opposed to something separate.”

Heron said that, especially during the anxiety of the pandemic, they found that practicing prayer gave a sense of peace to the students. “Knowing that they can take all things to God in prayer, we’re finding that the children are much more well-adjusted. They love talking to our Lord. It’s having God more as a friend and confidant, instead of something far away, like having it where prayer is only at church.

“We really want them to have prayer at school at all times, not just not just during religion and not just in the classroom, but in everything that they do all day long can be a prayer for them, and knowing that they could sit there in prayer and just talk to Mother Mary the same way they would their friends. It’s like a person who’s part of their day,” said Heron.