Spiritual garden to open near Curracloe
A priest and a Wexford secondary school teacher are close to opening a new centre for religious education and spirituality in the grounds of a former four-acre walled garden near Curracloe.
For Michael Drumm and Tom Gunning, the Parable Garden and Education Centre has been a two-year labour of love which has seen an overgrown and abandoned garden transformed and reborn as the place of beauty it once was.
'We've built a small centre there to facilitate daytime interaction with groups,' said Michael, a diocesan priest and lecturer in theology for many years, including at the Mater Dei, in Dublin.
'It's only at the beginning. We're planning to open it at Easter,' said Michael.
'It's in a beautiful place and a lot of what we will be doing will focus on guided walks with groups through the forest with audio.. it will be a lot about the use of the natural environment,' he said of the centre, near Ballinesker.
Michael and Tom, a teacher at Loreto Secondary School in Wexford and a well-known author of several books in second-level religious education, have invested their own money in the project, but it was never the intention to create it as a money-maker.
'It was created as a service to the community, providing an education service for adults.. it was our intention to open up a small space for people to reflect on their lives in a deeper way,' said Michael.
'People are welcome to come and see what's on offer,' he said.
While inspired by Christian and Irish traditions all who would like to discover a deeper meaning in their lives are welcome the garden, billed as a garden for the soul and an experience for the spirit.
Reflecting on the new project Tom said:
'People ask questions and they reflect on life but we need to find new ways for adults to answer this need. Our project was set up to do things in a new way. In a spiritual sense, 'In a landscape of forest, hilltop and seashore we believe we have found a good balance between multimedia and technology and the use of the natural landscape to facilitate this. Traditionally people have used sacred places and sacred times to help them reflect on the big questions that challenge their lives. But the traditional ways don't always work anymore so we were set up to discover a new sacred landscape amidst the distractions and challenges of modern life,' said Tom.
Tom and Michael have jointly written two books reflecting on the importance of symbols and rituals in our lives. A Sacramental People Volumes 1 and 2 are practical books suggesting ways in which Christian rituals might find deeper echoes in people's lives.
The image on the front of the books is of an open door through which light shines.
Every doorway is a threshold, an in-between place; it is an invitation to enter, to begin again, to consider which way to go. This idea of 'threshold' is the foundation of the Parable Garden Education Project.
The Parable Garden is itself a threshold place with its hilltop, seashore and forest. But it also has a walled garden that suggests something about enclosure, about the interior life of each of us.
'Celebrating the key threshold times and events in our lives is a doorway to a deeper inner life. In the Parable Garden important thresholds are celebrated in symbol and ritual,' said Michael.
The walled garden was built during the middle of the 19TH century to enclose an orchard.
Long since lost under weeds and ivy it has now been brought back to life as the Parable Garden Education Project.
'Our focus is on adult education. We believe that education did not end the day that young people left school or college but that it must continue throughout adult life. This is especially true of spirituality and religious education.'
'It is interesting to know that the word 'education' comes from the Latin meaning 'to lead out' or 'to draw out'. In the Parable Garden we want to lead you out into a deeper understanding of many spiritual and religious insights that have guided people for centuries. Further, we want to facilitate you in drawing out your own wisdom from your deeper self, based on what you have learned about life.'
In their planning application, Tom and Michael estimated that around 1,500 people a year would use the retreat centre, which will include an audio visual room and will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday.