Prairiewoods Blends Ecology and Spirituality in Faith-Based Earth-Care

Every story has a beginning, even though there may be no exact moment we can point to and say, “Here is when the first seed was planted. This is where the story began.” This is true of Prairiewoods’ story. The beginning of Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center doesn’t rest in one specific moment in time; our existence has emerged gradually and naturally over the last five decades.

This story was set in motion by Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA), a Catholic order of sisters from La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 1962, FSPA purchased just over 70 acres of farmland and woods on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids in Hiawatha, Iowa. Over the next few decades, the sisters listened to the land, contemplating what it was crying out to become. Three decades later, new discoveries about the unfolding of the universe were awakening an interest in the connection between ecology and spirituality. This new understanding explained that the Source of All Being, God, created this Earth, so we should care for it as an extension of our faith. In this context of ecospirituality a new chapter of Earth-care was born.

In 1996, FSPA opened Prairiewoods, an ecospirituality retreat and conference center. We come from a Franciscan and Catholic tradition, although we welcome people of all faiths and cultures to spend time on these 70 acres of woods and prairie, nurturing their relationships with the Creator, Earth, self and others.

Over the last 23 years, Prairiewoods has become a leader in faith-based Earth-care, offering as many as 500 programs and retreats a year on ecology, spirituality and holistic health. With our focus on ecology, we take seriously our role as partners with God in caring for Creation. Prairiewoods is blessed to be caretakers for an abundance of natural beauty and a variety of wildlife within our 70 acres of woodlands and prairies. We find joy in our responsibility to actively protect and restore the abundance of life found on our grounds.

One chapter in our ecospiritual story is our innovative gardening practices. The main building at Prairiewoods is surrounding by a Garden of Eat’n, edible landscaping that allows guests to munch on berries and leaves as they walk paths lined with sustainable, low-maintenance ground cover that is all edible! This landscaping combines form, function and practicality, offering beauty, landscaping, educational opportunities, and food and habitat for Prairiewoods’ visitors and residents. Our extensive gardens also include Green Prairie Garden, a huge organic vegetable garden tended in partnership with Metro Catholic Outreach (MCO), a local nonprofit focused on food scarcity. Green Prairie Garden provides about 1,500 pounds of fresh produce to hundreds of families in need in the community through MCO’s food pantry and to Prairiewoods guests.

At Prairiewoods, we understand that we tell our story through the choices we make. On Oct. 4, Prairiewoods and FSPA will celebrate the choice to place the majority of our 70 acres of woods and prairie into a conservation easement with Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Through this binding agreement, this land will be protected from future development so it can remain a place of peace and transformation for all who enter this sacred space and for the creatures who call it home. The terms of the easement are binding in perpetuity, limiting any future building or development on the land. As a recent statement from FSPA says, “This conservation easement seems even more significant in this time when the climate crisis we are now in threatens all of life. Trees and the land itself are our allies as we do what we are called to do.”

Now that you know what our story callus us to do, what about your story? What is it calling you to do?