Franciscan Friar John Sebastian (at left) and  Franciscan Father Larry Dunham (at right) break ground on the greenhouse restoration project at The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land on May 7. (CS Photo by Javier Diaz)
Franciscan Friar John Sebastian (at left) and Franciscan Father Larry Dunham (at right) break ground on the greenhouse restoration project at The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land on May 7. (CS Photo by Javier Diaz)
The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington broke ground on their greenhouse restoration project May 7, marking the beginning of a project to make the more than 100-year-old building once again functional.

The volunteer Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild maintains the gardens at the monastery and provides fresh produce to local food banks and religious communities, including the Capital Area Food Bank, Community Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters. In 2017, the Garden Guild donated 8,000 pounds of food.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Franciscan Father Larry Dunham, the guardian of the monastery, said the Garden Guild has “a mission that is near and dear to the heart of St. Francis, and therefore near and dear to our hearts.”

He called the groundbreaking a “historic occasion” because for at least 38 years, the greenhouse, which was built in 1915, has been non-functional, or “an albatross,” he said. But with the restoration that was scheduled to begin the next day, “we are prepared to turn an albatross into a really beautiful thing” that will “serve the mission of the monastery in serving others,” said Father Dunham.

The restored greenhouse will allow the Garden Guild to harvest produce year-round, and as a result they aim to double food donations annually. The project will include stripping the iron and steel beams and adding new painting, as well as removing the existing glass and replacing it with new tempered glass. They aim to be finished at the beginning of July, and plan to dedicate the new greenhouse in the fall.

Another hope for the restored greenhouse is that it will serve as a space where the Garden Guild can invite students to come and teach them how to plant and harvest, and possibly have an observation beehive to teach them about beekeeping, since the Garden Guild also tends to beehives around the grounds of the monastery.

“It is a real stewardship of St. Francis of Assisi,” said Joe Bozik, a Garden Guild Board member, which he said includes taking care of the environment and making sure that they propagate the fruits of the earth in the right way.

As a part of that mission, the Garden Guild is making sure to use environmentally friendly treatments to remove the lead-based paint on the greenhouse, and they do not use pesticides or herbicides in their gardening. They have also repurposed tanks to collect rainwater, which they then use to water the plants.

The Garden Guild meets Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from May through August also on Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Volunteers are welcome to come learn about gardening, or to help with other things like flower arrangements, making preserves or canning tomatoes. The Garden Guild will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in October.

“For us, it is also a way of showing by example,” said Lou Maroulis, the CEO of the Garden Guild. “When people come here, the first comment they make is how peaceful it is. People don’t realize they are in the middle of D.C. People come here because they want to get closer to the environment and closer to God, and this does both.”