Traffic buzzes past, Fourth Avenue on one side, Fifth Avenue on the other. In the shadow of Portland's historic St. Michael Church, a fragrant garden grows with flowers, fruits and vegetables. It's a place of peace for the pastor, staff, parishioners and anyone who asks to stay a moment. In season, homeless people nibble on berries, grapes, cherries and pears.
"St. Michael's garden is a small haven in the busy downtown," says Father Jim Mayo, the pastor. "For those who live downtown, there's not much green that's personal."
Recently, a developer suggested razing the garden for a building. Father Mayo would not hear of it.
"What creation and breathing space does for a human being is irreplaceable," the priest says.
It's possible that future development plans will include opening the garden for workers to eat lunch and spend healing moments.
St. Michael's seems to have had a garden for more than a century. The parish priest in 1910, Jesuit Father Michael Balestra, was an Italian with a green thumb — and a need to stretch his food budget. Pastors through the years have kept up the tradition. The garden, tended by volunteers and a garden service, includes Asian pears, raspberries, roses, figs, kiwi, currants and even a flowering pomegranate. In the small space are seven fruit trees.
"The garden at St. Michael's was a blessing for me because it offered something natural and beautiful to look at in the midst of the concrete and brick of the city," says Glenn Rymsza, who was a Portland State University campus minister stationed at St. Michael's. "It created a peaceful and refreshing place."
Rymsza says students at PSU, parishioners and people who worked downtown would admire the roses — and sometimes pick them. In the early spring, daffodils open throughout the garden and thickets of daphne perfume the whole parish grounds. A blue salvia attracts hummingbirds through the day.
Rymsza notes that the garden colors are echoed in the stained glass of the church — "all of which reflect the beauty of God."