For at least 25 years a set of Stations of the Cross had been stored in the basement of Mater Dei Parish’s St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport, protected under boards. But when parishioners were cleaning out the space earlier this year, they found the stations and resurrected them.

A former pastor had brought them to the parish — no one seems to know from where — and a parishioner had refurbished them. “But nothing ever happened” with them, and they were put into storage, said Nancy Cook, one of the parishioners who has been instrumental in bringing the stations back into use in an outdoor Stations of the Cross garden next to the parish rectory.

After finding the stations in the basement, Cook brought one home and cleaned it, then brought it to show the pastor, Vocationist Father Rijo Johnson. “When it was cleaned up, it was like, wow,” he said with a smile.

St. Mary Star of the Sea Church is located on a hill overlooking Lake Memphremagog, and its spires are visible throughout the city. So many tourists make their way to the church to take photographs. But there is no place for them to pause and pray.

A Stations of the Cross garden is “perfect” to give visitors and residents alike a place to experience a few moments of peace and quiet, Father Johnson said.

“This is a public display of the Gospel,” he continued, and thus an evangelization tool. Many people don’t know Jesus, but when they post photos from the garden on their social media accounts, they are spreading His story. “We know the story. We know Jesus saved us. I don’t need to preach [in the garden]. The stations preach themselves.”

Creation of the garden and work to install the stations — in weather-resistant frames with solar lights — was done by volunteers; time and money were donated. Parishioner Robert Gosselin and a team of volunteers installed the stations on pressure-treated posts in September on land once occupied by Sacred Heart Elementary School. “I see people walking there all the time,” he said.

There are opportunities to purchase polished granite memorial benches to be placed in front of each station and paving stones for a walkway to help with perpetual care for the garden.

The bench at the 12th station will honor Cook’s family. “It’s a forever tribute to a family,” she said.

Shrubbery and flowers will be added in the spring.

Gosselin hopes to install a large cross in the middle of the garden and add more solar lights. “Next summer [the garden] will be in its glory,” he said.

“Gardens always attract people,” Father Johnson added. “This is perfect.”

—Originally published in the Winter 2023 edition of Vermont Catholic magazine.