Evelyn Hagan feels “a peaceful satisfaction” working in Mount Sacred Heart Garden. The nearly 10,000-square foot multiple gardens on Littleton’s Grove Street provides food crops for the convent’s six nuns, two food pantries, and Dinner Bell Community Meal that feeds 50 or so adults and children.
Evelyn has been the project manager of the convent gardens of the Daughters of the Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus since 2019. Newly retired and a parishioner at St. Rose of Lima, she knew convent leader Sr. Monique Couture. In 2017 she asked Sr. Monique how she could help with the convent’s effort to feed those who lacked food. She was invited to help in the gardens.
The nuns were given a Littleton hill-top mansion and property in 1960. The sisters soon began to cultivate flower beds to grow vegetables, recounts Evelyn of the sisters’ history. When Sr. Monique moved to the convent in 1983 “she was deeply involved in the management of the gardens using organic gardening methods” to feed the sisters, the hungry community and teaching local school students how to garden.
In recent years, as the nuns aged and their numbers dwindled to a handful, the garden project was enhanced by 14 to 16 community volunteers. Hagan’s husband Frank volunteers with Evelyn, and she says, “He taught me most of what I know about gardening.” Evelyn graduated from the Master Gardener program in 2017 with Monica Laflamme, who also volunteers at the convent garden. The two are co-presidents of Grafton County Master Gardener Association. MGs Jane O’Donnell and Bill Emerson also help in the gardens, which has produced 4,946.5 pounds of 16 vegetables, a running total for 2020. This was not without its challenges, she says, naming woodchucks, numerous potato bugs, and the drought as among the problems. “The crops were nurtured, protected, harvested, distributed and stored” by many hands and hours.
Hagan was Connecticut born and raised, moving to Bethlehem in 1980. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing, and worked 22 years as a family nurse practitioner. In addition to gardening for the convent, the couple has a large fruit and vegetable garden. They also manage fruit trees and Christmas trees.
She and a small group of helpers revived a fallow garden filled with weeds in 2019. In June, Hagan feared the struggling crops would fail, but with persistent watering, weeding and mulching, by August the plot produced 200 pounds of food. It was “shockingly successful,” and “I dubbed it the Master Gardener Miracle Garden.”
“Mount Sacred Heart Garden is a very special place,” she says. “I believe I speak for many of the volunteers…when I say there is a peaceful satisfaction…working those gardens.” The fertile soil, and full sun make plants thrive. “It is extremely satisfying to grow plants in those conditions.” She reflects on the sisters’ generosity opening their property to the volunteers to support the food-growing project. The convent garden project is an “opportunity for garden helpers to reach outside of ourselves to benefit others. It is a wonderful team of volunteers who made it all happen. It is my joy to lead them.”
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