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The grape arbor at Elm Grove

By Sister Judith Best
The grape arbor at Notre Dame of Elm Grove leading to the cemetery where Mother Caroline Friess was buried.

On March 16, 1822, a 25-year-old lay teacher, Caroline Gerhardinger, later known as Blessed Theresa, was on a retreat. As she was praying John 15, she had a profound experience of union with Christ. In this text, Jesus identified himself by saying, “I am the vine. You are the branches…every branch that does bear fruit is pruned to be even more fruitful…Remain in me and I will remain in you…” Her response to this mystical moment energized her for a lifetime of dedication as Blessed Theresa, Foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

She wrote in 1822, “I write this now in Jesus who has shown me indescribable mercy and shared with me his poverty, hardships, suffering, anxiety, and need! I cannot describe my interior peace. Now I am in Jesus! Jesus may do with me what he wants; I trust in him. ‘Remain in me, as I remain in you.’ On him, I will build.”

2018 Grape Arbor at NDEG. August 23, 2018.
2018 Grape Arbor at NDEG. August 23, 2018.

Our American foundress, Mother Caroline Friess, carried this dedication to "Christ as the Vine" with her to Elm Grove, Wisconsin, where she asked that a grape arbor be planted before her death. In 1886, she asked Father Huber, a parish priest, to plant the grape arbor as a pathway to the cemetery. Harvested grapes from Mother Caroline’s vine are currently used by the sisters to make delicious wine, grape jelly and grape juice.

The image of the vine and the branches are replicated in the Heritage Room at Notre Dame of Elm Grove with images appearing in hand-carved chairs used for liturgy, where the grapes are carefully carved into the woodwork and the image of grapes is found in the plaster cornices on the ceiling. These are complemented by images of grapes in the grillwork outside the windows looking onto the porches. 

The images and grape arbor are a reminder of our call to “remain in Christ” especially as we experience the pruning season.

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