With the Community of Bishops Bay’s 750 acres of housing about to surround Holy Wisdom Monastery to the north, the Benedictine Sisters recently felt an urgency to preserve remaining open space.
Land to the south of the monastery became available for sale, and with the potential for 50 homes at the site, the Sisters jumped on the opportunity to preserve land.
Now they’re looking for help from their neighbors and friends.
“We got a significant donation in order to think about purchasing this land, but we do have a $700,000 price that we need to pay, as well as the cost of turning this 52 acres into prairie,” said Sister Mary David Walgenbach, Prioress of Holy Wisdom Monastery.
“We weren’t looking to purchase the land, but it became apparent that it would be possible with the help of another person,” Walgenbach said. “We still will need support from our neighbors and people interested in preserving open space because we still have a mortgage on our building.”
The Sisters have dedicated themselves to the Benedictine tradition of caring for land. As stewards, they recognized that if those 52 acrescornfields between the monastery and Lake Mendota were developed, the lake would experience significant runoff.
According to Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, Holy Wisdom director of development, the purchase fits into the Sisters’ vision and mission.
“Prairie restoration helps reduce the amount of runoff and pollutants,” he said, adding that the property is across the way from the lake.
In addition to conserving open space, the purchase could allow Dane County to achieve its goal of connecting Pheasant Branch Conservancy with Gov. Nelson State Park. The Sisters would coordinate with Dane County to locate a bicycle path through the future prairie, Sweitzer-Beckman said.
“With another buyer, it’s unclear whether any of these things would have been a reality,” Sweitzer-Beckman said about the park connection and bicycle path.
An anonymous donor contributed $1 million toward the purchase in September of 2012, and Holy Wisdom paid $1.7 million, Sweitzer Beckman said. It’s estimated the prairie restoration will cost another $200,000.
“They felt like it was the right thing to do and would be important to the community and people around here who love open space and the lakes,” Sweitzer-Beckman said.
The Westport Town Board considered a contribution at their meeting Monday.
The Sisters have launched a $1.9 million capital campaign and have raised $1,325,000 so far.
Holy Wisdom has hosted meetings with neighbors and have held workdays for community members to help with the prairie restoration.
The next work day will be Nov. 2, Sweitzer-Beckman said.
In the spring, at the June 19 Prairie Rhapsody, The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will perform a benefit concert.
The Sisters will also have Biologic Environmental Consulting conduct a year-long study on how best to integrate the 52-acre parcel into the existing Holy Wisdom Monastery property, Sweitzer-Beckman said.
Had the property been developed for housing, Holy Wisdom Monastery would have been completely surrounded by residential development.
“That would really change the dynamics of what it’s like to be on a retreat,” Sweitzer-Beckman said.