by Katie Hyde
LEAWOOD — While peering into a zinnia bush on his hands and knees, Kellan Quinn makes a discovery.
Sporting a toothy grin, Kellan approaches Nativity youth director Liz Hagen and holds out his hand. Gingerly held between his dirt-covered thumb and forefinger is a roly-poly.
“His name is Roly,” the boy announced matter-of-factly. “Father [Francis Hund] named him.”
This scene is very typical of Wednesday mornings at Nativity Parish in Leawood, where a group of about 20 children, ages 5 to 8, meets weekly to garden with pastor Father Hund. He began the Gardening Angels program along with Hagen to connect with the children of the parish and reconnect with his rural roots.
Father Hund, who grew up on a farm in Paxico, knows a thing or two about gardening. With the Gardening Angels, however, he not only cultivates zinnias and tomatoes and tulips — he cultivates a sense of community between these children, God and the church.
“My favorite part is seeing the joy in the kids’ faces,” Father Hund said. “I love that they come to Mass with the community and then spend time cultivating God’s creation. I hope it will be a memory later of connection with the church.”
Each Wednesday in the summer, following Mass and a brief story, the group of about 20 kids tends to the church’s gardens — watering plants, weeding flower beds and occasionally decorating the gardens with colorful rocks.
A much-anticipated moment each week is the prayer, written and read aloud by a different “angel” each week. The prayers are then printed on cards and published in a book.
In addition to beautifying the parish grounds, the Gardening Angels make loaves of pumpkin bread for parishioners, arrange flower bouquets for Father Hund’s house visits, and help the Art and Environment Committee of the parish decorate the inside of the church with flowers.
They even helped garden at Villa St. Joseph, a Catholic nursing home facility in Leawood.
“It is so good that Father Francis encourages the kids to be really active parts of the church,” Hagen said. “These kids will remember this forever.”
In addition to the memories of praying together, gathering together and gardening together, Father Hund hopes the children remember the greater lessons of Gardening Angels — hard work, community and care of creation.
While most of the young children can’t articulate the difference between stamens and pistils or perennials and annuals, there is one thing of which they are all certain: Gardening is fun.
“It’s fun to see things grow and come alive,” Cecelia Knight said, while writing a letter to her family that she will present along with a small bouquet of flowers.
“You can really enjoy the beauty of what God made,” she added.