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A blessing for trees.

Traditionally, the calling of a Catholic priest is to minister, nurture, and restore human souls. Father Paul Schwietz, a Benedictine monk and land manager of St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, believes the environment deserves the same care and attention. He has put his skills as a priest and a forester to work on ecosystem-management and habitat-restoration plans for the land around the Abbey.

The "priest of the pines," as he has been called, will deliver the invocation to open the Sixth National Urban Forest Conference in Minneapolis.

St. John's Abbey is home to more than 230 monks, making it one of the largest in the world. It is located on the campus of St. John's University in Collegeville, 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Father Paul first attended college at St. John's in 1971, entered the Abbey in 1976, and was ordained a priest in 1982. He received his master's degree in forestry from the University of Minnesota in 1985, and later that year became the land manager at the Abbey. Father Paul studied silviculture for his master's, and his thesis was to develop a 10-year management plan for the campus' 130 acres of pines.

The conifers under Father Paul's care include seven major species of pine and spruce. The first were planted 99 years ago with seeds from Bavaria, Germany. Over the years, pines have been planted at strategic locations around the campus, and with hardwoods hidden behind the pines it gives a visitor the illusion of being in Germany's fabled Black Forest.

Father Paul sees himself as a link in the history of both St. John's Abbey, founded in 1856, and the Benedictine order, which can trace its roots back 1,500 years. He stresses that his work there closely follows that of his predecessors. "My work is part of the Benedictine mission of wise stewardship. Others before me have exemplified this, and I am following in their footsteps."

But managing is more than just taking care of individual pieces. According to Father Paul's management plan for the pines, "spiritual and aesthetic concerns are the primary values of this land." As is stated in the Abbey's land-use document, "land is a gift, and its use should benefit the larger community and be protected for enjoyment by future generations."

Another plan developed by Father Paul will restore three habitats around the St. John's campus. The habitats, which are considered endangered in Minnesota, include 60 acres of marshland, 50 of native prairie, and 25 of oak savannah. Improving the habitats will benefit wildlife and provide a place for public recreation and serious study by biologists, ecologists, and botanists.

Sixty acres of marshland have been restored to provide breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds for more than 45 species of waterfowl, songbirds, and furbearers. A prairie-restoration project includes planting more than 90 species of prairie grasses and flowers; Minnesota has less than one percent of its native prairie left. Controlled burning has helped encourage the majestic bur oak on 25 acres of oak savannah.

This plan envisions the eventual designation of St. John's' 2,500-acre campus as a Minnesota native habitat arboretum, with undisturbed and managed areas for study of the diverse habitats found in the state. The project flows from the conviction that all things have value in themselves.

The stewardship ethic is not new to the Benedictines. The Order, which was established in Europe 1,500 years ago by St. Benedict, has a long tradition of farming, herb gardening, and a knowledge of medicinal plants, Father Paul says. The Order spread across Europe, England, and eventually to America. In 1856, Benedictine monks traveled into what was then the Minnesota territory; in 1857 they received the charter for the school now called St. John's University.

Father Paul also shares his nurturing talents as a member of the Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee. Don Willeke, AMERICAN FORESTS' president and a good friend of Father Paul, says, "He's a valued member of the committee--not only for his knowledge of urban and rural forestry matters, but also for his connections with the One who alone can make a tree."
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Title Annotation:Roman Catholic priest Paul Schweitz
Author:Rice, Doyle S.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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