Green Hills Garden Club members Janis Koestler, from left, Mary Nell McMaster, Jo Pratt and Sandra Shingler work in Sister Mary Isabel's garden at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center Thursday.Memories of two nuns' lives bloom as their work continue...The Sisters
Among the stories told to Vicksburg about the Sisters of Mercy is the one about Sister Isabel's garden.
On the east side of the convent, off Adams Street, it bloomed with such a jumble of flowers, it was said, because Sister Isabel routinely tossed hand fulls of seeds willy-nilly from the windows of the convent's fourth floor.
Now the garden and a small brick building nearby, about which few if any stories have been told, are being restored.
Many city residents, generations of whom attended school in the city-block complex built and occupied by the Catholic order for 161 years and now home of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, have no idea that the little building was a garden of another sort - - believed to be the city's first food pantry - - tended by another nun, Sister Xavier.
The convent lives of Sister Mary Xavier Poursine, R.S.M., and Sister Mary Isabel Rand, R.S.M., over lapped by only about three years, 1915 to 1918, but nearly a century later, the garden continues to bloom and, from the convent's basement, The Storehouse Community Food Pantry serves the needy three days a week.
"We've talked about Sister Isabel's garden for years," said Mary Nell McMaster of the Green Hills Garden Club, which has taken on the project. "This spring we decided to really work on it."
Like Sister Isabel's, their work has blossomed - - from the garden to Sister Xavier's pantry to restoring windows in the convent built in 1868. Storehouse volunteer Lewis Decell, taking a break Monday from unpacking about 2,000 pounds of food collected recently by the U.S. Postal carriers in their annual food drive, said he had not known about the original function of the little brick shed.
"It means a real deal to me," he said of learning about Sister Xavier's ministry. "It's important for all of us to know it's a longstanding tradition." (To be continued)