Willow sculpture of St Kateri Tekakwitha

Inspiring female saint sparks girls’ garden project

Friday 8th March 2024

We’re marking International Women’s Day today by celebrating the work of three young women who took on an ambitious project after being inspired by a powerhouse saint.

Three teenage girls from St Ambrose Barlow parish in Swinton have transformed parish grounds into a thriving hive of creation, thanks to a parish youth group project exploring Laudato Si’.

Under the careful guidance of Youth Group Coordinator Charles Magee, the girls – Orla, Saoirse, and and Caitlynn – eagerly learned all about Pope Francis’ bold encyclical, and were delighted when parish priest at the time, Mgr Paul Smith, gave the green light to put all they’d learned into practical action by creating a parish community garden.

Throughout the summer holidays, the group visited our very own Laudato Si’ Centre to find out more about living out the principles of Laudato Si’ in our diocese, and very soon put their green fingers to the test by growing vegetables, creating wild animal spaces, bird and bat boxes, and bug hotels.

One of the girls, Saoirse, said: “The visit was very inspiring as we had already learnt so much about individual ways to help the planet but at the Centre, we were able to see these in real life.”

Introducing St Kateri Tekakwitha

As time went on, it was decided that the group wanted a particular focus for the garden, so began to research key environmental figures, such as St Francis of Assisi and St Kateri Tekakwitha.

Saoirse explained: “As St Kateri Tekawitha is the patron saint of ecology, we agreed that what she represents was the most applicable to the project and our hopes to teach the younger children and all of the community about the importance of looking after the world.”

Also inspired by the saint, another of the girls – Caitlynn – added: “She had a very hard life and suffered in many ways but she didn’t give up on her faith in God and her drive to spread the Word of God. She still inspires people today.”

The idea soon transpired to create a sustainable sculpture of St Kateri and the girls got to work producing sketches of the saint which, in turn, became clay models that were presented to the parish to raise awareness of the project and kickstart a £3000 fundraising mission to enlist the skills of a local artist, Cherry Chung.

Orla explained: “Through the sale of bat boxes, we managed to raise enough money to proceed. The willow weaver and artist Cherry Chung discussed our ideas with us so she could go back to her studio in Stockport and begin the final sculpture.”

Willow sculpture of St Kateri surrounded by plants

Measuring an imposing six-feet tall, this incredible statue is not one you’d typically associate with parish life but nevertheless captures the dynamism, courage, and determination of the saint.

Youth group coordinator, Charles, explained: “Over the summer the girls created drawings and clay models of their ideas for the sculpture, with a particular emphasis on movement and function. The statue would convey not a static saint but a dynamic one, challenging us to make a difference to the environment.”

Eventually, the sculpture was unveiled at both parish churches – St Charles and St Mark’s – before being officially blessed by Bishop John after a packed-out Creation Mass on 4th October.

Photo shows the backs of parishioners who had gathered for the Creation Mass with Bishop John

Describing a well-deserved sense of achievement, Saoirse reflected on the moment she first saw the statue, and said: “We felt accomplished as we had spent many years working towards this and by seeing it finally completed we knew the garden would now become what we wanted for it in the first place.”

Echoing this sentiment, Orla said: “The Creation Mass with Bishop John to acknowledge the hard work from everybody involved in the project, was a moment I was truly proud of.”


As winter warms into spring, the parish is excited to watch this beautiful corner of creation come to life over the coming months, but has been left with a sense of hope for the future that reaches far beyond the boundary of the garden.

Charles said: “The impact of the girls promotion of Laudato Si’ in the Parish cannot be underestimated. Their profile resulted in them being selected to represent the parish at COP 26 in Glasgow but unfortunately their educational commitments prevented them from attending.

“Their leadership also proved very successful in recruiting other young people to join our youth group. They are brilliant role models.”

Fellow parishioner, Rose, added: “The girls certainly owned this project and it was great to see them growing in confidence as they spoke at Sunday Mass.

“The parishioners were only too please to support the girls, as they feel that they are the future of our parish, which indeed they are. They should be so pleased with themselves, and it’s lovely to see that they are still continuing to support us in other ways within the parish.”

The girls themselves are now busy looking at new ways to make their mark on the environment, championing good practice such as recycling, reducing their use of single use plastics, and shrinking their carbon footprint.

Caitlynn said: “We only have one earth so we must treasure it. We are the stewards of the earth and we must care for it as best we can. St Kateri has inspired me to think this way and to care and to be kind to those around me.”

Also reflecting on the life and legacy of St Kateri, Orla described a real pride and joy in her faith, and said: “I am thankful to live in a society which allows people to choose their faith. I am a Catholic and I am proud to be able to say that without being persecuted like St Kateri was. I am fortunate enough to live my faith and be accepted for it.”


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Tagged | Around the Diocese | Bishop John | Catholic Church | Diocese | Environment | Parishes | Youth

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