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A Garden for All

Once it fed the sick and homeless,
today it nourishes the spirit.

A Garden for All

“I think the beauty of the Heritage Gardens at Holy Family Memorial today would please the Sisters who worked in the gardens on Manitowoc’s ‘Hospital Hill’ from 1901 to 1961,” noted Mary Maurer as she spoke with Molly Wildenberg of HFM Fund Development who oversees the gardens today. Mary is Vice President, Community Engagement/Chief Innovation Officer at HFM. Molly’s background includes a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and a master’s of crop science ... a perfect fit to care for a landscape that has graced this hill in Manitowoc for the last ten years.

When the Franciscan Sisters of Franciscan Charity purchased the land for the hospital, after the community asked them to build one, it was called Gerpheide’s Hill. “It had been used as a park and picnic ground. Part of the area had been cleared for a dancing stage and path to a well on the hill. The rest of the ground was hills and holes, trees and stumps ... a wild place,” according to Sister Clarence who was a cook at the original Holy Family Hospital for 40 years and left us a written history of those years.

The garden, which was so dearly tended by the Sisters, produced food for patients, nursing students, employees and the unemployed who came to the Sisters asking for food during the Depression. It was given up in 1961 when it became less expensive to buy canned goods and the Sisters were preparing to build a new addition to the hospital on the land where the garden grew.

In the early 2000s Janet Garrett, HFM Annual Giving Coordinator at that time, and a passionate gardener, proposed the idea for a healing garden for patients and visitors. Mary Maurer loved the idea and recommended that the gardens honor the Sisters who had cared for the gardens on the hill for more than half the history of the hospital. So through the efforts of Mary and Janet, the Heritage Garden began.

I think the beauty of the Heritage Gardens at Holy Family Memorial today would please the Sisters who worked in the gardens on Manitowoc’s ‘Hospital Hill’ from 1901 to 1961.

After the initial spark for the idea, it truly was a community effort—just as the hospital was—to bring the new gardens to life. A committee, made up of local gardeners, was formed to give input on each step of the process ... including the landscape architecture, the plant and tree selection, special features and the many details that enhance the spaces.

The community came forward to fund the gardens including a $50,000 grant from the West Foundation after HFM Fund Development raised $150,000 from local businesses and individuals such as Gerald & Mary Jeanne Censky who donated $50,000 to fund the Censky Haven of Hope next to the HFM Cancer Center.

The three distinct gardens areas—St. Francis Passage, Labyrinth Retreat and Censky Haven of Hope have grown into beautiful retreats for patients, visitors and employees providing respite from today’s hectic world. Added to the original garden area is the space outside of the atrium on the first floor of the Medical Center which is dedicated to the Holy Family and includes a beautiful Italian statue that is lit nightly.

Commitment to the Heritage Garden continues through the dedication of the HFM Perennial Club volunteers who work diligently to keep the garden in shape. The spring, summer and fall seasons all present a different array of colors to enjoy; and everyone is welcome to spend time in this beautiful setting. The Sisters would indeed be pleased!


  • Holy Family Memorial Medical Center
  • 2300 Western Ave.
  • Manitowoc, WI 54220
  • (920) 320-2396
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