St. Catharine, KY – It’s probably one of the most recognizable sights in Washington County, KY. Driving along Route 150, you see the rolling fields and twin ponds first, then the fruit trees, and finally, a glimpse of the cross that tops the historic Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse at St. Catharine. Thanks to a recently completed agreement with the Bluegrass Land Conservancy, this view will remain unchanged for generations to come. After decades of effort, the Dominican Sisters of Peace have donated the development rights of the entire 605-acre St. Catharine Farm to a protective easement, where it will remain unspoiled forever.
Just north of Springfield, KY, St. Catharine Farm has been cared for by the Dominican Sisters of Peace since 1822, when the first congregation of Dominican women religious in the United States was founded on the site. The easement held by Bluegrass Land Conservancy will ensure that this land, known for its natural beauty and historic significance, remains intact thanks to the permanent protections voluntarily put forth by the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
The Dominican Sisters of Peace have led the nationwide movement by religious congregations to gift land back to the communities that they have served beginning with the efforts of the late Sr. Christine Loughlin, OP, who founded the Religious Lands Conservancy in New England in the early 2000s. The Congregation has also conserved properties in Louisiana and Massachusetts through partnerships like the agreement with the Bluegrass Land Conservancy.
Dominican Sister of Peace Claire McGowan, OP, founder of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, a local non-profit that seeks to build a sustainability movement in rural central Kentucky, celebrated the easement. “We rejoice heartily that the sacred land where the Dominican Sisterhood began in the United States 200 years ago has become a gift to the future – the future of Springfield, of Washington County, of Kentucky, indeed of the world. By donating the development rights, we have ensured that the 605 acres known as St. Catharine Farm will never be suffocated by concrete, poisoned by toxic chemicals, or stripped naked by clear-cutting. Its 120 acres of forests will continue to gift the region with oxygen and protect wildlife, its pastures will nourish healthy livestock, its bottomlands will provide vibrant crops of food for humans whose food supply may be diminished by climate change.”
Farm manager Danny Ray Spalding is particularly pleased by the conservation arrangement. Spalding has partnered with the University of Kentucky to integrate eco-friendly farming and livestock management practices. “St. Catharine Farm will continue to be a place where farmers can see sustainable practices in action, and hopefully put them to use as well,” he said.
The conservation easement will preserve the historic view of the Farm as well as protect its large stands of old growth trees, while permitting allowing the Congregation to continue to use the land and undertake the limited development compatible with a working farm. It will also protect the site of the original St. Catharine Convent and school on the banks of Cartwright Creek, which burned to the ground in 1904.
“We are grateful to the Bluegrass Land Conservancy for helping us create an easement arrangement that lets us enjoy St. Catharine Farm for the blessing that it is,” said Sr. Pat Twohill, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. “Our Sisters can continue to live at the Motherhouse and our Sansbury Care center, we can continue to provide food to the local community and service to our neighbors – all the while knowing that this land that we treasure will be protected long beyond our own lifetimes.”