Rev. John Sheild: Garden Steward

Many have noticed and wondered about the beautiful vegetable garden located at the entrance of San Damiano. This garden has been planted, nurtured, and harvested by Monona resident, Rev. John Sheild, for forty years!

In the early 1980s, John and his wife, Jean, moved to Monona. One of their new neighbors, Len Riha, knew the San Damiano Friary priests and volunteered to plant a garden there. He invited John to garden with him. For the next few decades, the two worked together. When Len was no longer able to garden and then passed away, John continued on his own. Initially, John was not used to tending such a large garden, there was a big learning curve. But eventually, he was hooked.

Today, John cherishes the opportunity to work in such a beautiful, tranquil setting, interact with people who visit or help, and share the fruits of his labor with others. Much of the produce is given to those in need or donated to St. Stephen’s Food Pantry.

At 91 years of age, Rev. Sheild says working in the garden feels like “coming home” and that gardening teaches the miracle of growth, the responsibility of work, and to never take anything for granted.  As plans for the property unfold, he would like to see the garden continue.

* Thank you to Gregory Bleck for providing all of these photos - a photo documentary of John's work in the vegetable garden at San Damiano - summer of 2022.

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