“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” — Henry David Thoreau
The beauty of Saint John’s never fails to mesmerize all who drive onto campus — whether for the first time or for the hundredth time. Towering high above everything is the Abbey bell banner, which reminds us of our Benedictine heritage and of those who settled 160 years ago in this place once called Indian Bush. And stretching out in every direction from that banner is a wooded acreage that invites all who enter to explore its vastness.
Students who choose Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s do so because of this sense of place. It’s nestled in a quiet rural setting, miles from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It’s peaceful and calm here, with intensely starry nights. But to venture into those woods, to savor the quiet and to look deep within one’s soul either alone or with a companion — that’s an experience that so very few really get to enjoy.
I was a student at Saint John’s in the late 80’s, and I majored in Natural Science. But it wasn’t until my two sons (now sophomores) came to Saint John’s that I really began to explore our woods and to appreciate what this place has to offer. Our arboretum is a treasure that draws thousands of alumni, grade-schoolers on field trips and travelers from afar, and what they all experience is 3,000 acres of utter tranquility. Here our students discover the wonders of nature, and they participate in a myriad of outdoor actives offered by the Outdoor Leadership Center. Those include biking, camping, skiing, snowshoeing, and canoeing. Our students come here to learn and to enjoy the beauty and splendor of this place, but they also discover themselves as they engage in a robust community experience.
It’s not uncommon in the depths of autumn or the emergence of spring to see students and faculty taking their class discussions outside to nature’s amphitheater overlooking Lake Sagatagan, with the canvas of trees and Stella Maris Chapel serving as the backdrop. You’ll also see a steady parade of students, families and other visitors hiking the trails to the chapel, pausing along the way to to enjoy the timber-framed trail head and footbridge. Why? It’s an escape from the busyness of life, but it’s also a chance to recharge their batteries with nature’s energy.
There’s something here to benefit most everyone. Whether you walk the miles of trails in the arboretum or the lakeside path to the chapel, or sit by the lake and watch the gentle waves, or venture into the woods to observe the array of stars late at night, there’s always something to inspire. But common to each experience is the chance to immerse yourself in God’s creation.
People have referred to Saint John’s as an oasis. It’s a destination rather than a drive-by community. It’s a place where our alumni, neighbors and friends are always welcome to center their lives and to retreat when life becomes just a little too much.
If you have not explored our woods or have never walked the trails, it’s not too late to start. You can learn more by visiting our websites, including Abbey Arboretum, Saint John’s Outdoor University, and Outdoor Leadership Center. To get a more in-depth look at the flora and fauna of Saint John’s read the book The Nature of Saint John’s: A Guide to the Landscape and Spirituality of the Saint John’s Abbey Arboretum, written by Larry Haeg (SJU ’67) and Jennifer Kutter (CSB ’03.)
This sense of place was not created by accident. Rather, it is the result of very purposeful stewardship that has gone on for more than a century and a half. If you would like to support this work, please consider a gift to Saint John’s Outdoor University. Or, for further information on how you can make a long-term difference, contact me or one of my colleagues in the Office of Institutional Advancement.