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Garden of Grace continues to grow

In this Following Up feature we return to the Garden of Grace with Jakki Jeffs and Hanna Caruso from Guelph and Area Right to Life

When GuelphToday first visited the Garden of Grace in early October of 2016, it looked very different than it does today. Landscapers and stoneworkers were busy turning beds and laying down the limestone path for the expansive garden on the southeast lawn below the Basilica of Our Lady.

Construction continued for several more months and new features, such as benches, a gazebo and two statues by Canadian artist Timothy Schmaltz were added.

It opened officially in May 2017, but the work to maintain it continues.

“It is an ongoing project now and, with the new pastor at the basilica, he has some thoughts of more garden down there,” said the garden’s founder and past president of Guelph and Area Right to Life, Jakki Jeffs, “It isn’t part of this garden but there is that whole sense of hospitality to draw people up from the city.”

More than a dozen volunteers tend to the garden during the growing season.

“We have some high school students getting their volunteer hours,” said Hanna Caruso, program manager for Guelph and Area Right to Life. “We have some retired people. People of all ages with or without gardening expertise. Lots of families. They will come and help with all the weeding and watering and any of the maintenance that needs to be done.”

The Garden of Grace is dedicated to the memory of Denise Brazolot, wife of Peter Brazolot a major donor to the nearly $100,000 project. A large stone near the entrance to the garden bears a plaque remembering the Brazolot matriarch as a loving mother of nine children and 30 grandchildren who, “worked hard for her faith, pro-life and her family.”

The inscription also includes a dedication to “the many children who were miscarried” and “little ones who lost their lives through induced abortion.”

“It’s is for women who have had abortions and regret it and have nowhere to grieve because their baby’s body is considered medical waste and they just go out with all the other medical waste,” said Jeffs. “People who have miscarried their children after a certain age also haven’t anywhere for their children so that’s the whole sense of this garden to give them a place.”

News that the garden would be dedicated, at least in part, to life lost through abortion was viewed as an affront to pro-choice advocates in the community and more than 100 protestors gathered on the street in front of the basilica on Oct 7, 2016 to voice their opposition to the garden.

“I guess the idea was put into the newspaper and we did have some protests about that,” said Jeffs. “They are free to do it and then of course afterward we had really awful vandalism. We only just laid the path and we had used condoms, sanitary pads and the usual language painted in but luckily it all came off and it all got cleaned up.”

Protest organizers were quick to condemn the vandalism but reasserted their opposition to the garden and the “anti-choice” activities of the Right to Life group behind its creation.

In an interview at the time with GuelphToday, protest organiser, Sara Bortolon-Vettor said that she had no concerns about a garden dedicated to lives lost through miscarriage.

“But Right to Life defines it as a place to grieve the act of abortion or loss of life through abortion,” she said. “That makes it more of a shaming garden, or a monument that vilifies those who are pro-choice, as opposed to a place of genuine remembrance and reflection.”

A ceremony to open the garden on May 31, 2017 was postponed due to another, smaller protest but the Garden of Grace did open and has remained open ever since without incident.

These days both sides are taking a “no news is good news” approach.

When contacted for comment for this story Bortolon said she still stands behind the public comments she made at the time and given that nothing has changed, she has no more to say publicly on the matter.

Her only on-the-record comment was, “my body my choice.”

She said she would be willing to discuss the issue privately with Jeffs and Jeffs has said the same.

“During the protest three reporters came up and asked if I would go down and speak with the protesters,” said Jeffs. “I said I would speak to them but not in front of a reporter. Why would I do that? Our office is right there. Come by. I would be very happy any time, any time.”