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Dominican Sisters of Peace permanently protect 600 acres in Washington Count, KY

Posted on April 4, 2023

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 landback 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.”

From Top Left, clockwise:
IMAGE 1: St. Catharine Farm’s Number 3 barn was built in collaboration with the University of Kentucky. The preservation of the Dominican Sisters of Peace St. Catharine Farm through an easement with the Bluegrass Conservancy will allow the farm to continue to be a living laboratory for innovative and ecologically sound beef farming practices.

IMAGE 2: Views like this, showcasing the rolling hills and grass-carpeted fields of St. Catharine Farm in Springfield, KY, will be enjoyed by future generations thanks to the Dominican Sisters of Peace’s easement through the Bluegrass Land Conservancy. The easement features 2,300 linear feet of frontage on KY-150 BUS.

IMAGE 3:  St. Catharine Farm, the original home of Dominican Women Religious in the United States, is also home to critical grassland bird habitats, a number of threatened or endangered species, and a Forest Protection area with significant stands of old growth oak, walnut, hickory and other native trees. These ecological treasures will be protected under the new easement agreement between the Dominican Sisters of Peace and the Bluegrass Land Conservancy.

IMAGE 4: The easement with the Bluegrass Land Conservancy preserves the wetlands adjacent to Cartwright Creek, in the Siena Vale portion of St. Catharine Farm. Wetlands like those in the protected area of St. Catharine Farm are the base of the food chain and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects.

Left to right:
IMAGE 1: A portion of the scenic frontage preserved by Dominican Sisters of Peace conservation easement with the Bluegrass Conservancy shows the historic St. Catharine Motherhouse, fruit trees and a pond.
IMAGE 2:

The original St. Catharine Motherhouse was built in Siena Vale, on property inherited by blood sisters and Congregational Sisters Angela and Benven Sansbury. After the Motherhouse and school were destroyed by fire in 1904, the Congregation rebuilt on Siena Heights. This historical site will be preserved under the new easement through the Bluegrass Land Conservancy.

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Dominican Sisters of Peace, members of the Order of Preachers, are vowed Catholic women who strive to share the Gospel of Christ and advance the reign of God through lives of service and peace-making. The Dominican Sisters of Peace are present in 29 dioceses, and Nigeria. The Sisters serve God’s people in many ways, including education, health care, spirituality, pastoral care, prison ministry, the arts, and care of creation. There are 345 sisters and more than 400 lay associates affiliated with the congregation.

Founded in 1995, Bluegrass Land Conservancy (BLC) became the first land trust in Kentucky to receive the distinction of Accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.  Land trust accreditation is a national recognition, showing that a land trust meets the highest standard for land conservation. BLC spans a 25-county service area across the greater Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, including: Anderson, Bourbon, Boyle, Bullitt, Clark, Fayette, Franklin, Garrard, Harrison, Henry, Jefferson, Jessamine, Madison, Marion, Mercer, Nelson, Nicholas, Oldham, Owen, Scott, Shelby, Spencer, Trimble, Washington, and Woodford, covering the very best farmland in the Commonwealth. Thanks to increasing community support, BLC has permanently protected over 32,600 acres.  

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