Upgrades for St. Dominic's Orange Tree

Last month our St. Dominic’s Orange Tree got an upgrade. Sr. Mary Magdalene and Sr. Joseph Maria made the new container and, with a little help from our construction crew, we were able to remove the tree from its old container and plant it in the new one.

What is St. Dominic’s Orange Tree? On St. Dominic’s last journey from Spain he brought an orange tree and planted it at Santa Sabina’s (the headquarters of the Order) in Rome. It is said to have been the first citrus tree planted in Italy. This tree has been re-propagated in the 800 years since then, both from seed and from new shoots. When the first Dominican monastery in the United States was begun, its foundresses brought with them cuttings from St. Dominic’s tree in Santa Sabina which they planted and nurtured until it became a lovely tree at the Newark Monastery. In 2005 when the Newark Monastery was suppressed we asked if we might have the tree, as the nuns obviously couldn’t take it with them (though they did take some cuttings with them to the Farmington Hills monastery).

You might be wondering how a citrus trees has survived in New Jersey. During its time at the Newark Monastery it lived in the cloister during the summer and was moved into a sunny corridor for the winter. At our monastery a little greenhouse was built for it to stay in during the colder months. Every spring it gets brought back out into the sun. However this means that the tree couldn’t be planted in the yard, as it would have had to have been dug up again every Fall before the frost came. It’s been living in a half whiskey barrel on wheels so that it can be rolled in and out of the greenhouse. The tree is very heavy, and more recently we purchased a little forklift which made moving it much easier. Wood doesn’t last forever and it was time for a new container. Unfortunately, it turns out whiskey barrels are quite expensive! Thankfully we have a very talented “handy-nun” in Sr. Mary Magdalene, and she and Sr. Joseph Maria created a beautiful new home for the tree from faux-wood decking material which will drain well and won’t decay like wood.

There is a tradition that the fruit on the tree is a gauge of the community’s vocations. Lots of little green oranges mean many vocations on their way! (Alas, we have not found the tree to be prophetic as far as vocations go, although it is always fun when its bounty matches the number of sisters in the novitiate!)The tree’s fruit is bitter, but Sr. Joseph Maria, who is the caretaker for the tree, has had great success in making tasty marmalade! Is it a coincidence that the caretaker of the tree and the caretaker of the novices is one and the same sister??