Special note: the image above, in our Gaining Ground banner, of my then-six year old daughter Lindsey, was taken at Sacred Hearts Healing Center on Great Neck.
Father Stan Kolasa
Special people leave a lasting impression. That was certainly the case a decade ago, when I had the great pleasure to meet Father Stan Kolasa – the dedicated Vicar Provincial for the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts – owners of 120 acres of beautiful, and ecologically important, land on Great Neck in Wareham. The property had been used for decades as a Healing Center – a place where cancer survivors, substance abusers, and those who had experienced domestic violence firsthand could be rejuvenated by the healing powers of the spectacular coastal landscape.
Up until that point in time, land conservation interests – both private and public – had relatively little interaction with religious entities owning important land in Massachusetts – or elsewhere, for that matter. So after an introduction by longtime conservation partner, Mark Rasmussen of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, Stan and I knew that we were breaking new ground for others to follow in the years ahead.
Statue of Saint Damien at Sacred Hearts
We each did a lot of talking, and a lot of careful listening. I learned that the Congregation of Sacred Hearts was part of a global entity, delivering their mission to far reaches of this planet. Similarly, I learned that the sale of the entire property at Great Neck for top dollar for the funds it would yield was being considered by Sacred Hearts simultaneous with our “conservation conversation”.
As we talked, and built important and lasting trust between us, it became very clear that there was considerable common ground under our feet – likely more than either of us realized going into it. Stan spoke eloquently about the importance of “preserving God’s creation”, and I would profess the importance of “protecting biological diversity” as an unintended echo back to him. The language we each used was clearly different, but the realization of shared values was powerful – and highly motivating.
Father Stan (with former Mass Audubon President, Laura Johnson immediately to the right, at Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Sanctuary ribbon cutting.
When the fate of the property was determined at a large gathering of decision-makers within Sacred Hearts some months later, conservation prevailed. Stan no doubt played a key role in the deliberations leading to that favorable outcome. Sacred Hearts’ property at Great Neck, abutting existing Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary land on two sides, was legally protected with Stan Kolasa playing an absolutely central role. The plants and animals that thrive there, and all of us, owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Father Stanley J. Kolasa died on Friday, December 2nd following an heroic bout with cancer. Please remember him as you walk the trails at the beautiful Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.
Most of the Sacred Hearts property was protected through the acquisition of a permanent Conservation Restriction. In total, nearly 300 acres was protected at Great Neck, in a successful partnership involving Mass Audubon, the Wareham Land Trust, the state Department of Conservation & Recreation, the Town of Wareham, MA CZM, NOAA, and the generosity of many conservation-minded neighbors, several of whom conserved their own land at that time.