Fun Fact: Fairfield University has a Japanese garden.
“Students don’t care,” said student David Velasquez ’14.
Jouges Residential Assistant Josh Beebe ’14 held a mediation program for his residents at the Japanese garden located behind Bellarmine Hall this Sunday. Not one student attended.
After waiting 30 minutes for attendees, Beebe canceled the program, but he plans to reschedule. Beebe said he wasn’t upset or mad, he figured students were preoccupied with the miscellaneous tasks that usually get put off until Sunday.
Even if the program is rescheduled, there is doubt the turnout will be popular. “It really doesn’t mean anything to students,” said Velasquez about the garden.
Velasquez visits the garden during finals to relax in the midst of the mounting stress. He explained that when in the garden, he feels like he is not at Fairfield anymore, and the detachment is refreshing.
Unfortunately, Velasquez said he has not been up to the garden since last semester’s finals. Sophomore Farheen Khan visited the garden in the summer, however, and found it to be unkempt.
“The area did not seem preserved. They weren’t taking care of it very well,” said Khan.
According to Khan, the garden has a lot of potential for students: events, classes, meditation and even picnics can be held in the garden. But the some students claim administrators are not recognizing that potential. “They don’t really care about it. It’s not popular. They [would] rather have new sidewalks that the public sees,” said Velasquez.
Khan shares similar sentiments. Khan said the administration is focused on attracting new students, and because they don’t show the Japanese garden on tours, it is not a pressing issue.
Velasquez said he thinks the lack of maintenance and attention is a shame. If the garden was advertised and students knew it was an option for relaxation, the garden would be used. But according to Velasquez, the administrators have lost sight of the spiritual benefits and the well-being of the students; it becomes a money issue.
But even beyond the spirituality and peace of mind of the student body, “we have lost a piece of culture,” said Velasquez.
The Japanese garden, commonly referred to by students as the Zen garden, has been around since before Fairfield. The garden was designed in 1926 by Arthur Schurcliff for the Walter B. Lashar Family. The Lashar’s home is what we now call Bellarmine Hall. The Japanese garden was one of the many gardens that surrounded the house.
Lashar most likely treated the garden as a kind of entertainment to show his guests after dinner parties, according to Dr. Katherine Schwab, professor of art history. The Lashars were well traveled and had spent time in China and Japan.
Therefore, the garden was true to the Japanese manner, wrote Schurcliff in a letter to a resident Jesuit.
In this letter, the Jesuit Anthony J. Eiardi describes how “the running water in the channels sparkles in the sunlight, and the sound of water over the falls adds to the peaceful atmosphere.” These pools of sparkling water have long been abandoned.
The garden once had lanterns, a Buddha statue and a replica of Mt. Fujiyama that would smoke through a chimney running inside of the sculpture.
An article in Fairfield’s digital archives describes the garden with three red wooden bridges, fish, pond lilies and a small sampan (a Japanese fishing boat) that would run down the channels.
The giant Torii (a traditional Japanese gate) that marked the entrance of the garden has long fallen, along with the entertainment and visitors that once brought the garden to life. Director of Bellarmine Museum Dr. Jill Deupi explained that our cultural memory is short and so the garden is not a priority anymore.
Many members of the Fairfield community hope to see the Japanese garden maintained to honor its past intention, said Schwab. But maintenance of the garden would require grant funding and a full-time gardener. If students don’t use the garden, it may not be worth the investment.
Velasquez found an alternative solution: “We are the ones who appreciate it, so we should maintain it and ask administration for the resources.” A collective effort from the students might make the grant more attractive to donors, but this would require a dedicated task force to follow through with the process.
Beebe thinks the garden is trapped in a paradox: The seclusion and obscurity of the garden offers peace of mind, but also deters students from the garden.
For now, the garden straddles the past and the present, offering a haven for the wandering student.