Set on 19 acres in a residential neighborhood in Westfield, Massachusetts, Providence Arboretum encompasses the grounds of Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke, Massachusetts, whose mission dates back over 140 years as a transforming and healing presence in the region.
The land where Genesis flourishes was first settled in the 1500’s by the Native American tribe Waranoak of the Algonquin Nation. The Algonquin conception of property was that land was not thought of as individual property of any one person but rather a sovereign right of a whole people to their political and ecological territory.
Genesis is situated on the former Crane Estate, whose mills in the Berkshires continue to make paper for the United States currency. The property - 19 acres and 26 room Manor House - was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in 1929. The home served as novitiate for the Sisters of Providence until 1932. The Manor then became the residence for the ministry to unwed mothers under the title of the Guild of the Holy Child and was conveyed to the Sisters of Providence in 1942. In 1964 the original house was razed and a modern building was erected serving this ministry until December of 1975. In January of 1976, realizing the need for a contemporary spiritual life center, Genesis Spiritual Life Center was founded by the Sisters to expand and continue their healing ministries.
The mission of Genesis is to create an atmosphere that will reveal the love of God for all creation and bring hope and healing to all who come. Sensitivity to atmosphere, devotion to the land, and attention to program design invite everyone to experience God’s providential care and sense of well-being.
Genesis’ grounds are maintained in cooperation with nature’s wisdom and free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Wooded groves and mature specimen trees, many 100 to 150 years old, surround the property. Within are broad expanses of lawn, peppered with commemorative plantings of ornamental trees, shrubs, and gardens which enhance the natural beauty and contemplative atmosphere of the grounds. Among the trees, comfortable benches and lounge chairs invite guests to sit in reflection. A Compassionate Curve pathway, spiral of life, peace pole, and labyrinth provide other means for inspiration and meditation throughout the property. A small fruit orchard, community vegetable gardens, compost pile, chickens, black squirrels, and a variety of birds and other wildlife participate in the council of all beings at Genesis.
In 2012 Genesis staff began transcribing paper records of its commemorative plants into digital format and created a comprehensive catalogue of all the plant life on the property. These records were continually updated as new plants were acquired and field checks were conducted. Worn and missing commemorative markers were noted for replacement and additional tree species were selected to receive display labels for public education. During this process it became apparent that a foundation was already in place for what could be recognized as an official arboretum. Hence a decision was made to pursue accreditation through the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program. In light of the fact that the Sisters of Providence had ministered on this site for over 80 years and at this time continue to do so, it was only appropriate that the arboretum be named Providence in their honor.
The dedication and blessing date of Providence Arboretum is June 12, 2016, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Genesis.