Otis & Friends 2I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

More than 20 years ago, the land I lived on was visited by six gentle humans. The critters and I soon learned that these were not humans to be feared, but humans who would value and revere us and our habitats. Here is the story of how they planted the seeds that have grown and are growing into Prairiewoods, as told by one of those original gentle humans …

Twenty years. I’m looking back today—looking back, yes—but with great excitement for the future. So much more is possible.

What were we thinking back then, twenty years ago, we six women, Franciscans in touch with the spirit of the great saint of the 13th century, Saint Francis, a saint who related to the poor, to the leper and the wolf, to simplicity and joy, to Earth’s beauty?

What were we thinking? Only that something was calling. It was time for something to happen on the 70 acres that our community had purchased in 1961.

Francis was a dreamer and so were we, dreamers all, and hopefully led by the Spirit.

The six of us were:

– Joann Gehling, just back from Chicago with a new degree, a doctorate in ministry with a concentration in feminist theology and psychology. Joann was ready to add her counseling skills to the venture;

– Maryam Gossling, a professional artist and the one who constantly reminded all of us of the value of the beautiful. We still remember with delight her go-to dinner prayer, “May this food be to our health and beauty.”

– Nancy Hoffman, a former creative and beloved teacher now emerging in her new role of becoming a beloved massage therapist and creative teacher of T’ai Chi with a deep spiritual connection to and knowledge of nature;

– Joann Moeller, with a doctorate in home economics plus a mixture of gifts including a flair for beauty complemented with a bent for the practical and a great organizer.

– Therese Marie Pedretti, arriving from Wisconsin to join the group, bringing with her her own great experience in retreat work and a high qualification as a spiritual director.

– and me. I was the sixth member of what would come to be known as the Core Group, a group with a desire to work as a team. I had recently completed a term of service to Franciscan Sisters mostly in Iowa and Minnesota.

The foundresses: (from left) Sisters Betty, Nancy, Therese, Karen Flottmeier (FSPA President at the time), Maryam, Joann M. and Joann G.

The foundresses at Prairiewoods’ ribbon cutting in 1996 (from left): Sisters Betty Daugherty, Nancy Hoffman, Therese Pedretti, Karen Flottmeier (Regional Director at the time), Maryam Gossling, Joanne Moeller and Joann Gehling.


It was 1994 when we began the exciting challenge of laying the groundwork for what would become Prairiewoods. As many other religious women of the time, we were greatly influenced by the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, plus other theologians and scientists who were telling us of the new Universe Story with all of its spiritual implications.

In the next two years, the six of us met almost weekly to study and pray together. We read articles and watched every tape that Brian Swimme produced, plus most of Thomas Berry’s. It seemed in those days that new and exciting books were coming off the presses every week. So we read.

We discovered resources in the community—Trees Forever and Iowa Renewable Energy Association (I-Renew) were both extremely helpful and encouraging. Many other local authorities gave advice and support. Those Wednesdays when we met were needed for such things as deciding on an overall vision, developing a plan for the protection and development of the land, deciding what responsibilities and activities we each might embrace, and eventually working with architects and contractors. None of this, of course, was even thinkable without the approval and support of our community, The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA), in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Their “yes” to the creation of Prairiewoods made it possible then and continues to make it possible now. In addition to members of the core group, other members of FSPA have since joined the staff, each adding her own more wisdom and personal skills to the common effort.

The entire history of these 20 years requires more than this blog for its telling. There have been so many memorable moments, so many creative and committed people who have played a vital part as members of the staff, so many board members gave their time in a generous spirit and who have faithfully kept the center moving forward, some challenges, some disappointments, some work and, yes, some pain.

The mission statement of Prairiewoods today is remarkably similar to the original one. The vision has not changed. Our desire has been and is to open this 70 acres as a sacred space for all who desire to deepen their spirituality, to come to know themselves more completely, to welcome the healing power of Earth and to recognize the spiritual connection we have with all life and to come to realize that, no matter what our creeds or cultures, all of us are one human family.

Our Universe is most fantastic, radically amazing! And through the Universe Story, we learn about the long, long journey life has had, becoming always more complex and more diverse through the centuries. And as to the miracle of life on Earth, we can turn to Brian Swimme who says, “This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: you take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.”

Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center is a sacred space where people of all faiths and cultures are invited to explore and nurture their relationships with the Source of All Being, Earth, Self and Others with an increasing awareness of the story of the Universe. Won’t you join us?

—Betty Daugherty, one of six Prairiewoods foundresses