Cobourg, Ontario — With master's degrees and doctorates in eco-theology and eco-ethics, St. Joseph Srs. Linda Gregg and Mary Rowell run the Villa St. Joseph Ecology and Spirituality Centre in Cobourg, Ontario. The two teach university eco-theology courses from the center, which also houses a large community garden, and offer retreats and reflection for all faiths focused on the interconnectedness of spirituality and the Earth.
The building that has become Villa St. Joseph started as a home built around 1836 for a prominent local merchant, Winkworth Tremaine, Gregg said. The sisters' archivist is researching the exact story of the home, but Gregg said historians believe stagecoach and steamship executives later owned the home.
Cobourg became a summer destination for wealthy American families in the late 1800s, and as Gregg described, "many large houses were bought by both sides of the Civil War as 'boltholes' if their side didn't win." The home was eventually owned by the daughter of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (who later became a U.S. president), Nellie Grant.
When she died, her second husband sold the home and 10 acres to the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1921 to be used as a girls' orphanage. Rowell said they have been in touch with women who were raised in the orphanage who had happy memories of their time at the house and grounds.