Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare project would use nature to improve patient care

Research shows a strong connection between nature and healing, and Glendale-based Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare wants to use that connection to benefit its patients, their families and the community at large.

The goal is to build a lakeside chapel, a healing garden and two nature trails on a 36-acre piece of land described by Wheaton as a “tranquil haven of woodland and wetland surrounding a spring-fed lake (Koepmier Lake).” Despite its “up north” feel, the property is located in Franklin northwest of 68th Street and Rawson Avenue between the Wheaton Franciscan Cancer Care-Reiman Center at 7410 W. Rawson Ave. and the Polish Center of Wisconsin at 6941 S. 68th St.

“We as an organization believe in a holistic approach in taking care of the mind, body and spirit of patients, and numerous studies show the beneficial impact on what the environment can provide in terms of the healing process,” said Coreen Dicus-Johnson, president of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare’s central market. “We thought drawing on the nature and beauty of the area could serve as a way for patients to improve their health in a non-stressful environment.”

The idea for the chapel, garden and trails was conceived about a decade ago, at which time the Conservancy for Healing & Heritage Inc. was formed. Comprised of representatives from Wheaton, the Reiman Center and the Polish Center, the nonprofit bought the land for $1 million from the Polish Center and has been leading the fundraising efforts.

A total of $3.2 million is needed for the entire project, according to Dicus-Johnson, and currently 37 percent of it has been raised.

A healing garden and two nature trails are planned for cancer patients and the entire community to enjoy.

The fundraising has become more active of late due to a donation from Roy Reiman, founder of Greendale-based Reiman Publications, and his wife, Bobbi, that will cover the cost of the chapel, which is estimated to be just under $500,000.

“They’ve been great friends to Wheaton Franciscan,” Dicus-Johnson said. “We have named the Reiman Cancer Center after them, and this is to some extent a beautiful extension of their generosity and willingness to create the best environment for patients who come to the Reiman Cancer Center.”

Bobbi and Roy Reiman made a donation to cover the expenses of the chapel that will be named in their honor.

The 1,300-square-foot Reiman Chapel, for which a groundbreaking was held in July, will serve as a place for rest and reflection. The foundation for the chapel has been laid, and Dicus-Johnson expects it to be completed by winter.

The chapel’s architects are Milwaukee-based Uihlein Wilson Architects, and the general contractor is Franklin-based Reichl Construction Inc. It will be built in a Polish architectural design,

The Conservancy for Healing and Heritage held a groundbreaking for the Reiman Chapel in July.

“It’ll be a very rudimentary chapel,” said Dicus-Johnson, adding there will be electricity but no heat. “It’ll be a place where, weather-permitting, people can go and meditate before or after treatment.”

Work has not yet begun on the healing garden and nature trails, as they are contingent on raising the additional funds. Potential fundraising sources include individuals who have an affinity toward healing, gardens or cancer care, as well as grateful patients and others who have a tie to the Conservancy or Polish Center, according to Dicus-Johnson.

Although the project depends on how quickly the fundraising goal is met, she said it would be “a nice coup” if the garden, trails and chapel are all completed in the next three years.

The square footage of the garden and the length of the two trails have not yet been determined, but Dicus-Johnson said there will be an upper and lower trail both wrapping around the perimeter of the lake. There will also be boardwalks over the wetland portions of the trails, in addition to wayside shrines and gazebos.

“(St.) Francis (of Assisi) loved animals and nature, and the fact that this is a huge part of what we’re trying to create for our patients is absolutely consistent with our traditions and our heritage,” Dicus-Johnson said.

The chapel, garden and trails will also be open to the public.

“This is a place that we want to have for the benefit of our patients, but we don’t want it lost that we see ourselves in and of the community, and this is a place to share with the community,” Dicus-Johnson said.

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