The Land at Mariandale

The Center at Mariandale offers 61 acres of meadows, trails, and woods that offer open spaces for contemplation and healing. There is a Nature Trail that runs along the perimeter of the land, high above the Hudson River, with a stunning view of the river and valley.

Did you know that over half of the land at Mariandale has been preserved in a conservation easement with Westchester Land Trust? This means that the land cannot be developed, and the easement protects that land into the future. Read more about this, below.

Along the Nature Trail, visit the Healing Hut, the gardens, the Labyrinth, and the many trees planted in memory of our friends and loved ones.

Preserving the Land

In 2018, the Dominican Sisters of Hope preserved 34 acres of the 61-acre Mariandale property in Ossining from future development with a conservation easement.  This land and its meadows, wetlands, and woodlands are now part of a nearly 1-mile stretch of conserved shoreline along the Hudson River.

The property will continue to be owned and managed by the Sisters as DSH administrative offices and the Center at Mariandale, a spiritual retreat center. Westchester Land Trust will hold the conservation easement, which prohibits further development and protects significant ecological resources, forever.

The protected property is adjacent to the Village of Ossining’s 30-acre Crawbuckie Nature Preserve. In addition to protecting significant ecological resources, the conservation easement means nearly one mile of Hudson River shoreline is now protected in perpetuity—honoring a priority in the 2016 New York State Open Space Conservation Plan.

“As the holder of this easement, Westchester Land Trust now assumes the awesome responsibility to protect this land in perpetuity,” said Kara Whelan, Vice President of Westchester Land Trust. “In this way, we have joined together with the Dominican Sisters. We have become stewards alongside them and we share their faith in the future and hope for our planet.”

“Since 2011, we have been blessed to have a number of people help us focus on this core value and ultimately commit to this land conservation easement,” says Lorelle Elcock, OP, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Hope. “Our hope is that, in the future, this land will be a source of healing for body, mind, and spirit, as well as a place of refuge for the wildlife.”

The sisters provided a map delineating the conservation easement boundaries and signed a copy of the conservation easement in 2018 with Westchester Land Trust.

Bee Garden

The Center at Mariandale has hosted meetings of the Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers. We host a number of hives at Mariandale, and have engaged the help of experienced beekeepers to help us care for the hives.  We delight in learning from the bees, in both the mystery and their mystical aspects as we quiet down and pay attention to their rhythms of life.

Visit our Bee Yard (with permission and a bee guide) and see a thriving ecosystem at work. Please contact Sr. Bette Ann Jaster about a supervised tour of the Bee Yard, as we seek to maintain a calm, peaceful environment for the bees.

Hope Community Gardens

The Hope Community Gardens at Mariandale are special, spiritual places for growth and contemplation.  Master gardeners, garden volunteers, and Sisters help us grow fresh, organic food to eat and to share with the local food pantries, so that people in need can have fresh, locally grown vegetables in late summer and fall.

In the Hope Community gardens, we plant vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Food from the gardens is used in the retreat center kitchen and even more is donated throughout the growing season.

Beyond what we grow and donate, the gardening experience at Mariandale embodies the spirituality and participation in care of earth, honoring the primary values of the Dominican Sisters of Hope.  We honor diversity in planting and people, insects and creatures.

Gardening and preparing the soil for growth is an act of embodied spirituality at Mariandale.  It’s a time to slow down, to pay attention, to work with nature, and to give the young plants an optimal environment for growth.

We welcome garden volunteers at Mariandale during the spring and summer. Please visit our Volunteer page  if you are interested in helping with our gardens.  We wish to share this beautiful experience with all who can participate.


Healing Hut

The Healing Hut was designed by David Robinson, founder of Natural Edge, and former director of Restoration for Central Park in New York City.

The juniper wood to make the Hut was hand chosen by David and during the process the wood was endowed through prayer with healing properties, so that all who enter may receive blessings.

The hut was purchased by friends as a memorial for Sr. Maureen Michael Bergin, OP, a Dominican Sister of Hope who devoted her life to healing and hope for the poor.

Many people come to Mariandale to walk the land and offer a special prayer inside the Healing Hut for the world, or for an individual. It’s a very special place at Mariandale.

Indigenous People

Early 17th century Dutch maps of the Hudson River Valley show an Indian village, whose inhabitants were part of the Mohegan Tribe, named “Sint Sinck.” That phrase translates to “stone upon stone” and refers to the extensive beds of limestone found in the southern part of the village.

In 1685, the Sint Sincks sold their land to Frederick Philipse, who incorporated it into his land holdings known as the Manor of Philipsburg. The Manor comprised of about 165,000 acres and extended from Spuyten Duyvil Creek at the tip of Manhattan on the south to the Croton River just north of the Village of Ossining. The land was leased to tenant farmers of Dutch, French, and English origin.

From Westchester Magazine, “Hudson Valley’s Tribal History” David Levine, June 2016:

“In present-day Westchester County, the native presence goes back at least 7,000 years, according to archeologists who uncovered on Croton Point the oldest oyster-shell middens found on the North Atlantic Coast. Croton, in fact, is named for the Indian sachem Kenoten (“wild wind”). The Wickquasgeck, another clan, occupied the western reaches of the county, centered around Dobbs Ferry. In the 1600s, the Kitchawanks, members of the Wappinger family, built and lived in a large, fortified village on the high flat at the neck of Croton Point, one of the most ancient and imposing fortresses south of the Hudson Highlands. They called their fortress Navish.  (A marsh, which the natives called Senasqua, separates the Point from Croton Neck; you can find a plaque there at the spot where the Dutch signed a peace treaty with the Kitchawanks.)

“The Native Americans who lived in the Hudson Valley just before and at the time of European contact were agriculturalists,” says Joseph Diamond, a professor of archaeology at SUNY New Paltz. “They grew corn, beans, and various species of squash, and gathered plant foods such as hickory, nuts, butternuts, walnuts, acorns, and chestnuts, and various berries to supplement their diet.”

Corn, beans, and squash, in fact, were so central to native diets, the crops were known by the Iroquois as “the Three Sisters.” That interdependence required rather advanced horticultural skills. “There is a conception that the Algonquians were not sophisticated farmers like the Iroquois. I think that is not the case,” says Dr. John P. Hart, director of the Research & Collections Division at the New York State Museum in Albany. “To grow successfully, you have to understand how crops respond to soils, water, and rainfall, any type of unusual weather. When growing the three crops together, you have to understand how they interact with one another. If you have, say, 100 acres, that’s a lot of plants, so you have to understand what you are doing to have a successful harvest. And they had no plows, no metal tools—it was all hand labor, and they were very successful at it.”

They were also meat-eaters, hunting bear, elk, white-tailed deer, rabbits, squirrels, turkey, river otter, raccoons, and woodchucks, as well as various waterfowl. “Archaeological sites in the Hudson Valley have also produced evidence of fishing for most freshwater species, and, during the spring, they caught sturgeon, striped bass, shad, and herring, and probably dried, smoked, or roasted them,” Diamond says. Oyster beds found near the riverbanks provided abundant nourishment as well. In the spring, they tapped maple trees for syrup and sugar. After a hunt or harvest, the meat, vegetables, and berries were dried, the fish was smoked, and the bounty was stored in pits dug deep into the ground and lined with grass or bark. “They were producing enough food for large surpluses in case of crop failure for any reason,” Hart says.

They lived in several different kinds of houses, which they called wigwams, made of bent saplings covered with animal hides or tree bark, with a hole in the roof to vent smoke from fire pits. The homes could be circular, square, or oval, and some were rectangular longhouses. Several families from the same clan might live in a longhouse, each family getting their own section. “One of the longest in the Hudson Valley is 110 feet by 29 feet,” Diamond says of a longhouse inhabited by the Esopus Indians that was found by archaeologists in Marbletown (Ulster County). It contained European trade items from the Dutch, and many Native American items such as broken pots, smoking pipes, stone projectile points, knives, scrapers, and woodworking tools.

While the men traveled to hunt, fish, or fight, the women were generally in charge of the home, raising the children, and tending the gardens. But they were hardly subservient. “Contrary to American ‘squaw’ stereotypes of Native American women, the Lenape female had recognized authority roles within the family and the village community, comparing favorably in position to women in European society of the day,” Laurence M. Hauptman, professor emeritus at SUNY New Paltz, writes in “The Native Americans: A History of the First Residents of New Paltz and Environs.”

Winter was domestic time. The natives carved containers and utensils; made or repaired their hunting, trapping, and fishing gear; fashioned new baskets and pottery; and made clothing, which they decorated with porcupine quills, shells, and other items from nature.

“Winter was also the time of teaching,” according to Dorothy Davids, author of A Brief History of the Mohican Nation, Stockbridge-Munsee Band. The storytellers passed on the stories of “how life came to be, how the earth was created, how the people learned to sing, the story of the drums and rattles, and what the stars could teach them.” They also learned how to live with their extended families in peace, respectfulness, and shared responsibility.

Ceremony was central to their existence. They had a ceremony whenever something needed “paying attention to,” Davids writes, such as the planting of the corn, beans, and squash, and the harvest. “They practiced several kinds of burial,” Diamond says, “including secondary burial, which is a common form of mortuary treatment around the world that involves a second ceremony several months to a year later.”

In all, the native peoples of the Hudson Valley at the time of European contact were more than just eking out a living, more than just surviving. “They were living complex lives, like we do,” Hart says. As Dorothy Davids writes, “It was a rich life.”

The Labyrinth

Mariandale LabyrinthThe seven-circuit labyrinth at the Center at Mariandale is situated at the edge of a peaceful wooded area. Its location offers the opportunity for a highly sensate, reflective experience to those who walk its path. This particular design leads journeyers in a quiet, cleansing way toward the center and then, after a brief pause, empowers them on their walk back. Benches that encircle the labyrinth offer walkers the opportunity to sit and reflect on their experiences.

The word “labyrinth” means an intricate network of winding paths. There are many diverse designs. The 7-circuit classical is constructed from a cruciform. It is an archetypal symbol of the life/spiritual journey, a trust walk in search of the inner true self or the Divine and a renewed understanding of life’s meaning and purpose.

Labyrinths have been used in every world culture and religious tradition for over 4,000 years.

For more information about the labyrinth or to take a labyrinth walk at Mariandale, please contact Sr. Nancy Erts at

The Meadows

Meadows support the land’s ecosystem, benefit pollinators, and allow the Earth and its creatures to flourish with native plants and flowers.

At the Center at Mariandale, we “keep” a meadow on the east side of the land that grows from early spring to late fall.  Native plants and pollinators abound, and encourage our turtles, butterflies, bird, and other wildlife populations.  This land also helps with soil erosion and water retention.

Nature Trail

Many who visit Mariandale love to walk the Nature Trail, a wood-chipped trail that wanders along the riverside perimeter of the land. It’s a lovely walk at any time of year, and takes one past the Healing Hut, special dedication plantings, and the meadows. You’ll find wood benches along the walk where you can view the exceptional views of the river, facing west. It’s a beautiful way to watch the sun set.


Peace Pole

The Peace Pole outside the front entrance to the Mariandale Center was dedicated on July 13, 1991. The inscription, “May peace prevail on Earth” appears in eight languages: English, Spanish, Tibetan, Arabic, Hebrew, Algonquin, Swahili, and animal (paw prints.)

Peace begins in the hearts of minds of each individual. As we learn to honor each other, our environment, animals, and all creation on earth, the vision of global peace through sincere communication will gradually become a natural way of life. By igniting the flame of international friendship through the constant reminder “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” we can stimulate a shift in attitudes in all areas of planetary work–political, environmental, economic, and social.

The Peace Pole project was started in Japan by the Society of Prayer for World Peace. The project was launched with a dedication to uplift humankind toward harmony rather than conflict. War begins with thoughts of war. Peace begins with thoughts of peace. The Peace Pole reminds us to keep peace ever present in our thoughts. To date, friends and supporters have dedicated over 65,000 poles in 84 countries around the world.

Co-op for Earthsake

The Center at Mariandale’s multi-faceted environmental protection initiative, CO-OP for Earthsake, supports global and local causes, including the planet’s greatest threat: climate crisis. CO-OP for Earthsake at Mariandale was created from two initiatives:

1  The Preamble of the United Nations’ Earth Charter, which reads:

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.  As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward, we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of culture and life forms, we are one human family and one earth community with a common destiny.  We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society, founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Toward that end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater good community of life, and to the future generations.”

2  The Dominican Sisters of Hope’s Mission Statement:

“We, the Dominican Sisters of Hope, are called to preach the gospel to our world. In communion with all creation, we commit our lives to the transforming power of hope.”

The yearning to share this combined mission with other co-creators gave rise to members of the Earth Consciousness Committee, to see our work in a new light and a more organized way.

CO-OP for Earthsake seeks to remind others that Earth has too long been used and abused, and treated as an “object.”  Rather, earth is a sacred “subject,” a living organism worth relating to as a mentor, teacher, and healer.  Through direct experience with the natural world, people of all ages, beliefs, cultures and economies are invited to a range of activities from contemplative listening to work on the land.  Among the possibilities are:

Hope Community Gardens:   Volunteers help us to grow fresh organic food in our vegetable and herb gardens.  The food we grow supplies the retreat center kitchen, as well as local food pantries and families, with fresh food they can prepare at home.

Planting for the Pollinators:  We honor eco-beneficial ways of planting for the bees, butterflies, organisms, and wildlife.  We plant milkweed for the monarch butterflies.

Beekeeping:  We have hosted meetings of the Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers.  We host a number of hives at Mariandale, and have engaged the help of experienced beekeepers to help us care for the hives.  We delight in learning from the bees, both the mystery and their mystical aspects as we quiet down and pay attention to their rhythms of life.

Activism:  Advocating for environmental justice is one of the Center at Mariandale’s most pressing commitments.  We hosted a Green New Deal meeting, which brought together politicians, activists, indigenous people, and the public.  We have joined the Croton Climate Initiative in promoting education about emerging issues concerning water and natural gas.  Through educational speakers,  neighbors who already have a heart for the land and water have gathered to learn more of the perils facing us and our planet.  When Nature or Earth is threatened, we naturally respond. Many nature-oriented groups visit us for retreats, including the Audubon Society, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Religious Organizations Along the River (ROAR), master gardeners, beekeepers, and naturalists.

Walking the Land:  We have walked the land with many of our guests, and listened to the sounds around and above us, the sights, shapes, textures, names and stances of the trees, and the contours and texture of the land.

Mariandale offer programs on nature and spirituality throughout the year that explore our relationship with nature and the universe. We continue to yearn to awaken and partner with people of all ages, races, spiritualities, and economies for a relationship with the natural world that is both active and transformative, and offers tangible hope for the future.

For more information on the Center at Mariandale’s environmental initiatives and programs, please contact Bette Ann Jaster, OP, Environmental Programs Specialist, at

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