What kind of significance could a London Plane tree possibly have to the Catholic faith? Quite a bit, if you were to ask St. Alphonsus Liguori. And Church of the Nativity parishioner Brian Todd, who was inspired to plant such a tree at his parish after studying Liguori’s writings.
As the story goes, the Holy Family saw such a tree as they were fleeing to Egypt away from King Herod. Although the tree didn’t offer much by way of shade, they still wanted to rest underneath it for a while.
An evil spirit lived inside the tree. Upon seeing the Holy Family approaching, the demon was expelled, and the tree bent down to worship the baby Jesus. Its new shape gave passers-by ample shade and shelter where they could find rest.
Todd came across this story when reading Liguori’s book “The Glories of Mary” and thought such a tree would be a perfect fit for the parish’s Rosary Walk, a walking trail along the parish’s grounds with different stations representing the mysteries of the rosary. Parishioner Joe Holdheide had built it in 2017 for his Eagle Scout service project.
“All the stations combined represent the entire rosary. It’s a beautiful place to pray and meditate,” Todd said. “I thought, ‘There’s no better place to plant the tree.’”
Todd planted the tree this past May.
The London Plane tree itself is rare in the United States. The one Todd planted at the Church of the Nativity is only one of 23 such trees in Tennessee.
He went to Riverbend Nursery in Thompson’s Station to go looking for the tree, not being entirely confident he’d be able to find one because it’s so uncommon.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find a London Plane exactly, but I knew from my research that it’s a type of sycamore,” he said. “I asked a lady working there if they had any sycamore trees on hand. She looked at their database and they just happened to have a London Plane Tree. For them to have the exact rare tree I was looking for at the time I was looking for it has to be so much more than just a coincidence.”
To see his fellow parishioners’ reactions to the tree has been nothing short of divine providence, Todd said.
“People have been more and more drawn to it since it’s been planted and wanting to learn more about its origins and history,” he said. “Eventually we’re having a marker put there with some background information that people can read.
“And the timing is perfect with Pope Francis declaring the Year of St. Joseph,” Todd added. “It’s a great time to reflect on the Holy Family. I’m really glad to see the way this has touched people’s lives. To watch it all unfold really has been an act of God.”