“This land is a perpetual asset that supports our work in over 70 countries, and we must care for it,” said Rev. Quang Duc Dingh, rector of the Society of the Divine Word, said at the ceremony on Tuesday.
His Roman Catholic order of missionary priests and brothers maintains its North American headquarters in Northbrook.
Begun in 2006, the project is the largest private reforestation effort in Cook County, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). It is spearheaded by Rev. Sunny Francis, who came up with the idea in 2002 to revert the society’s 158-acre property back to its state in the 1890s, when the missionary order first came to the area.
“For the society, the future is just as important as the present,” said Dingh. “It is our responsibility to look forward to the future.”
Francis compared the project to the tallest church in the world, Ulm Münster in Germany. Work on the cathedral in Ulm began in the 1300s and concluded in the 1800s, he said.
“I believe there is some connection between that church in Ulm and our land here,” he said. “It is not the work of one person but a group of people committed to work on, to build on.”
Through the Illinois Forestry Development Act, the IDNR provides free tree seedlings to private property owners who are working toward reforestation. As long as the seedlings keep coming, Francis says he will continue planting trees.
The society has already restored its existing 40-acre oak and hickory forest through a $23,000 matching grant from the IDNR.
Dave Griffith, district forester with the IDNR, praised Francis and the Society of the Divine Word for taking the long view.
“Ninety percent of the state’s woodlands are owned by private landowners, which makes management difficult,” he said. “They…prove what being good stewards is: making the land better than you found it.”
During her remarks, Simon also praised the project as a great example of a public-private partnership and taking the long-term view.
“To know that, literally, we’ll be breathing more easily because of what you’ve done here, I can’t thank you enough,” she said.
Biss (D-Skokie) seconded Simon’s thoughts after the ceremony.
“On a day that is 10 trillion degrees, it’s worth saying how important it is to have 40,000 new organisms that will take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” he said of the heat. “Doing this represents hope in the future.”
Before the event concluded, Simon, Francis, Dingh and other officials in attendance unveiled a plaque beneath a newly planted white oak—just one of the 3,500 trees planted so far in 2011.