Patch Portrait: Priest Plants Trees, Develops Property For Generations To Come
Father Sunny Francis, a priest with the Divine Word Society, oversees the missionary group's land development in Northbrook.
Father Sunny Francis loves animals—except maybe deer. That’s because they strip the bark off the 39,600 trees he’s planted on the Divine Word Society’s property.
“They go after the best trees,” he says.
Since 2006, Francis has led a project to reforest 40 acres of land that priests and brothers of the missionary society formerly used for farming. Those 40 acres are one small piece of the Techny Land Development—742 acres of land owned by the Divine Word Society, most of which is leased out to developers. Willow Festival, Crate and Barrel’s corporate headquarters, Five Seasons Sports Club and the housing development Meadow Ridge, for example, are all located on Techny property.
The Divine Word Society has owned the land for the past century, farming it in addition to housing priests and brothers on the campus. But 25 years ago, one of Francis’ predecessors at the Divine Word Society, Father Frank Kamp, had the idea to lease it instead. Kamp served as the first chair of the Techny Land Development, the position Francis currently holds now.
“He is the one who argued and convinced those people who could never understand how we could get into land development,” Francis said. “We are supposed to be parish priests, or educators—we are not land developers. So his argument is that if we sell it, it’s gone. On the other hand, if we lease it, we own it, and we control every bit of the development that is going to happen on that land, and then you receive an income for years to come.”
In addition to supporting parish priests and brothers, income from the development goes to the society’s missionary work around the world, Francis says.
“This is not just a business. This is something we do with a specific purpose,” he explained. “In one way or another, a person who is buying something in Willow Festival is impacting something that is happening in 72 countries around the world.”
Francis describes the Divine Word Society’s role in developing and maintaining the land as one of stewardship. That includes his project to reforest 40 acres with new trees.
“I feel that it should be preserved for generations to come,” he said.
Francis was born in Kerala, India, where he became a priest with the Divine Word Society in 1988. He was a professor at a Divine Word university in the Philippines before coming to the U.S. in 1995.
“The service of humanity was the heart of my calling,” he said.