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Honoring Earth every day

By Sister Maxine Pohlman

The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) have a history of caring for creation even before it was in the forefront of the daily news and before the ecological crisis had reached the tipping point. One of the two “urgent needs” embraced during the SSND 2018 Assembly of the Whole was Care of Creation; consequently, our efforts to focus on creation care will continue with increased energy and motivation as we move into a challenging future. In this article, we offer you a glance at efforts SSND have been making.

Since the early 1990s, our sisters in Japan have been using solar water heaters in three of their houses. The switch to renewable energy has, hopefully, been a boon to our planet. In addition, our Japanese sisters have been using laundry soap made of recycled plant oil, which does not negatively affect the environment either in production or use. They have been doing this for 30 years!

In 1995, Sisters Kay and Annette Fernholz initiated Earthrise Farm in Madison, Minnesota. Their purpose was to care for the land as well as to be a witness to community building and radical hospitality. To that end, they started a Community Supported Agriculture garden to provide sustainably grown vegetables for people in the area, contributing to the local food movement.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame partnered with Dwight Jelle of Best Power International to open a solar park on SSND property in September 2015. The park includes about 2,800 solar panels and was made possible with a grant from Xcel Energy.

For several years, sisters at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) in Mankato, Minnesota, have been installing solar gardens to produce electricity. The newest solar power is a 1.3 megawatt solar array with roughly 40,000 solar panels, capable of creating enough energy to power 165 average Minnesota homes. Through their efforts, OLGC is powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Several years ago, Notre Dame of Elm Grove, Elm Grove, Wisconsin, introduced the community to a resource called TerraCycle a program that recycles or upcycles “non-recyclables” such as empty toothpaste and lip balm tubes and old toothbrushes. Sisters have been motivated by the large amount of non-recyclables that were recycled by TerraCycle and are encouraged by the continued commitment to this program. Keeping non--recyclables out of landfills may seem insignificant, but in doing this the sisters are hopefully changing minds about human beings’ affect on Earth.

Another effort in changing minds and behaviors began in 2015, when sisters in Mankato, Minnesota, brought to our attention the possibility of natural burials. After much study and preparation, sisters in the Central Pacific Province now have the option of an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial practices. Growing out of love for Earth, sisters who choose natural burial are laid to rest wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container such as a natural wooden casket. The burials avoid the use of embalming chemicals, which cause pollution. During a natural burial, the body is buried as soon as possible, and a memorial resurrection liturgy is celebrated after the body has been gently returned to the Earth. Three sisters have been buried in this manner, continuing their care for the Earth even at the time of death.

A raised garden bed in the Caroline Garden at Sancta Maria in Ripa in St. Louis.

Just last year, friends and donors helped to create Caroline Garden at Sancta Maria in Ripa in St. Louis for the sisters in the infirmary. The motivation? Fresh air, exercise, cognitive stimulation for sisters and care of creation. Located in an enclosed space, sisters can safely work with raised beds, making them feel part of our effort to care of creation as they get their hands into the soil, plant seeds and watch their work come to fruition.

In all of these projects, sisters are showing that the choices we make daily can help repair the tear in the fabric of life caused by a consumer mentality that replaces rather than repairs, that considers Earth to be a resource for our use no matter the consequences and that pays no attention to waste disposal. As we move into the future, caring for creation will continue to be an essential aspect of our lives as SSND not only on Earth Day, but also every day of the year.


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School Sisters of Notre Dame

320 East Ripa Avenue

St. Louis, MO 63125

Phone: 314-561-4100



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