Natural burials started in the Central Pacific Province in 2015, with Sister Dorothy Olinger at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato, Minnesota. Sister Dorothy and Sister Kathleen Mary Kiemen, led the global education office in Mankato. Both of the sisters believed in and practiced green principles prior to their work with natural or green burials. The idea for a natural burial option grew out of a concern and love for Earth.

Sisters praying at the cemetaryIn a natural burial, a person is 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 pollute the earth. During a natural burial, the body is buried as soon as possible, generally within 36 hours after death. In preparing the body for burial, the body is cleansed in 100% natural soap. The body is then clothed with a gown made from biodegradable material. Typically, for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a memorial resurrection liturgy is celebrated after the body has been gently returned to the earth.

In 2016, at Notre Dame of Elm Grove in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, Sister Suzanne Moynihan, a friend of both Sister Kathleen Mary and Sister Dorothy, had the idea for natural burials on her mind. Sister Suzanne pondered the possibility of returning to earth in a gentle manner. Sister praying the rosary over the gravesAfter reflection, extensive readings, reviewing studies on natural burial, a daylong workshop on natural burials and through Sister Suzanne’s connection with Sisters Dorothy and Kathleen Mary, she started a committee in 2016. This group eventually developed the policies and procedures of the natural burial process for the Central Pacific Province. Once the policies and procedures were agreed upon and placed into motion, the provincial council invited sisters to consider natural burial as an option.

To date, three sisters have gone through the natural burial process, the first being Dorothy Olinger from Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mankato, Minnesota, in August 2015; Mary Ann Sadowski from Notre Dame of Elm Grove, Elm Grove, Wisconsin, in November 2018 and Joann Bauer from Sancta Maria in Ripa, St. Louis in December 2018.

If you are interested in a natural burial and are unsure if there is a cemetery in your area that conducts natural burials, visit the Green Burial Council’s website for more information.

More resources:

Find out more about the sisters care of the earth by reading the SSND Land Ethic Statement.

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