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January 7, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA

articles list

Women religious are ‘going green’ in record numbers

Parish has adopted ‘Father Frank’s Kids’

One family’s offer of a garage grew into a decade of orphan support

Deacons celebrate 25 years of service in the diocese

Collection will aid diocesan seminarians

New Moraga pastor sees outreach as integral to parish life

National conference on capital punishment to be held in San Jose

St. Mary’s College hosts Eco-Fair and symposium

Ugandan girls find refuge after rape

Trappists expand casket factory to meet demand

Mexican bishop files complaint after theft at human rights center















Women religious are ‘going green’ in record numbers

See related story: Dominican nun finds calling as environmentalist

Sarah McFarland Taylor, an assistant professor of religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, is running as fast as she can to keep up with the increasing numbers of Catholic women’s religious communities who have turned their wholehearted attention to healing and restoring the planet.

The Sisters are ahead. But rather than being frustrated, the author couldn’t be happier, because word about the serious urgency of earth care is finally spreading.
Last April, Taylor’s book, “Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology,” (Harvard University Press) made its debut. “Green Sisters” features 50 groups of Catholic women religious throughout the U.S. who are engaged in eco-justice work. They have founded ecological learning centers, community-supported organic farms, eco-spiritual retreat centers, and environmental activist investor groups.

And now, the circle of green Sisters has expanded to include the Mission San Jose Dominicans in Fremont. They are the sixth women’s religious community in California to add an environmental focus to their charism.

Taylor’s book features five of the communities: the San Rafael Dominicans and their straw-bale hermitage at Santa Sabina Retreat Center in San Rafael; the Immaculate Heart Community and their retreat center in Montecito; Earth Harmony, a joint project of a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet and a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Mary, in Sherman Oaks; Earth Home Ministries, a community garden project based in Oakland for several years before its founders, Notre Dame de Namur Sister Sharon Joyer and Immaculate Heart Sister Pat Nagel, relocated to Portland, Oregon; and the Sisters of the Presentations’ Green Welcoming Center and Dining Hall in Los Gatos.

Since her book came out, there’s even more good news Taylor will want to include in her upcoming sequel.

Last month, the Presentation Sisters of San Francisco received an Energy Oscar for Green Building from California Interfaith Power & Light, a ministry of San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral founded in 2001 by the Rev. Sally Bingham to help people of faith promote positive environmental change. CIPL is made up of 500 congregations of all faiths, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.

The award ceremony, held at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, honored 16 of the organization’s congregations for their exemplary efforts to address global warming and energy conservation. Other Catholic recipients were Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for energy efficiency and renewal energy; and Catholic Charities of the Stockton Diocese, for public policy and advocacy.

“We believe that stabilizing the climate is the most important moral issue of our time,” said the Rev. Bingham. “Every major faith tradition has a mandate to care for creation. The web of life is sacred, but sadly endangered.”

The Presentation Sisters were honored for the dining hall at their retreat center in Los Gatos which includes straw bale walls, passive solar design, photovoltaic solar panels, and solar thermal collectors; recycled blue jean insulation; and a sustainable organic garden.

In accepting the award, Presentation Sister Patricia Marie Mulpeters, executive director of Presentation Center for seven years, said that her community set out “to build a building that reflects and protects the sacred natural beauty of the redwoods and mountains surrounding our retreat center.”

It is the third honor for Presentation’s green building. The structure also received the 2007 Design Honor Award for Energy and Sustainability from the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco, and the Best of 2006 Northern California Green Building Award from California Construction Magazine.

When the Voice e-mailed Sarah McFarland Taylor for her comments regarding these latest developments around the greening of religious communities, she wrote, “I keep having Sisters contact me to let me know about new ministries springing up both domestically and abroad.”

The commonality among the vast majority of them, she observed, is the way religious women are making important connections about the interrelatedness of social injustices and ecological ruin. “These are women, who in many cases have spent decades working with the poor and the destitute, who have now come to see hunger and economic injustice as closely tied to environmental degradation.”

During her research, Taylor discovered another major shift taking place among many religious communities — recognition that “the narrative of evolution is the sacred story of our time. Part of their passion for ministering to the whole life community stems from this cosmological consciousness of a common evolutionary origin. They look at evolution as pointing to the sacred reality that everything in creation was there at the Big Bang. They look at evolution as pointing to the sacred reality that we are all of a piece and are fundamentally connected.”

Local Franciscan friars are also focusing on earth care.

The Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley is planning a 2008 Lenten series, “Peace on Our Planet,” that will include a Feb. 21 public lecture by Franciscan Brother Keith Warner on Franciscan Environmental Ethics. The entire series will incorporate current information and contemplative prayer regarding global issues.

Clare Ronzani, director of community spirituality at FST, said the school has drought resistant plants on its grounds and energy saving light bulbs in its classrooms. Future plans include solar paneling.

Scripture classes on the Old Testament and the Psalms “stress our place in creation and our responsibility for it,” she said, adding that one faculty member has committed to addressing environmental issues in every course.

Some students and faculty have attended soil restoration trainings and are using green home cleaning products..

The Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara sponsors a web site through its Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation office featuring Earth meditations and reflections. It can be accessed at www.sbfranciscans.org.

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