Earth Day was born of the work of many hands – students and teachers, clergy and laypeople, young and old, left and right, from big cities to small towns acting in unity to stop the degradation of our environment. The movement those 20 million Americans set in motion 50 years ago on April 22 led to national legislation protecting our air, water, workplaces, and endangered species. Awareness rose, and with it, a resolve to do better for the generations to come.
Sister Anne Clifford, PhD, who was teaching science courses at Mt. Gallitzin Academy on that first Earth Day in 1970, worked to cultivate curiosity and a concern for the environment among her students through activities that connected the six, seventh, and eighth graders to their relationship with nature. She recalls taking students on a tour of the Motherhouse grounds to prepare a report about the plants they observed and what they needed to thrive – complete with sketches of the plants they chose. Another assignment challenged her eighth-grade students to consider the possible impact of the smoke generated by the steel mills along the nearby Ohio River on plant, animal and human life.
During Sister Anne’s tenure, MGA received a Merit Award from the Duquesne Light Company’s Ecology Leadership Program for “outstanding contributions to the improvement of the environment and a greater understanding of ecology.” The program provided educational materials to local schools and worked to engage students in conservation, beautification, and clean-up efforts.
Around the same time, consciousness of global ecological concerns was rising within the Congregation, Justice and Peace Coordinator Sister Kari Pohl says, “as the experiences of our Sisters serving in Brazil revealed the stark connection between environmental exploitation (in the form of gold mining and rubber harvesting) and human exploitation.” That connection was widely recognized as the Congregation wrote its Directional Statement which identifies “violence and the abuse of power” as forces that “fracture relationships, diminish human dignity, and destroy the earth” and commits the Sisters to “live non-violently, to work to transform structures that promote violence, to affirm the dignity of persons, and to be attuned to how all of creation lives and moves and has its being in God.”
For Sister Kari, fulfilling this call means responding to the “structural sins” that have accelerated pollution and climate change, endangering both human and non-human life. “Human-caused environmental destruction of the magnitude that leads to massive illness and death is only possible (and acceptable) when viewed through the lens of racism and supremacy that places some people, cultures, and land above others,” she explains, acknowledging that while individual actions alone cannot undo structural sins, they are an integral part of transforming systems that oppress our dear neighbors and endanger our future on Earth.
So where does that leave us, 50 years after the first Earth Day? What can we do to honor God’s presence in nature and preserve the gifts of Creation so they may continue to sustain and nourish us all? Sister Anne shares the wisdom of Pope Francis – the first to write an encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si: On the Care for Our Common Home. He says that an important step to effect needed change is for people to recognize our fundamental “relatedness” to one another and to earth’s many species, and in so doing, be compelled to work together (including across international boundaries) to care for Earth, our common home. “Emphasizing that the world is a gift we have been given and must share, Pope Francis encourages people to honor the common good of all, including that of future generations,” Sister Anne says.
Let us consider Pope Francis’ question – “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who will come after us, to children who are now growing up?” – as we reflect on our capacity to carry the vision of Earth Day forward and become better stewards of God’s Creation. Let us joyfully commit to caring for our common home, together. Will you pray with us?
Offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship–
with one another,
and with creation.
Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.
Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home. Amen.
Care of the Earth and all of Creation are deeply held values of our Sisters, so we invite you to join us and “reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose” the natural resources entrusted to us by our loving Creator God.
Our newly formed Sustainability Committee, comprised of Sisters and Motherhouse staff, has goals to reduce waste, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas production throughout our community, and wants to share some actions we’ve taken that you might also try at home or work.
During this spring and summer, our Committee will focus on water conservation. We hope you’ll follow our new #SustainableSaturday series of posts on Facebook and Instagram and learn about simple changes you can make in your home, workplace, and community to become a better steward of God’s wondrous Creation.