Healing Our Global Home
By Associate Karen Martin
Because we Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati dwell in this house of love and encounter God, we commit ourselves to choose to live simply in a complex world committed to the healing of our global home. (SC Vision Statement)
We hear the summons of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ “to profound interior conversion; a re-examining of our relationship with the Creator, with creation and with our brothers and sisters.” (LS 217)
These are stimulating and convincing words from the Sisters of Charity that compel them into action. Several Sisters are leading vital ecological movements to promote a healthy Earth beginning with the facilities, people and programs around Mount St. Joseph and expanding outward to many others. Through these efforts the Sisters and their collaborators exclaim their message and demonstrate actions for a sustainable and flourishing Earth.
In 2015 the SCs conducted an energy study of the Motherhouse to learn ways to lessen their carbon footprint. They partnered with Melink Corporation to determine ways to make the Motherhouse facilities more ecologically sustainable. A geothermal and solar system was installed for the houses on the property and the Motherhouse kitchen hood was replaced with one that controls the ventilation and conditions the air without constantly running. Also, LED light bulbs replaced the 10,500 incandescent bulbs throughout the Motherhouse saving 512 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. LED bulbs are 90 percent more efficient.
Sisters Joyce Brehm and Jean Miller are recycling advocates around the MSJ Motherhouse and Mother Margaret Hall nursing facility. Their work is expanding beyond the bins for aluminum cans and paper as thinking about recycling is changing. Annie Leonard, an American proponent of sustainability, states: “Recycling is what we do when we’re out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first. Firstly: Reduce, don’t buy what you don’t need. Repair, fix stuff that still has life in it. Reuse, share. Then only when you’ve exhausted those options, recycle.”
For several years Sisters Joyce and Jean have increased the number of recycle bins for Rumpke accepted recyclables and instructed Sisters and employees on the appropriate items and how to discard them into the bins. Also, refillable salt and pepper shakers, bins for reusable cloth napkins and a permanent basket for cleanup rags were placed in the dining rooms.
The two Sisters knew that these efforts were not enough. There was more to do. They continued their research and connected with the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub (CRRH), often referred to as the Hub. This organization’s mission is to revolutionize how people think about “things” and to provide a place where almost anything can be recycled or reused. Still, there are items we think we need to throw away. Annie Leonard states, “There is no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw away it must go somewhere.” The Hub helps to collect items that Rumpke curbside recycling collectors don’t take. (See article on Page 18.)
Sisters Jean and Joyce collect and organize items from the Motherhouse and Mother Margaret Hall to send to the Hub. S. Jean gathers everyday products such as toothbrushes, empty and cleaned toothpaste tubes, plastic eating utensils, used gift cards, and pens and pencils in her room in Mother Margaret Hall. Eventually they too are given to the Hub.
In the Motherhouse, S. Joyce manages recycling a variety of common household plastics and packaging, including plastic snack bags with aluminum lining, Swiffer dusters, Brita filters (dried), air freshener cartridges, containers and packaging bubble wrap and worn out shoes. She works in the basement of the Marian building where large trash cans collect those items for the Hub. Popping sounds may rise from the lower levels of Marian as S. Joyce rolls over the plastic bubbles to release the air and compact the plastic for recycling, demonstrating that recycling can be fun!
All these recycling efforts require cooperation and assistance from many on the campus. The employees working in the clinic collect prescription bottles that are delivered by the Transportation Department to recycling centers in the area and Environmental Services remains faithful to emptying bins into the appropriate receptacles. This community-wide approach from Sisters, staff and employees requires education and encourages understanding and participation. Recycling “stuff” requires a recycling of “thoughts.” Knowing to recycle everything, no matter how small, is vital and the possibilities are endless. The work is worthwhile.
Not only “stuff” pollutes our Earth. Ongoing research is determining the effects of methane produced by cattle; how to control the amount released through cattle diet and the human response regulated by the amount of consumed beef. S. Jean advocates more education and the practice of eating more plant-based food in our cuisine … less beef, less methane, happy cattle, healthy Earth! The SC Community (Sisters, Associates and employees) had the opportunity to take part in a collaborative Meatless Monday effort this March for Catholic Sisters Week.
The three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) for Earth sustainability are practiced beyond the Motherhouse and Mother Margaret Hall. The Seton Green Space, located on the razed Seton Hall building lot, has an ADA-compliant walkway enhanced with reused architectural pieces from the Seton building. This beautiful area includes native plants, shrubbery and trees that attract and support pollinators and regional and migrating birds. Benches and a water feature provide a place to rest, converse with others, and appreciate nature’s flora and fauna on this fragile, wondrous Earth.
La Casa del Sol Ministry Center across Bender Road is a multi-purpose facility for individual Sisters’ ministries as well as offices and gathering space for others. The building has super insulated walls and windows, natural lighting and uses geothermal wells and solar panels that provide all the HVAC and electricity the building needs. The center is on the site where S. Paula Gonzalez, in the mid-1980s, with volunteer help, converted an old farm chicken coop into a future-sustainable home, La Casa Del Sol, from recycled and reused resources. These materials for “the house of the sun” were recycled from other facilities, donated, or purchased from money raised from recyclables. The current center manifests S. Paula’s passion, work, vision and voice for a healthy Earth, and the Sisters, following the Chapter 2015 Directive, continue “to advance care for creation by transforming our properties into models of ecological sustainability.”
S. Paula also founded EarthConnection in the early 1990s. EarthConnection is a center for learning and reflecting about living lightly on the Earth. Once again, S. Paula converted an unused building, an oversized four-car garage, into a 3,900-square-foot meeting and office space building with the help of many volunteers. Many recycled materials were used including waste glass made into floor tiles, a wall made with aluminum cans, and carpet from recycled plastic bottles. Recycling is like magic! Also, like her “sun house,” the EarthConnection building uses solar heating and electricity, super insulated walls and windows and lots of natural light.
Sisters Caroljean Willie, program director, and Winnie Brubach, facility coordinator and master gardener, manage EarthConnection. S. Winnie, with volunteers, grows organic vegetables in about 26 raised beds and several plots. These vegetables and sometimes extra plants are donated to the Good Samaritan Free Health Center in Price Hill and other local food facilities that help feed the needy. Care for the Earth includes intentional care for its people, food gives life.
S. Cj develops cross-cultural, interfaith, national and international programs available virtually and in person onsite or offsite. She engages youth to adults with topics including sustainability, alternative energies, eco-justice and eco-spirituality. Girl Scouts can earn environmental badges and an EarthConnection patch, while having fun and learning to care for the Earth.
EarthConnection also sponsors Caps to Benches – more recycling magic! A variety of clean caps from milk jugs, detergent, bottles, and caps with #2, #4 and #5 are collected and delivered to Green Tree Plastics in Evansville, Indiana, and transformed into benches or tables. Like all recycling, Caps requires work and dedication. The caps need to be cleaned, sorted, bagged, delivered and the product picked up. It takes 200 pounds of caps and $300 for one bench and 500 pounds of caps and $550 for a table. The result is great furniture and tons of plastic kept out of landfills!
The Sisters of Charity from their very beginning respond to the needs of the present, build on the work of the past and are a prophetic voice for the future. They embrace calls for an ecological conversion, a change of heart. They continue to “dare to risk a caring response,” to teach and encourage others to do the same for the good of all God’s creation.