The “buzz” about Sisters and sustainability!

Sister Dawn Nothwehr is a Franciscan Sister of Rochester, Minnesota. She has taught religious studies at several universities in the Midwest and since 1999 has held academic appointments at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where she currently holds an endowed chair in Catholic theological ethics in the Department of Historical and Doctrinal Studies. She is a prolific writer and speaker, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, blogs, book reviews, online posts, and media.

Describe some ways your congregation is calling its members to sustainability in light of climate change.

Creation care is in the DNA of the charism of the Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester and a passion we have expressed publicly for some 50 years.

In supporting the 2010 resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right, we educate, advocate, and unite with others on this issue.

Beehives became a permanent fixture at our motherhouse in 2000 and provide us with honey and wax. Our vegetable garden, flower beds, prairie grass plots, and flowering bushes provide the bees with forage while beautifying the environment and removing carbon dioxide, and we educate people about the many dangers bees face today.

Since the fall of 2013, 600 solar panels have graced our property — the largest solar field in southeastern Minnesota. At peak performance, it generates 150 kilowatts of electricity per day, the amount of energy needed by about 21 homes. A “win-win” electricity source: We reduce the need for fossil fuels, and the rebate we received from Rochester Public Utilities covered one-third of the cost, giving us a payback period of about six years. The system’s life expectancy is 30 to 40 years, with little, if any, maintenance, even at temperatures from -40 Fahrenheit degrees to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our solar field is also an occasion for sustainability education through coverage by various media. In today’s technocracy, there is precious little land that is not “built-up” or contaminated by human waste. So to deepen awareness of and contribute to the physical, mental and spiritual health of all by safeguarding fresh air, water, natural beauty and ecological interaction with animals, plants and trees, in 2019, we chose to set aside 72 acres of our property in a conservation easement that will be protected in perpetuity.

On Jan. 16, 2020, our sisters were publicly recognized [by Rochester Public Utilities] for “short and long-range plans and practices for the care and preservation of the land, trees, and water at Assisi Heights based on the mission of the Rochester Franciscans, ‘reverence for creation.’ The range of their activities includes eradicating buckthorn, eliminating garlic mustard [both non-native invasive species], care for honey bees, restoring trees, planting annuals in the spring to beautify the landscape, developing a butterfly garden as well as strategically caring for the prairie area.”

In his “Canticle of the Creatures,” St. Francis of Assisi praised God with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, and Our Sister, Mother Earth: “Laudato Si’, mi Signore!” This canticle is our moral compass and reverential stance, globally and locally, praising God with creation.

We’re delighted to bring you this blog from the monthly feature “The Life” courtesy of our friends at Global Sisters Report. This month “The Life” panelists were invited to share the strategies and concrete steps their congregations are using to promote sustainability, preserve a healthy environment, and combat climate change. Click HERE to read more blogs from The Life, GSR’s monthly feature about the unique, challenging, and very specific lives of women religious around the world.