Parish and Local Community Groups: Education
We invite teachers and educators to emphasize in their classrooms and curricula, a love for God’s creation, a respect for nature, and a commitment to practices and behavior that bring these attitudes into the daily lives of their students and themselves. Renewing the Earth, U.S. Catholic Bishops (1992)
Education ministries provide some of the most important opportunities for incorporating Church teaching on the environment into parish life. This can be as simple as devoting one religious education or elementary school class period to the topic, or as elaborate as setting up a new curriculum or sponsoring an environmental retreat. For schools, Church teaching on the environment offers an excellent opportunity to connect science curricula with faith formation and the care of God’s creation.
Young people often instinctively know that they have a stake in protecting the future of God’s creation, and they love hands-on opportunities to act on environmental concerns. Initiatives as simple as an afternoon cleanup at a nearby vacant lot or stream, to more elaborate programs such as those described below, can capture the imagination of your parish youth group and help them learn to be responsible stewards of the environment.
Habits of Creation
The Ecological Working Group of the Diocese of Richmond provides this one-day retreat and workshop as a fun, hands-on way to examine our call to ecological responsibility. The retreat allows participants to learn about basic ecological principles, discuss real life stories of poverty and the environment, examine scriptural roots of environmental justice, and build community. The EWG has also created a facilitators guide as a resource and tool for ecological education.
Marianist Environmental Education Center
The Education Center provides education for inner-city youth with limited access to nature and for religious education groups through efforts to continue prairie restoration on the Mount St. John home of the Society of Mary in Dayton, OH. Projects, presentations, and free workshops are intended to increase awareness and appreciation of the earth. MEEC also distributes free climate change information and runs workshops on the subject for congregations in the area.
Water Wisdom in a Parish Setting
The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Osprey, FL, developed a comprehensive water conservation and quality plan to promote and practice stewardship of Gods earth in the construction and planning of their new parish building. The Churchscape Committee, formed to help implement ecologically sound design and help educate the community about creation stewardship, also developed a workshop to provide information on water in the state and church.
Saint Benedict Center Environmental Restoration
In response to urbanization and rapid ecosystem degradation in the Lake Mendota Priority Watershed, the Sisters of Saint Benedict in Middleton, WI, began an extensive restoration project of their Center. Incorporating area organizations, such as Boy and Girl Scout troops, schools, and parishes, into their efforts, the Sisters helped raise awareness of the importance of caring for Gods creation and successfully restored a sensitive watershed and prairie system.
The BioBox Project
Sixth-grade students in the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic inner-city elementary schools created “bioBoxes” containing artifacts and information reflecting the students’ environmental region. They exchanged the boxes with sixth-graders from other regions. Through this process, the students learned about the uniqueness of their region, the sacredness of creation, and the value of networking to promote environmental awareness.
The Nature Classroom
The Nature Classroom project in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., involves Catholic elementary school students in a variety of experiences designed to develop an appreciation for the interdependence of humans and the environment. The students were involved in classroom and field plant identification, plant dying and weaving, and creation of a herbarium. They also reflected on Catholic social teaching and our responsibility to protect the wonders of creation. The project’s coordinators developed easy-to-use lesson plans, a training program, and a video for instructors.
Cycle of Life Project
Through the Cycle of Life Project, students at St. Mary’s School in the diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., learned the value of organic gardening by setting up a compost system for growing plants to beautify areas around the school. “Grow labs” was also set up so the children can measure differences between plants fed by compost and those without compost. Vegetables from the grow labs will be donated to food pantries. The children learned not only the value of sustainable agriculture and beautifying their environment, but they also learned the importance of avoiding waste by sharing our excess with those in need. Local newspapers, including the diocesan newspaper, agreed to publicize the project.
Freshmen and sophomores at Holy Rosary Academy in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., attended an environmental retreat where they reflected on what it meant to respect God’s creation and to work for environmental justice. After the retreat, the students initiated gardening and recycling projects that helped them act on their reflections.
Parishioners of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, wanted to provide opportunities for both reflection and action on the connection between faith and the environment. First, they distributed quarterly bulletin flyers on environmental issues and Catholic teaching to encourage reflection and discussion. Then, they offered opportunities to participate in various environmental activities, including farming trips and a weekend wilderness retreat.
Loyola College Environmental
Justice Retreat Program
Loyola College in Baltimore sponsored a retreat model focusing on environmental justice to help students make the link between social justice and the environment. Other activities included hands-on service projects, liturgies, and a speakers’ bureau. All of these activities were initial steps toward the establishment of a permanent environmental justice office at the university.
for Southeast Asians
The St. Julie Asian Center in the Archdiocese of Boston helped Southeast Asians in the Boston region build community spirit, pride and dignity by dealing with the environment problems they face in their communities.
This project aimed to help Catholic youth in the Diocese of Madison, WI understand better their role as stewards of God’s Creation. Elementary and middle school students attended a diocesan camp facility and the Diocesan Office of Justice and Peace helped provide environmental service projects through the Catholic schools.
The Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph in Owensboro, KY updated their farm as an environmental/agricultural education center to train 50 teachers in land/stewardship and ethics. The project impacted 1250 students in good land use stewardship.
De La Roca Saldrá Agua,
Community Garden Project
The youth group of St. Mary’s Parish in Bridgeport, Conn., reacted to the violence and decay in their inner-city neighborhood by taking an abandoned, garbage-strewn, city-owned lot and turning it into a community garden where they help their elderly neighbors maintain plots. Through the cooperation of the local water company and a grant from the USCCB Environmental Justice Program, the group helped install a water spigot at the site. Now the elderly gardeners can water their vegetables without hauling water, a dangerous task during the summer heat.
The Millennium Garden, a project of the Holy Family Catholic Educational Center in San Jose, Calif., provided young people with hands-on gardening experience to develop their understanding of our responsibility for caring for the earth. The program included working with native plants, planting a butterfly garden, growing plants in a greenhouse, and cultivating a vegetable garden. A composting project, and a weather station round out the program, which served more than 600 young people annually.
The Winona, Minn., Area Council of Catholic Women started an Environmental Eagles Club for seventh graders who work on local environmental issues and raise community awareness. Their first project was developing an environmental ecology calendar. Each member was responsible for researching environmental and ecological characteristics associated with one month of the year. The children used that information to create calendar pages.
At the Prairiewoods Spirituality Center run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Dubuque, Iowa, junior high students were taught to develop favorable habitats for wildlife. They spent one week observing the wildlife and recording their observations. The project was designed to teach appreciation of nature, promote an understanding of Church teaching, and preserve space for wildlife in an urban area.
The Poster Project
The project of Covenant House and the DC Catholic Conference was a youth leadership effort designed to help the Youth Congress of Covenant House Washington initiate a joint-community clean-up of excessive advertising posters in several Washington neighborhoods.
The SHARE Team (Student
Helpers & Advocates for Renewing the Earth)
In support of Bishop Pilla’s (Diocese of Cleveland) pastoral initiative, The Church in the City, this demonstration project seeks to pilot an after-school program involving middle school students from one suburban Catholic and two inner-city schools in the use of satellite imagery to study the environmental impacts of urban sprawl and pollution in their local area. The diocese aims to work in partnership with a local university to prepare middle school teachers and college student volunteers in the instructional use of satellite imagery analysis. At the conclusion of their environmental research projects, participating students plan to convene a conference for their peers and submit their findings and recommendations to appropriate representatives from local governments (city and county).
Safe Cleaning for a
Safe and Cleaner Environment
Fourth-graders at St. Jude School in Knoxville examined the marketing of household cleaners, learn the dangers of disposing wastes containing environmentally unsafe materials, make earth-friendly cleaning solutions, use and share them with the local Catholic Charities, and disseminate their discoveries through a newsletter and resource materials supplied to Chattanooga’s Recycling Center program.
Education Towards Sustainability
This project offered to a neglected age group (10-14 year olds) in the poor, semi-rural community of Franklin, NH, a four-day summer youth program in the basics of education toward environmental sustainability. This project was part of an effort to establish a Sustainable Living/Learning center in Franklin by the Sisters of the Holy Cross in response to the needs of the poor and the earth. This project was part of a wider network for education toward sustainability in New Hampshire.
Homeless Youth Ecology Awareness
Teens from a local homeless shelter in the Diocese of Springfield - Cape Girardeau, and in cooperation with a local parish, designed and displayed a public mural at the city’s a hazardous waste collection center. Children from local Catholic schools who were studying environmental issues also displayed their art work.