Trees as an Expression of our Care for Creation

March 15, 2019

By Sister Corlita Bonnarens

This is an ongoing Lenten blog series of the many ways Mercy cares for creation.

Trees, along with many other natural plants and creatures, start out as seeds and grow into beautiful, fruitful, beneficial realities. A single tree can soak up as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year, cleansing the air we breathe and producing enough oxygen to sustain two people. Trees not only enhance property values, but also have been shown to reduce stress and crime rates, and to help patients heal faster. Trees are one of the Creator’s marvels. Trees are often used as symbols of one’s spiritual and material growth—rooted in Earth and reaching toward heaven. A tree’s branches bear fruit, and provide shade and shelter.

'Protectors of God's Handiwork' by Sister Corlita
‘Protectors of God’s Handiwork’ by Sister Corlita

I have been instrumental in getting more than 100 trees planted on the 70-acre campus of Mercy Conference and Retreat Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Guests who come here for retreat, renewal and spiritual guidance comment on the peace-filled energy and beauty surrounding Mercy Center.

We recently established a 5-acre plot of native wildflowers on the grounds of Mercy Center to attract birds, butterflies, honeybees, insects and other creatures. Previously, this ground lay fallow and required mowing, consuming fuel and hours of human labor. After researching and discovering a loophole in a city ordinance that required property grass be no higher than seven inches, I submitted a proposal to plant native flowers on the Center’s grounds, which our local county governing body approved in 2017.

Mercy Center’s grounds are certified as a National Wildlife Habitat due in large part to the sustainability initiatives I have launched. A variety of wildlife, including deer, coyote, rabbits and squirrels, seek food and shelter on Mercy Center’s grounds, and as many as 40 species of birds have been sighted.

'Springtime Splendor' by Sister Corlita
‘Springtime Splendor’ by Sister Corlita

I have been a member of a team that has offered a day of reflection on Water to two different groups of people, resulting in their deeper awareness, respect and use of water as Sacred Gift and Critical Concern.

For many years, I served as the chairperson of our environment committee at Mercy Center. Our staff educational efforts resulted in us taking many actions, including: we installed energy efficient light bulbs and machinery on the campus; we increased our water efficiency; and we organized the recycling of paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metals. For 30 years on Earth Day, I provided educational programs for staff and sisters on various topics such as global warming, food and diet, energy, water, climate change, the benefit of trees, and the new universe story and cosmology.

In addition to the sustainability work I have coordinated at Mercy Conference and Retreat Center, I try to live out my desire to care for the Earth in my own life. For more than 15 years, I have driven a Toyota Prius, an energy efficient, low emissions vehicle. I support environmental organizations with financial contributions, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. I respond to action alerts sent by these organizations by sending messages to legislators. Since becoming aware of how many resources are used to feed animals, especially beef cattle, I have taken great strides to eat less meat for the past 16 years. In my artwork, I give expression to my love and care for creation by painting trees and other aspects of creation.

My suggested actions are:

  • Plant a tree(s) or contribute to an organization that plants trees.
  • Support an environmental organization with a financial contribution.

To deepen your engagement with the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concern of Earth during the season of Lent, please explore an examination of conscience for consumers, a faith leader’s guide to the impacts of climate change on regions throughout the United States, and a study & action guide to Laudato Si.

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  1. Claudia Ward, RSM

    Corlita, thanks so much for all you’ve done to enhance our grounds and educate us regarding our environmental footprint! I’m inspired by all that you do and have done… Thank you!


  2. Joanne Castner

    Thank you, Corlita, for a lovely reflection! I am wondering…do you have prints, or cards, of ‘Protectors of God’s Handiwork’ available for purchase? What a powerful creation!


  3. Mary-Leonita Metoyer

    Corlita, Dear, Thank you so much….so inspiring. God bless you.


  4. Martha Meyer

    Dear Corlita,
    I am grateful to you for all your efforts on behalf of our beautiful planet, earth.
    Thank you so very much.


  5. marla yeck, rsm

    Corlita, Thank you so much for all you are doing for mother earth. Your paintings are beautiful… and so i just had to copy one and it has a place of honour on my bedroom wall. (How much do i owe you?”)


  6. Cristina Caballero, RSM

    What great honor to creation and suggestions in living our Critical Concerns. Thank you so much!


  7. Sister Natalie Rossi

    Thank you so much for your time and energy in helping to save our planet. Thank you so much for sharing your art. I find it can be used for meditation.


  8. Sister Carren Herring

    Coralita, you have been an inspiration to me for many, many years. Thank you for your creativity, perseverance and care for our mother earth


  9. Richard Mary Burke, RSM

    Cor, your life and ministry continues to inspire me and so many others. Thank you for sharing so much with our educators and students. You are definitely a natural born teacher of so much regarding faith, love, creation, God’s mercy and living simply. Thank you for WHO you are and all that you continue to contribute to our lives each day!


  10. Claudette Schiratti

    Corlita, thank you for so beatifully connecting your art to your love of the earth in your life.


  11. Sharon Schmitz

    Thanks so much, Cor. You are a blessing to all of us who live on campus as well as those who visit for retreat. I saw 10 small deer feasting in the meadow on Tuesday. Lovely!


  12. Teresa Murphy

    Sister Corlita, Thank you so much for your suggestions. I sit on the City of Richmond’s Advisory Committee on the Environment (www.richmond.ca), a small city near Vancouver, BC, Canada. I will circulate this article to committee members. Your suggestions are practical, doable and inspirational. Many thanks!


  13. Joyce J. Nixon

    Corlita,

    Thank you for sharing what you so to make Mercy Center a place of peace and of nature. I certainly find visiting these grounds and find them most peaceful.


  14. Mary Bilderback

    Thank you for so much, Corlita.
    The quote you hung on the tree at the center of your labyrinth is always with me.

    “A tree says: My strength is Trust. I trust that God is in me; I trust that my work is holy; Out of this trust, I live.” — Herman Hesse


  15. Bill Jacobs

    Thank you, Sister Corlita. Beautiful words and art.