Stewards of the Earth

September 27, 2020



By Jackie Coffer, Marketing & Events Manager, Mercy Center Auburn

The sacred grounds of the Sisters of Mercy’s Auburn campus welcome all who visit. Located in the beautiful foothills of northern California’s Sierra Nevadas, the 33-acre property includes living quarters and a chapel for the sisters. It is also home to Mercy Center Auburn, a retreat and conference center.

A beautiful grounds in Auburn, California.
These sacred grounds in Auburn, California, are owned by the Sisters of Mercy.

Caring for these grounds are two longtime employees of the Sisters of Mercy, Lindy Virgil, Jr., and Joseph Oliveira, with more than 68 years of combined service. Technically, Lindy brings even more years of experience since, at age 16, he used to drive from the local high school to the convent to work with his grandfather, Joe Costa. Joe’s commitment to the sisters left an indelible mark on these grounds – a legacy that Lindy now helps to preserve and enhance.

Both men’s hard work and talents create a picturesque landscape where we witness each day the miracles of nature. “We’re dedicated to preserving the beauty of these grounds,” Lindy says. “But we also understand the importance of protecting our natural resources that we’ve got to handle with respect.” Joseph agrees, adding, “We all need to take full responsibility for what we use.”

For example, Lindy and Joseph work hard to conserve water by planting more drought-tolerant plants. Organic pesticides are used minimally. Also, they help manage waste material kept on-site, which is allowed to decompose naturally while providing protective habitats for the visiting wildlife.

Both express their concern for the wildlife that find their way to our campus. Deer, raccoons and turkeys view these grounds as a haven for their protection and sustenance.

An image of two West Midwest staff members' tending to the sisters' grounds in Auburn, California
West Midwest staff members Joseph Oliveira (left) and Lindy Virgil Jr. tend to the sisters’ grounds in Auburn, California.

The two modest groundskeepers take great pride in the comments from sisters and guests expressing how these grounds are an extension of their spiritual experience. Many retreatants describe their stay on the campus as “calming, comfortable, connected, and incredibly happy” —our grounds play a significant role.

Lindy and Joseph possess the most important of mindsets. They know the urgency of preserving and protecting nature. They do so not only for the benefit of Mother Earth, but they understand that safeguarding these sacred grounds is beneficial to all who visit now and in the future.

“The Earth can tell us what it needs. But, it’s up to us to learn how to listen,” says Joseph, as he prepares for another day of working alongside Lindy and learning more secrets about caring for the land. Secrets that, no doubt, Lindy learned from his grandfather years ago. 

Every single day, Lindy and Joseph leave their mark on these sacred grounds in Auburn—just like Lindy’s grandfather.

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  1. Kelly O'Brien

    I hope to make it to these grounds after the pandemic. But this article describing the dedication of these men and the pictures were a moving introduction—thx for this.


  2. Bryna Bozart

    So consoling a Presence in nature. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Ellen Turner

    Thank you for noticing and featuring these two gentlemen, so often we take the people who work for us for granted without realizing that they instinctively cherish the same things we espouse. As Mother Theresa would say they are making something beautiful for God. I am glad they know their work is appreciated.


  4. Pat Oliver, rsm

    When I stayed at Mercy Center years ago, I would walk these sacred grounds and pray in their quiet beauty. Now I know who were the keepers of that chapel of nature. Thank you, Joseph and Lindy!


  5. Sue LaVoie, Companion in Mercy

    How wonderful and insightful to choose these two men … the salt of the earth types that inspire me to take gentle care of my property.
    Dostoyevsky said that “Beauty would save the world.” These men are doing just that … creating beauty that is saving all of us.


  6. Michelle Gorman RSM,

    Thank you, Jackie, for articulating my feelings re Lindy and Joseph- and Joseph’s mom and Lindy’s grandfather, Mr. Costa. We all grew up there under their compassionate care and merciful generosity. Their work (and all of yours) helps us “rest in the grace of the world.” Many thanks. Michelle


  7. Sister Lucy Calvillo

    Thank for this beautiful tribute to workers for are part of us.


  8. Randy Hartley

    The Auburn Campus is stunning and very well taken care of by the two groundskeepers.
    When I was at St. Joseph School we use to have our Easter Egg hunts on the front lawn. Many good memories!


  9. Jackie Ann Moreau

    Thanks for the love and care for the land.


  10. Jean-Marie Gorman

    I also remember Joe, Sr. who worked with Lindy’s grandfather and Joe, Jr. who also worked with these men. They certainly made up a huge crew when it came to caring for and designing the sacred grounds in Auburn.


  11. Ann Dufour

    The beautiful Auburn campus, many good memories there.
    This is surely holy ground.


  12. Richard Mary Burke

    Jackie, our deep appreciation to you for highlighting the persons, presence and many gifts shared with us from Lindy and Joseph. They help us give witness to “our learning from others how to be more merciful!” Please extend our gratitude to each of this inspiring men. Blessings to all!