By Sister Corlita Bonnarens
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.
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.
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.