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The Link Between Sisters, Sustainability and Stories

By Heather Rockwell

Understanding the relationship between the environment and society is critical for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. As fires, floods and a whirlwind of worry sweep over humankind, the Sisters faithfully embrace their responsibility as stewards of the earth.

The Sisters’ commitments – spelled out in a document known as the Chapter Acts – include Integral Ecology, which calls for “a comprehensive vision to address what are simultaneously environmental and human crises.” Pope Francis writes of these interconnected relationships in Laudato Si’ (#48), where he states, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.”

Sister Mary Annette Dworshak is a teacher of religion at Holy Names Academy in Seattle who has incorporated this holistic approach to ecology in every aspect of her life and ministry. “The difference Laudato Si' made in my life, commitment and teaching is a call to accept the challenge of speaking out about our responsibilities to care for our common home and to take the risk of inviting others to join in prayer, advocacy and responsibility,” she said.

Along with others involved in the SNJM Congregation’s Justice and Peace Network, Sister Mary Annette seeks to promote understanding of how important it is to make sustainable practices a way of life. The Sisters do not work alone but are blessed with opportunities to advance the cause of sustainable living in collaboration with local, national and international groups.

A touchstone for their efforts is the United Nation’s “17 Goals to Transform Our World,” established in the fall of 2015. Many of the goals – including Clean Water and Sanitation, Gender Equality and Quality Education – are closely tied to the Sisters’ vision and mission. These sustainability goals are woven deeply into their daily lives. Several are reflected in their corporate stands, which are positions affirmed by the whole community to focus their efforts in advocacy, ministry and prayer.

From undertaking projects to provide clean water in Lesotho to speaking out against human trafficking in the U.S., the Sisters have taken on these sustainability goals with rigor and passion.

One informal SNJM group called the “Green Ladies” challenges itself to promote dialogue and storytelling as a way of supporting the UN sustainability goals. One of the “Green Ladies,” Sister Linda Riggers, explains that changes in behavior stem from changes in attitude. “We all believe,” Sister Linda said, “that things like sharing our personal experiences, witnessing other people who care for the earth and storytelling shape our attitude and draw us to a conversation of our own ways of being.”

Our lives become stories that educate others to reflect upon their own attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. When others are inspired by our stories, change can begin its process.

With their historic focus on education, members of the SNJM community easily make a connection between being teachers and valuing storytelling as a way to promote change. Sister Marilyn Gooley, another member of the “Green Ladies,” shares a telling anecdote about downsizing her apartment. During her transition to a smaller living space, she recalls the words of an old friend who told her, “There’s never been a U-Haul following a hearse.” Relationships, she adds, are far more precious than possessions.

The message is clear: the material things that fill our homes cannot fill our hearts. But the vision of a future with clean drinking water for our neighbors, lush green forests, children with enough to eat and education accessible to all is a different matter. The contents of our U-Hauls will not follow us beyond the grave, but this legacy will.

Additional information and resources are available from the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

Heather Rockwell works as Communications Assistant in the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province office.
In the photo: A few of the “Green Ladies” share materials about sustainable living. L-R behind table: Associate Frodo Okulam and Sisters Claire Durocher and Dianne Nixon.