St. Thomas More Campus Ministry
In October 2003, St. Thomas More Campus Ministry implemented a program developed by the Franciscan Ecology Center called the “Franciscan Earth Corps,” which reaches out to Catholic college students at Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry to engage them in a Care for Creation and ecospirituality ministry. The program serves both a ministry to Catholic students and an outreach to college students getting degrees in environmental science, and promoting an important religious-secular environmental dialogue.
The program is grounded in the Franciscan ecospirituality tradition, which calls all members of the Franciscan family to engage in caring for creation. The program has also been created in response to a growing awareness of the Catholic responsibility to address ecological issues and environmental justice issues, based on the message of Pope John Paul II, "The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility" and the environmental pastoral letter by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Renewing the Earth." Out of all of the student and adult participants, only two people had heard that the Catholic Church has anything to say about nature or environmental issues.
Franciscan Earth Corps students planting a tree
Since its inception, the Franciscan Earth Corps has offered training workshops for college students regarding Catholic approaches to the environment, augmented by numerous sermons about Catholic responsibilities to care for creation. In addition to the theological education, the Corps has sponsored weekly meetings and environmental education sessions, as well as field trips to learn about ecosystems first-hand. The Franciscan Earth Corps involved approximately 12 college students and the campus minister in an effort to implement a Franciscan Earth Club program to promote greater understanding of the call to care for creation, and help promote specific areas of awareness and service at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse, New York.
During the first year, nearly 80 high school students participated in club activities, which included field trips to learn about the human-nature connection; urban and rural environmental service projects; and even an overnight camping retreat to plant trees and restore wildlife habitats. They participated in a community-wide Earth Day project with a local church that involved neighborhood clean-up, pruning, and restoration of an urban green lot in the area, gathering over 40 bags of trash from the lot. Additionally, the group planted over 100 trees and restored four small mammal microhabitats at the rural Alverna Heights Franciscan Nature Center east of Syracuse.