School Sisters of Notre Dame
The Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry began with a proposal from the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minnesota to analyze the best ways to “be present” with rural communities in light of the steady migration of sisters leaving ministry jobs in rural communities and taking jobs in cities. This migration caused the sisters great concern, but reflected a broader trend among farming communities in the Midwest -- often leaving the remaining small family farmers and their families in a struggle to survive.
Co-directed by two School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Center is dedicated to practicing reverence for all of creation, promoting the connection between care for the earth and spirituality, supporting rural parish communities and those who minister there, and working with organizations that struggle to keep land and people together.
To learn from the wisdom of professionals and activists, the sisters teamed up with the Land Stewardship Project, a Minnesota organization long active in the area of sustainable agriculture, as well as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local Mankato social service agencies. They also held meetings with rural people throughout southern Minnesota. After hours of conversations the sisters found their own lives and practices moving into the center of their efforts to support the rural people of southern Minnesota and promote stewardship of creation.
Community gardens at the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry
In the food service at the convent, for example, more than 600 meals are served daily. Recognizing the opportunity to support local farmers, the sisters decided to purchase all their vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and milk from local farmers, rather than purchase goods that require transportation over far distances.
A second area ripe for transformation was the land around the convent itself. Erosion of the land posed the most serious problem, contributing to significant native habitat decline. Four major ravine sites with deep gullies have been filled in and fitted with improved techniques for water control and holding ponds. The expertise and help of engineers and local land use authorities assisted in the renovation and continue to help monitor it. All the agricultural land has been converted into native prairie lands as well. Now, wild turkey, pheasant, hawks and deer make their home on the grounds.
To further serve the needs of the community, several acres of land have been devoted to gardens for people in Mankato who do not have access to gardening space. Approximately 65 plots in their garden have been made available, most of which are used by newly arrived immigrants from Japan, Vietnam, Ukraine, China and Sudan. They are assisted by local Master Gardeners who volunteer to give gardeners helpful hints. The prairies, gardens and pastures provide an opportunity for hands-on ecological and environmental study for the Mankato area Catholic schools, as well as opportunity for rest and reflection for the broader Mankato community.
The Center desires not only to serve the rural people of southern Minnesota and strive to practice good stewardship of creation, but also continues to be an active advocate for rural people and the issues that affect them. Priorities include: respect for land use and water, agriculture that is more sustainable and economically viable, and support for the people who work to protect the land and water are priorities. The directors of the Center have served on national and state policy committees; they alert farmers and others about legislation, join them at legislative hearings, assist with public policy phone-a-thons, and work in other ways to keep people informed and involved.
Sister Mary Tacheny
200 Nolden Lane
Jordan, MN 55352