Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Marquette High School student and faculty volunteers
MUHS Students and Faculty Volunteers
Written by Joe Meyer; Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project
Saturday was woodland restoration day at Laudato Si’ Project’s work area at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha, WI. The morning had a group of 15 volunteers from Marquette High School and the afternoon had 20 volunteers from both Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Marquette High School. The main objective was to remove the buckthorn, the invasive tree species, to allow regeneration of the oak and hickory trees in the woodland. This also allows more sunlight to hit the open woodland ground, benefiting native wildflower and grass species.
After 6 hours of work in the beautiful fall weather, a vast amount of the buckthorn had been removed and stacked from the woodland. This giant brush piles are havens for wildlife ranging from rodents to birds. The beginnings of a nature trail is being created through this beautiful 13 acre woodland as well. Buckthorn removal wasn’t the only project undertaken Saturday. Bluebird nest boxes were installed nearby and a 4000 square foot butterfly garden was seeded with an array of stunning native wildflowers and grasses.
Seeding the butterfly garden
Seeding the butterfly garden
Mixing the prairie seed
In the afternoon, an ambitious group of volunteer freshman students and faculty of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School hiked to the site to learn more about invasive species and to help with the restoration. Joined by a few Marquette High School students, the remainder of a nearly 1/2 acre section of the woodland had been cleared of buckthorn.
Many hands truly made light work. All volunteers were treated to, not only the satisfaction that comes from stewardship, but also dozens of chocolate chip cookies baked by Schoenstatt Sister Monica. The before and after pictures seen below show the amount of work put into this project by our dedicated volunteers.
BEFORE: Bright green buckthorn pervades this oak woodland
Removal of buckthorn allows more sunlight to reach small oak and hickory seedlings
Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. -Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
Since I was young, I have been going to my grandparent’s house in Northern Wisconsin. My grandpa owns a cranberry marsh and have two lakes behind their house that are great for fishing. Being in this atmosphere surrounded by nature has led to my love for the outdoors. I would go out at night looking for deer with my grandpa or I would help him irrigate the cranberry beds. Nature is my favorite place to be because it is so beautiful. Waking up early in the morning to go fishing and seeing the sun rise over the trees is where I feel at home.
To me, Laudato Si’ is a “wake up call” that was much needed considering the current state of our environment. Laudato Si’ is a call for stewardship which is the “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.” Laudato Si’ calls us to protect and be responsible for our environment, our common home. The Pope’s encyclical has pushed me to do many things around my house to better care for our environment. Whether it be encouraging my dad to recycle papers in his office or trying to save water whenever I can.
Freshman year of high school was where my environmental awareness really started. As a junior in high school I took environmental science class which really taught me a lot and ultimately is the reason I want to go to college in that field. In environmental science class we learned about Pope Francis’ encyclical and what it is meant to convey to the world. This message has led me to be a better steward.
Laudato Si’ Project has been an amazing opportunity for me to be a part of. It has given me experience for the career that I want to pursue. Seeing the impact that a group of students can have on a piece of land just goes to show that anyone can make our world a better place and all that we need to do is let others know about that. This led me to be a better steward because that is what stewardship is all about.
Laudato Si’ Project gave me experience in the career I want to pursue and has had an immense impact on me. It is a means for me to do what I love and also prepare for education in environmental science in college. The one project that sticks out to me was the buckthorn removal project at Tall Pines Conservancy. There we cut down buckthorn and burned it in a huge bonfire. At the preserve, we also learned about land trusts and how they benefit the environment. Going forward, I will continue to participate in these projects both in high school and during college.
Written by Eve Hamilton, Wyoming Catholic College Student
I starred at the ground below me, immediately sending my brain into panic. I was 40 feet off the ground, suspended in the air by a rope and some scraps of fabric they called a harness. The climbing shoes crushed my toes as I strived to cling to the rock, my fingers sweating through the chalk that was supposed to dry them out. Rock climbing was a terrible idea, and I had five more days of it ahead.
I had signed up for a weeklong trip of climbing in the glorious state of Utah for fall break. A group of fellow students and I were excited to take a break from school and have an adventure. However, this was not why I went. It was a challenge given to me by a friend. I wanted to show that I had improved, both physically and mentally, from the semester before. Yet as I looked up at the route and realized that I could not make it to the top, the familiar feeling of failure came over me. Five more days of this seemed to be my fate.
That night, the group gathered around the fire for prayer and discussion on the wonder of God’s creation. I had offered to read an essay, written by the same friend who had challenged me to go on the trip. It was an essay about making God the end of our journey, even if the path is difficult. We might want to go another way, that of the world, but it is not one that leads to happiness. However, there is still a chance to turn back, even if we think it is impossible to do so. God made Moses a political leader, a peasant girl from France a general of a great army, and a fourteen-year-old girl from Nazareth the Queen of Heaven and Earth. He can most certainly help us attain greatness. All he asks is that we be soft clay in his hands so that He may make us a masterpiece.
As we sat there reflecting on the essay, I realized how much it related to my trip. With climbing, you have one goal: the top of the route. It is literally an uphill battle, with each move tearing at your fingers. There are many different routes around you, but it is foolish to venture from the one you’re on and attempt another’s. When this path fails, you will swing and scrape against the wall, bringing more harm to yourself then if you had only fallen down a foot or two on your own path. Yet you do not plummet to the ground, but you will be caught on the rope. There is belayer below you, ready to catch you if you fall. You can call for them to give you slack or tension to the rope, depending on the difficulty of the climb. This activity, with all its trials, reminded me of the life of a Christian. There is the goal of God, and he will help us if we ask. He only requests our trust.
Upon this realization, I was determined to complete the rest of the week with this in mind. Each climb brought its own particular struggles, but they also helped me to trust my belayer, as well as my own ability to complete the goal with their help and guidance. However, there was one question that still troubled me until the final day. What was the point of the climb? There is the goal of the top, but what is the reward of this? At the end of the route, you have the opportunity to turn from the rock you have been so focused on and look at the breathtaking view that was behind you. The valleys and mountains, speckled with trees, are just a glimpse at the glory of God. How much better are the rewards of our earthly life? We will not only get a small reflection of God’s glory, but will see him face to face in his eternal might and goodness. This thought finally convinced me that every fall that I have had and every trial I will face is not some horrible joke for God to laugh at. It is instead a test, to show me the one thing required—to place my trust in Him so that I may also experience the bliss of the Heavenly Cosmos.
Written by Jacob Scobey-Poolachek, Published in the Catholic Herald Newspaper
WAUKESHA — The Schoenstatt Retreat Center could easily be mistaken for a state park. Apart from a couple buildings and a chapel, the center’s campus is entirely green.
Hundreds of acres of farmland, woodland and prairie surround the buildings. Gently sloping hills mark the movements of glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. Schoenstatt, German for “beautiful place,” lives up to its name. The land has a simple, profound elegance.
Though the center is owned and staffed by the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, they are not alone in their stewardship of the land. Marquette University High School teacher Joe Meyer founded the Laudato Si’ Project this past February. He and the project’s board of directors have joined the sisters in calling the retreat center their inspiration and workspace.
The project, inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’,” promotes the growth of environmental appreciation and caretaking within the Catholic community. It aims to bring the pope’s ideas to fruition — for individuals and for organizations. The venture is new, but Meyer said it only came to be because of two passions he has had for a long time: nature and faith. For years, he struggled to find a way for his love of science and God to intersect.
“In the secular world, they’re telling you to separate the two,” he said. “I prayed a lot about finding that integration.”
In addition to prayer, Meyer studied the work of church leaders, reading texts from St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and others. But it was Pope Francis’ encyclical that finally gave him the clarity and inspiration he needed. “When I really dove into the teaching, I realized the church feels the same way I do, in its authentic, true self,” he said. “The way I was feeling about my passion for the natural world doesn’t at all compete with this love for God. In fact, it complements it perfectly.”
“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” — Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
Pope Francis published the nearly 200-page “Laudato Si’” in June 2015. It is an appeal from the Holy Father for an inclusive dialogue about environmental challenges the planet is facing and how those issues can be overcome. He argues that every person is morally obligated to act. Meyer took this call to action to heart, gathering a diverse, passionate staff of volunteers to help him bring the mission of care for God’s creation to anyone willing to partake. These volunteers do service work at the retreat center, as well as elsewhere.
The group also helps create and strengthen environmental groups in schools and parishes. Its work is only limited by the inspiration of the encyclical and three pillars: education, stewardship and recreation. Education, especially, is at the core of their work, through sharing the contents of the encyclical as well the practical teaching of how to be a steward of the Earth. The board often works with Meyer’s environmental science course and a student-founded outdoors homeroom at Marquette, and it is also a partner with St. Thomas More High School and various parishes.
Education of these students is a key aspect of their mission. The project’s website explains with a quote from Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Volunteer groups have finished several stewardship projects through Meyer’s program during the past few months. They have installed wooden nest boxes for bluebirds and cleared trails for retreatants at the ecology center, worked on beach restoration, removed invasive species, and volunteered at the Urban Ecology Center and land trusts and preserves. Meyer said finding willing volunteers is never a large issue.“Generally, there’s a desire in people to do these sorts of things. Sometimes they don’t understand how to do it, and that’s where we come in,” he said.
Often, the team does not need to create an activity for a parish or group, but rather it can support and strengthen an existing initiative. Or, as the group’s influence grows, Meyer and the board can direct people to other environmental groups and events in the Milwaukee area.
The recreation aspect of the project’s mission is a reminder that appreciating nature does not have to be a chore. Meyer said that just taking a few minutes every day to appreciate some green space can help create higher environmental consciousness. The group has led hikes and snowshoeing events and keeps members updated on other outdoor events.
The reception from volunteers has been positive. Some high schoolers have told Meyer that the project opened their eyes to a new direction for their lives that they had never considered.
As exceptional as it is to change a life, Meyer finds the smaller changes to be equally rewarding. Every slight lifestyle change and new parish membership is a sign the Laudato Si’ Project is having success on a macro level. He sees his role as basic, but potentially instrumental in someone’s life.
“It’s giving people that have that spark – that interest – this whole new world that they didn’t even know existed,” he said. “Where we’re starting is trying to mobilize people within the church to see us as stewards of the environment.”
The Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary are proud to host the undertaking. “Pope Francis has given our church and the whole world a valuable impulse through ‘Laudato Si’, and it’s wonderful to have something like the Laudato Si’ Project to help us implement those impulses in a practical and effective way,” Sr. M. Joanna Buckley said.
Meyer hopes to see even more growth. The board has an interest in creating permanent positions and in eventually being able to have a high school or college student intern. There are plenty of project ideas, but they need more members, volunteers and sponsors to be able to execute them.Meyer is careful to keep his priorities in check. In the end, his goal is to help Catholics be the moral beacon that Pope Francis exemplifies.
He and his team also seek to pull people to Christ.“Ultimately, that’s the goal. Not just to have people cut down buckthorn on the weekend – it’s to draw them to God,” he said. Nonetheless, Meyer continues to cut down the invasive trees. His second passion is always at play to complement his faith. With dozens of volunteers at his side, he tirelessly works to remove the obstacles, lay down wood chips and create a path to a more sustainable world.
Written by Joe Meyer, Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project
This weekend was packed with fun, getting the most out of the beautiful Fall season in WI. On Saturday, students were led on a hike through a beautiful section of the Holy Hill Ice Age Trail. This several mile stretch winds through glacial kettles, kames, and eskers while sugar maples tower overhead. This is one of the most scenic stretches of the WI Ice Age Trail.
On Sunday, Boy Scouts and members of the Heiliger Huegel Ski Club came to learn about prairie ecology and help with an 8 acre prairie planting that is on the ski club grounds.
After learning about prairie ecology and the 5 month old prairie planting at the ski club, these fearless volunteers hiked over to the neighboring Meyer prairie to collect native seed to be scattered at the HH ski club site. Armed with buckets, volunteers young and old gathered ripe seed heads across a 6 acre site planted with over 50 different species of prairie grasses, wildflowers, and sedges.
After all the prairie seed was collected, it was put into a large collective tub where it was mixed with vermiculite. Vermiculite is a filler used for prairie seeding to prevent too much seed getting scattered in one spot and also helps carry some of the finer seed, sawdust can also be used. Prairie seeds differ dramatically in size ranging from 750 seeds per ounce in some species to 2,500,000 seeds per ounce in others. All the mixed seed was divided up into buckets and volunteers brought them back to the HH ski club prairie to over-seed areas with less germination and to increase overall diversity of the planting.
“As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.” —Pope Francis, Manila Philippines, January 18, 2015
Wyoming Catholic College is currently participating in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge, a competition between various colleges to see who can get the most people active in the great outdoors. About 90 schools from across the country participate in this challenge over a six-week period. The winner will be named the National Outdoor Champion, receiving the prize of national recognition and outdoor gear.
Out of the colleges competing, Wyoming Catholic is among the few Catholic schools. With its focus forming the mind, body and spirit, and its emphasis on the poetic mode of learning—learning from a direct encounter with the true, good, and beautiful, WCC couldn’t help but sign up! From climbing and biking, to rafting and backpacking, these activities help the students learn the skills necessary in order to lead others and themselves toward an encounter with the glory of God most high not only visible and tangible in the sun breaking over the mountain, awakening and warming the senses, the imagination, the memory of God’s goodness.
Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge offers Catholic schools an opportunity to witness to the deeper reasons we surround ourselves with the natural world: not out of a naïve enthusiasm for “nature” that amounts to a quasi-worship of the cosmos itself, but a reminder that man, as summit of God’s creation, as priest, prophet and king of this wondrous world, is called to draw up all of that creation with himself into an act of divine Sabbath worship, an act of rest in the God who created a world very good.
My love for the outdoors definitely came from my dad and my grandpa. We would go up north to Three Lakes, WI where we have 80 acres. We would spend time clearing trails and making deer stands on our land. My great grandpa bought the land in the 1950s and hunted on it every year until he was physically unable. Our cabin on this land we call “the shack” because it is really just a shack. It is a little smaller than a two-car garage, and holds five beds (two bunk beds) a wood burning stove, water pump, and a propane oven. The furniture and decorations in the shack really make you feel connected to nature. There are tons of antlers everywhere, an old bee hive and deer hooves for coat hangers and more antlers for drawer handles. There are even mushrooms for shelves. We would love to go muskie fishing at nearby Lake Julia.
Something that fostered my love for the outdoors was going to visit National Parks; Rocky Mountain, Everglades, Glacier Bay, Denali, Badlands, and Olympic. Another thing that fueled my love for nature was nature movies and tv shows. Planet Earth and all those other nature documentaries are my favorite. I could watch those for hours.
Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park
Boundary Water’s Fun
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ makes me see my existence as to serve man and nature. The Earth is calling out to us and we must respond. I feel obligated to show others what I see and make sure they realize their part in taking care of our common home. I try to make others aware of the environmental problems and also help them appreciate what we have been given as humans. God has created a beautiful Earth and we need to ensure humans don’t spoil it with development.
My Catholic education and science classes have opened my eyes to my duty to my home and the problems that exist. At our high school we have an environmental/outdoors homeroom that has given me a platform to get out into the field and do conservation work and other environmental education opportunities.
Laudato Si’ Project has really allowed me to be a good steward to the land. It has given me knowledge and ideas for what I want to do for a career and how to inspire others. It has shown me that being a good steward should not be done alone but in a group where we are stronger. Jesus said, ” where two or three are gathered in my name I am with you.” When we work to restore this Earth together, we are working in His name and He is with us.
My favorite Laudato Si’ Project outings has been the one where we did an oak savannah restoration with the Milwaukee Audubon Society at one of their preserves. It doesn’t seem like work to me and I want to see the land the way God intended. The outing was my favorite because we were all having so much fun working in the snow and we found a ton of caves/crevases that were amazing to explore. This outing showed me how we can have great fun together working for good and inspire our friends and family members to answer Pope Francis’ call. I know that in the future I can inspire my friends to do their part and help save this Earth.
Testing the Waters is a WI water quality monitoring program that began in the 1990’s to utilize citizen science as a tool to measure for water quality in the Milwaukee River Basin. MMSD partnered with Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg to mobilize high school students to annual evaluate the health of these rivers.
Over a dozen schools have participated and many of them for decades. In Wisconsin, our waterways are an extremely valuable resource not only for wildlife but for our recreational use as well. Long term water quality monitoring is a great way to measure the health of our rivers and engage citizens in its stewardship.
At Marquette University High School, environmental science had been doing testing of the Menominee River in Miller Valley for many years since Testing the Waters inception but curriculum and faculty changes at the school eventually led to the removal of water quality monitoring. In 2014, science teacher’s John Azpell (Board Member of LSP) and Joe Meyer (Executive Director of LSP) reinvigorated the program for the 75-100 students that take environmental science at MUHS annually. It is a great way to connect what is being taught in the classroom to how it plays out in an ecological system.
Students measure physical/chemical properties of the water including: average depth, velocity, turbidity (clarity), nitrates, phosphates, fecal coliform bacteria, dissolved oxygen, and biological oxygen demand. One of the highlights of any river experience is the catching and identifying of macro-invertebrates. These bio-indicators include crawfish, mayfly larvae, dragonfly larvae, and leeches to name a few. Which species are present in the river gives us a unique look at pollution levels in the aquatic system.
This year’s monitoring was particularly interesting because while on the river site, Wisconsin Lutheran College ecology students were doing their fish monitoring of the river. Students, along with their professor, shocked the river which temporarily stuns the fish so they can be netted. Fish are placed in a tank that sits upon a mini-raft. Fish are then identified, measured, and checked for various other indicators.
College students teaching MUHS students about fish monitoring
Measuring a green sunfish (other fish caught include darters and white suckers)
Each year, selected students with a particular interest in environmental science are allowed to come on a field trip to Riveredge Nature Center to learn even more about water quality testing. Riveredge Nature Center has also partnered with the WI DNR to bring back sturgeon to the Milwaukee River, absent for 100 years because of poor water quality. Students learn how these tests fit into the greater picture of water quality and conservation in the whole Milwaukee River Watershed and health of Lake Michigan.
Lastly, students from over 6 high schools in WI journeyed with Washington County workers to visit Farms that demonstrate various conservation approaches used to increase water quality. Much of the nitrogen and phosphorus that ends up in our rivers comes from agricultural soil erosion, fertilizer, or livestock manure runoff. Examples of conservation techniques shown on the farms were some bio-remediation using buffer strips, water catchment basins, and manure retention ponds. It becomes very clear to students that large scale farming brings with it tremendous consequences and challenges for the health our environment (not to mention human and animal health). Students were then able to explore the vast property of Riveredge Nature Center, part of which is a State Natural Area.
Removing runoff water before nutrients are picked up from feed bins and end up in the Milwaukee River
5 million gallon manure storage from several hundred head of cattle. Manure is pumped out and spread onto fields.
October 4th is the feast day of St. Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment. Many of us have seen his statue adorning gardens or quite places for reflection in nature. Our current Pope took his name to reflect the need to live simply, care for the poor, and find God in His Creation. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ references St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon which begins “Praised be You my Lord…” (Laudato Si’ means Praise be You in medieval Italian)
Pope Francis also called for a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st of this year. It was then that he announced a new work of mercy in the Church, “Care for Our Common Home.” He then called for several week span to pray and reflect upon God’s gift of Creation for us in what he termed the “Season of Creation.” This Season of Creation comes to a close of this feast day of St. Francis of Assisi so let’s pray the prayer St. Francis wrote “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon”
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor and all blessings. To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,especially Sir Brother Sun,Who is the day through whom You give us light.And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,Mother Earthwho sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,And serve Him with great humility.
Bat Fest took place this weekend at the Urban Ecology Center located in the Menominee Valley of Milwaukee, WI. The Urban Ecology Center is located near Miller Park on the Menominee River and Hank Aaron State Trail. Laudato Si’ Project brought Marquette High School students to volunteer at the event and learn more about these amazing mammals of the night. Researchers and biologists from the Urban Ecology Center, US Forest Service, and WI DNR presented about WI bat ecology, conservation, populations, migration, and hibernation.
MUHS students volunteering at Bat Fest
Urban Ecology Center in the Menominee Valley of Milwaukee, WI
Throughout the evening, biologists and researchers also demonstrated the process of capturing flying bats with the use of mist nets (fine mesh) and harp traps (vertical bands of fishing line leading down to a catchment bag). Bats use echolocation to navigate so catching them in mist nets can be difficult because they can actually detect the fine netting. Therefore, researchers often place these nets along old logging roads or waterways that bats frequently use and therefore rely less on their echolocation allowing for easier capture in the nets.
WI boasts 7 species of bats; little brown, big brown, silver-haired, northern long-eared, eastern red, hoary, and eastern pipistrelle (compared to many western states having several dozen species). Our 7 bat species are divided into 2 categories, those that hibernate in WI in caves, old mines, and houses (4 species) or those that migrate to warmer climates for the winter (3 species).
Also demonstrated at Bat Fest were some other monitoring techniques used by researchers and biologists. These included echolocation acoustic surveys, radio telemetry, and banding. Acoustic surveys require a machine that takes the ultrasonic echolocation sounds of bats and displays it visually on a screen (similar to a stereo showing the basis levels). These sounds even allow them to identify individual species. Radio telemetry utilizes a small tracking device affixed to a captured bat that will allow for biologists to track its feeding, movements, and roosting/hibernation via an antennae. Lastly, banding of bats is very similar to that used on birds for centuries. A captured bat has a unique numbered mental band attached to its forearm (without hurting the bat) and if that bat is captured somewhere else, researchers are able to gain valuable insight into lifespan, migration, and hibernation.
One bat that was captured and banded in Door County, WI was recaptured 4 years later in a cave in Copper Harbor of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Another bat that was captured and banded 34 years ago has been recaptured several times and if it is caught again next year, it will be the longest lived bat known in the world.
If you are interested in helping with these types of citizen science monitoring programs where you live, contact Laudato Si’ ProjectHere.
“The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.”Catechism of the Catholic Church 2415