A Reflection from our Executive Director, Joe Meyer
It’s hard to believe that just 2 years ago the Catholic Ecology Center officially began. Of course, it was three years prior to that the original visioning of a place called the Catholic Ecology Center began. Not to mention multiple attempts at land deals and constant fundraising and all the while trying to trust that God is in control. Talk about a lessen in faith and humility!
A Conduit to Christ
It’s humbling to watch God use our ministry to strengthen the faith of so many. The success and growth of our mission is testament to the need for God in all aspects of our lives. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts our restless until they rest in thee!” People are hungry for Christ and desiring to bring their faith to a deeper level. We seek to foster that growth in our retreats, ecology programs, events, workshops and service projects.
We founded our mission on the premise that God’s creation can draw people into relationship with Him. Wisdom 13 tells us “For from the greatness and beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen.” We don’t stop there though. It’s critical to use this universal call within us to unite us in fellowship with one another and strengthen our desire to care for our common home.
A Beacon of Hope
With so many challenges facing our world, it’s more critical than ever that we are firmly rooted in our faith. Though we journey through difficult times, as our current Lenten journey shows us, we are ultimately an Easter people- a people of hope and joy. One of the most common things people comment when they first come to a retreat, event or program at the CEC is that they feel such a great energy in this place. This is not some new age “energy” they speak of, it’s the Holy Spirit alive and at work!
Where Do We Go From Here?
Our work is just beginning. We are thrilled to announce our plans to expand the CEC’s mission through expanding our physical spaces. God willing and with your support- we will break ground on a building addition this fall that will include a chapel, welcome area, breakout room and viewing deck- all with handicap accessibility! By using sustainable building products, renewable energy and water conservation, it will enable us to educate people first-hand on bringing sustainability into their lives.
As people of the Gospel, we are certainly called to social justice and environmental stewardship but it is imperative that this response be firmly rooted in our love for Jesus Christ. It is from this love that will flow our desire to participate in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, including caring for our common home. Service projects are a fun and tangible way to live our faith that is called into service. These projects are also an avenue to involve people beyond our ministry with youth, engaging both adults and families. These projects are also great reminder that we are called to care for creation in whatever context we find ourselves.
My service project at the CEC made me recognize our need for God and our role as stewards for the next generation.
Megan; High School Student and CEC Retreat Participant
Restoration and Faith
Stewardship also calls us to better the ecological state of the CEC property we have been blessed with. We also strive to incorporate the richness of our faith throughout the property. Since our beginning in 2021, we have accomplished this by creating 2.5 acres of pollinator prairie, planting an Educational Butterfly Garden, a Children’s Memorial Garden, the Lasnoski Family Stations of the Cross, and JPII Butterfly Gardens. We have also planted hundreds of native trees on the land and seeded 15.5 acres of pollinator prairie for a neighboring property!
Part of our role as stewards at the CEC is to monitor the wild species and the health of the ecosystems on-site. We monitor bats with an ultrasonic microphone tower, do bird surveys, insect collecting and water quality monitoring. We also use “camera traps” to see what animals are using the property, especially at night. In 2021, we confirmed the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee, only the second time it was seen in Dodge County. In 2022, we documented the first county record for the harvester butterfly which is the only butterfly to have a carnivorous caterpillar!
CEC Property Lists (as of February 2023)
6 of the 8 Species of Wisconsin Bat, including the endangered long-eared bat.
The bustling summer months and the flurry of fall colors have come and gone, but the glories of a Wisconsin winter are upon us! This January, much of nature has taken a quiet rest under the snowy drifts and cold winds of winter, but the great outdoors still has delightful wonders in store for those willing to brave the cold – especially here at the Catholic Ecology Center (CEC) where snowbirds – cardinals, shrikes, and winter wrens – can be spotted amongst the trees and prairie grasses, while rabbit tracks scurry along the trails and roads, and signs of otter life frequent the banks of the creek and river.
But if the cold and snow deter you from venturing outside, there is a warmer, cozier alternative. Storybooks can bring nature to life in your living room. Here at the CEC, we have gathered, and continue to gather, an extensive collection of nature and ecology themed children’s books for our various programs and for visitors to enjoy on trips to the CEC. We have corralled a wide array of fantastic writers and illustrators who help bring a sense of wonder and delight of the natural world to all ages….
Here are some of our favorites from this past year:
A Seed is Sleepy –Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long collaborate with their rich talents to bring to life the tiny world of seeds. Sure to inspire hope for spring during the long, cold months of winter, this book is one of many that Aston and Long have crafted together. Other titles include A Rock is Lively, A Butterfly is Patient, A Nest is Noisy.
Over and Under the Pond, by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, follows a canoe journey of a mother and son. As they glide across a pond, they wonder at and imagine the world below, above, and around them. With up-close illustrations and a detailed list at the back of the book of all the creatures seen by mother and son, this book will inspire wonder and delight in children and adults alike.
For all honey lovers, Honeybee Manis sure to become a favorite. With collage drawings and charming text, illustrator Kyrsten Brooker and author Lela Nargi recount a summer month in Brooklyn, New York with Fred, his beloved bees, and the sweet gift of honey.
Anna’s Table– Caldecott-winning author Eve Bunting inspires children everywhere to find the little treasures that nature has to offer. After collecting a bounty ranging from beach rocks to butterflies, Anna builds a beautiful ecological exhibition – right in her own bedroom. Written in simple verse and bursting with colorful art from illustrator Taia Morley, this book is a must-have for all nature lovers.
Venturing into a cold, dark forest can be frightening – but in Owl Moon by Jane Yolen with illustrations by John Schoenherr, the beauty and wonder of the woods at night come to life. In first-person narrative, a young girl recounts the quiet stillness of the forest and fields as she and her father venture out into the winter moonlight hoping to catch sight of an elusive owl.
Sun Bread – Charming illustrations and whimsical text by writer and illustrator Elisa Kleven bring to life the story of a baker in the middle of winter and her quest to coax back the sunshine with delicious, warm bread. Amid the wintery cold and darkness, homemade bread not only brings the sun out but induces friends and neighbors to join the fun! The last page of the story offers a recipe for young aspiring bakers to try their hand at Sun Bread.
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Richard Jones- What does a fox do in winter? A young fox asks himself this question as the first snowflake settles on his nose. Going from neighbor to neighbor, inquiring what he is to do, the fox is stumped – he doesn’t like mud like the turtle and is not at all sleepy like the bear. Eventually finding a wise friend, he goes about doing what foxes do best in winter.
When I am asked what ecology means, I often stumble because there are so many components that I want to talk about—from our relationship to God and our neighbor to our relationship to land, food, and our bodies. But what I think is the most interesting part of ecology is beauty.
St. Augustine explains the relationship between nature’s beauty and God:
Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky. . . . Question all these realities. All respond: “See, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is a profession. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One who is not subject to change?(Sermons 241, Easter)
Nature professes its beauty, inviting us to attend to what is meaningful and good. Beauty was the impetus that led me to create Behold: A Reflection Journal Where Wonder, Creation, and Stewardship Meet (Available for purchase at the CEC or online HERE). I was also fascinated by the saints and their wonder and devotion to beauty. How did they come to see with such a sense of the sacred? Could beauty and wonder be the first step to social justice? I’ve found the answer to be “yes,” as I practice the art of noticing and receive God’s gift of beauty in creation.
We are all familiar with the beauty of nature that is clear and obvious—a variegated sunrise or a lush garden. But sometimes the beauty of nature is also hidden. This is the beauty that sparked my interest in ecology, but it takes some learning to grasp and fully appreciate. Here are two of my favorite examples: fungi and dirt. Imagine walking through your favorite park or forest. We look around and above. We hear birds and breathe the crisp freshness of the air. But we rarely look down at what’s below. Beneath our feet there is a whole network of communication guided by a dense network of fungi. Through membrane branches, fungi enable communication and connection between plants and other parts of the ecosystem. This network, known as fungal mycelium, delivers nutrients, provides chemical signals, and exchanges information. You can learn all about this and experience it on a mushroom foraging adventure at the Catholic Ecology Center! (View Upcoming CEC Events HERE).
After participating in a CSA (community supported agriculture), I also became more interested in soil. We can’t think about eating well without understanding soil. Through regenerative and sustainable agriculture, farmers are trying to cultivate rich and healthy soil, which solves other problems in addition to food quality, like pollution drought, erosion, and climate change. As a farmer and writer, Wendell Berry has long been interested in the importance of dirt, not just for our food, but also for the sake of our communities and homes. In The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Berry writes, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community because without proper care for it we can have no life.” This is the beauty of ecology. It opens up a path for us to think about and connect God’s creation to the essence of the very relationships that sustain our life.
When we were picking apples at a beautiful orchard last Fall, my husband wondered aloud: They must have really good soil here. After he said this, I thought about the hidden work behind these apples—the labor of the bees, soil, microbes, sun, water, and, of course, people. When we start to reflect on what is beneath us, we learn how to appreciate mystery and the beauty of God in all its forms and in every encounter. This is a perspective that changes who we are and how we interact with the world. As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’,
A gaze of appreciation protects us from the power of consumerism that devastates our culture. Our consumer culture is grounded in a belief that things are to be used and discarded when they no longer serve their function or bring us pleasure. Nature resists this framework because it bespeaks beauty and points to the Creator. In his Hexameron homilies, St. Basil proclaims, “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you a clear remembrance of the Creator. . . . One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it has been made.” Let us nurture our sense of the beauty that is unseen, hidden, and beneath our feet.
Winter can be an amazing time to be outside! In Wisconsin, you can either embrace and enjoy the snow and colder temperatures or spend nearly 4 months in a bad mood. The Catholic Ecology Center is blest with miles of trails that can allow you to experience the subtle beauty of this time of year on snowshoes or cross-county skis. We have snowshoes and skis available for use at our main building and there is even free rental for members! During the months of January and February, we offer cross-country ski workshops open to public, so individuals and families can learn this fun way to experience Wisconsin winter.
The Church’s Liturgical Year also offers great opportunities to experience the rhythm of nature within our lives of faith. One great example is the expectant feel and quietness of Advent. Beyond our women’s Advent wreath workshop and Advent retreats, we also offer Advent candlelight walks. These events use a 3/4 mile candlelit trail that winds past our pond, creek and river- ending at our ecology yurt for an Advent prayer service with music, wreath lighting, bon-fire and yes-s’mores!! We also offer a Couple’s Valentines candlelight hike and blessing to cure you of your February cabin fever. Too see all our upcoming events, go to our events page at catholicecologycenter.org/events
Winter Ecology and Play
Winter also offers some amazing opportunities to learn about animal ecology. We love being able to offer outdoor winter science classes for school and organizations. These include animal tracking, winter ecology, water quality and plant science. And let’s not forget winter play-Making a snowman, coloring a snow angel or a nice snowball fight! Come on out and enjoy the Winter at the CEC.
At the core of the Catholic Ecology Center’s mission is to integrate our faith into a love and care for the creation around us. There is infinite beauty and depth within the rich history and tradition of our faith and we attempt to bring that to our visitor’s experience on the CEC property.
We have worked hard over the last year and a half to create opportunities for prayer and contemplation right within the context of exploring the natural beauty of the CEC trails.
Stations of the Cross
The Lasnoski Family Stations of the Cross were installed in April of 2022. These beautiful bronzed statues are affixed to hand-made shrines crafted by local carpenter Mic Lacrosse. In line with our mission toward sustainability, Mic even used reclaimed lumber to create the shrines. This ancient practice of praying the Stations of the Cross became popular beginning in the Middle Ages when access to the actual sites in the Holy Land were not possible.
Our Stations of the Cross trail encircles the orchard hilltop and is about .1 miles long. You can view and download our property map HERE.
Children’s Memorial Garden
Located near the pond, this butterfly garden celebrates the beauty and dignity of all human life, especially children.
At its center stands a 14′ copper cross from 1956 donated by St. Bruno’s Parish in Dousman. It stood as a steeple cross on their old Church.
There are several boulders engraved with bible quotes and the garden is adorned with 350 native wildflowers! The final piece, coming this fall, is a stone engraved with the Divine Mercy image of Jesus.
Thanks to Ernie and Karen Meyer for their vision and sponsorship of this amazing addition to the CEC!
Throughout the miles of hiking trails, we have placed various trailside shrines. They remind visitors to stop, contemplate and pray throughout their visit. These beautifully crafted shrines were made from reclaimed lumber and they house donated statues including the Pieta, Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis, St. Therese of Lisieux, Christ of the Ozarks, the 12 apostles, and other crucifixes.
We have even set up a scavenger hunt in our Activity Guide for visitors to find these trailside shrines. Pick up your copy of the Activity Guide at our main building.
Heavenly Butterfly Gardens
We have worked hard to not only beautify the CEC property but to also integrate ecologically valuable native pollinator plantings wherever possible. These include:
a 2.5 acre pollinator prairie planted along the main hiking trail. This also serves a vital role in encouraging native predatory insects to help control pests at our organic farm, Clare Gardens.
The Elizabeth and Andy Meier Educational Butterfly Garden which highlights 52 native species of wildflower with signage highlighting information about each species including the pollinators that rely on them. This butterfly garden was planted with over 2000 plants!
The Holy Hen House butterfly garden was planted by Nicholas Hoffman of Troop 49 as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Butterfly Gardens were also planted in front of our main building-our Mary Garden, and in front of JPII Hall-our St. Francis Garden.
These ecological endeavors are already bearing great fruit with the confirmed sighting of an endangered rusty patched bumble bee which is only the 2nd sighting in Dodge County! We have also confirmed 37 species of butterfly including the first county record of a Harvester (the only carnivorous butterfly caterpillar in North America).
Written by Barbara O’Brien; CEC Educator and Clare Gardens Farmer
June has swiftly turned to July and we find ourselves enjoying the fullness of summer life here at the Catholic Ecology Center (CEC). Butterflies, frogs, beavers, blossoming bergamot and yarrow, robber flies, and bluebirds – to name only a small portion of the wildlife abounding on the grounds of the CEC.
But there are other, less wild, kinds of life abounding as well – Clare Gardens is well underway with its first season at its new location at the CEC. Surrounded by prairie grass and woods, the gardens are flourishing with a plethora of fresh, delicious vegetables — and there’s plenty more to come as the season continues!
Last Thursday brought a visit from a group of residents from Trinity Woods, one of the several senior living homes to which we provide our harvests each week. Tom the driver along with other staff members joined the residents for a lunch in JPII Hall followed by a brief welcome from CEC’s Executive Director, Joe Meyer, and Clare Garden’s Farm Manager, Anna Metscher. With sun-hats on, we then set off on a tour of the Clare Garden fields, greenhouses and flower beds — and the Holy Hen House. The day was a fun occasion for both the residents and for us on the farm crew.
Farming is intrinsically connected to sustainability and calls us back to the command God gave our first parents in that first garden on earth. To be a good steward does not only mean growing and maintaining the fruit of your hands, but also sharing that fruit with our neighbors. Seeing these men and women who eat the food we labor to grow and harvest was a great gift. And, speaking for myself, it also gave new meaning and purpose to the sore muscles and long days in the sun. There truly is a special joy to be had in laboring for other’s benefit.
One aspect I love most about farming is how conducive it can be towards thoughtful reflection in the midst of work. Since starting here over a month ago, I have had many such moments for reflection. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the CEC and the ordered space of Clare Gardens, I have especially dwelled upon the wonder of creation and all the riches a farmer can cull from its storehouse of gifts. While there is a great deal of ingenuity, planning, and wisdom needed for any successful farm, there is also a certain trust and humility required in reckoning with forces greater than us. The same wonder I have in seeing the transformation of a caterpillar into a monarch butterfly follows me as I marvel at a tiny seed putting forth a bountiful harvest.
As summer carries on, let us pray that we have a successful season and that we are able to share the fruit of our labors with humility and trust. St. Isidore, patron of farmers, pray for us!
Litany in honor of St. Isidore the Farmer,patron of farmers & workers
Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us. God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us. St. Isidore, pray for us. St. Isidore, patron of farmers, pray for us. St. Isidore, illustrious tiller of the soul, pray for us. St. Isidore, model of laborers, pray for us. St. Isidore, devoted to duty, pray for us. St. Isidore, loaded down with the labors of the field, pray for us. St. Isidore, model of filial piety, pray for us. St. Isidore, support of family life, pray for us. St. Isidore, confessor of the faith, pray for us. St. Isidore, example of mortification, pray for us. St. Isidore, assisted by angels, pray for us. St. Isidore, possessor of the gift of miracles, pray for us. St. Isidore, burning with lively faith, pray for us. St. Isidore, zealous in prayer, pray for us. St. Isidore, ardent lover of the Blessed Sacrament, pray for us. St. Isidore, lover of God’s earth, pray for us. St. Isidore, lover of poverty, pray for us. St. Isidore, lover of fellowmen, pray for us. St. Isidore, most patient, pray for us. St. Isidore, most humble, pray for us. St. Isidore, most pure, pray for us. St. Isidore, most just, pray for us. St. Isidore, most obedient, pray for us. St. Isidore, most faithful, pray for us. St. Isidore, most grateful, pray for us.
Jesus, Our Lord: we beseech You, hear us. That You would grant to protect all tillers of the soil: we beseech You, hear us. That You would grant to bring to all a true knowledge of the stewardship of the land… That You would grant to preserve and increase our fields and flocks… That You would grant to give and preserve the fruits of the earth… That You would grant to bless our fields… That You would grant to preserve all rural pastors… That You would grant peace and harmony in our homes… That You would grant to lift up our hearts to You…
Be merciful, spare us, O Lord. Be merciful, graciously hear us, O Lord.
From lightning and tempest: deliver us, O Lord. From pestilence and floods… From winds and drought… From hail and storm… From the scourge of insects… From the spirit of selfishness…
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: spare us, O Lord. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: graciously hear us, O Lord. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy on us, O Lord. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
Grant, O Lord, that through the intercession of Saint Isidore, the farmer, we may follow his example of patience and humility, and so walk faithfully in his footsteps so that, in the evening of life, we may be able to present to You an abundant harvest of good fruits, You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
To learn more about Clare Gardens or to volunteer, Click Here
Barbara O’Brien is the newest staff member at the Catholic Ecology Center. Barbara comes to the CEC from the east coast where she taught catechism in the South Bronx and most recently as a resident director at Thomas Aquinas College. She grew up in the driftless area of WI where she also worked on an organic farm. Barbara graduated from Thomas Aquinas College on the west coast with a degree in Liberal Arts. In addition to being an educator at the CEC, Barbara works at Clare Gardens, the organic farm on-site. She is excited to share her robust faith and love for God’s creation.
Lent is a reflective time and no better time to look back on the first year of the Catholic Ecology Center, a year so visible with God’s fingerprints on our ministry. Like any parent can attest to “It’s been a year already!” Yes, the founding of the Catholic Ecology Center happened 1 year ago today but its ambitious and bold vision integrating Faith and a love for creation started in the summer of 2018. In those years in between, there were tremendous high and lows with everything from fundraising to multiple land deals falling apart. As many of us have learned in the Christian life, God is trustworthy and His timing is perfect. We need to first empty our life of self-interest-submit our will to that of the Father’s-let the Holy Spirit take the reins and then HOLD ON TIGHT… because, let me tell you, you are in for the ride of a life time.
The mission of the Catholic Ecology Center (CEC) really begins with family. Certainly the family of our organization consisting of a unified and mission-focused board of directors and staff. But, at its core- the CEC begins with each family, each person, finding a home in the programs, events and community that the CEC offers. That is most tangible for me in my own family. Beginning the Catholic Ecology Center meant a new chapter for not just me but also my wife and kids. Through prayer and discernment, we recognized that God was calling us to something greater than ourselves- to a mission needed so desperately in our Church and world. This also meant great sacrifice.
In Lent, we talk about the pillars of Lent; prayer, fasting and almsgiving- and as any executive director worth their salt, let me talk about almsgiving:) In my family’s journey with the Catholic Ecology Center, we have found new meaning in giving of our time, talent and treasure. We all have likely heard this words during the stewardship or missionary appeals at Mass, but do we take them to heart. The CEC has enabled my family to find new meaning in these words and invest in things beyond this world and instead in things that build the Kingdom of God. Giving of our time to a ministry that creates time for God in the lives of so many. Giving of our talents, allowing people to have a greater wonder for God in the intricacy of ecology, art, prayer and community. Giving of our treasure in a direct and meaningful way, donating to the CEC’s mission to ensure this vital ministry continues to grow.
Of course, my family is not alone. I am humbled by the amazing partners, supporters, staff and volunteers that have answered this same call to something greater; to build Christ’s Church. May God continue to bless the ministry and mission of the Catholic Ecology Center, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, For the Greater Glory of God. Amen
On January 6th, the Eastern Catholic Churches celebrated the Great Feast of Theophany. On this day Catholics in Slavic countries dunked their heads in the newly blessed freezing cold water. In Greek Catholic communities young men dove into rivers and lakes and competed to find a cross which had been thrown in by the chief celebrant. This holy day is one of the original Great Feasts of the Church, dating back to the 2nd century; and in the East it is considered greater in eminence than Christmas. The name Theophany is taken from the Ancient Greek theophaneia, meaning “manifestation of the Godhead”. The feast commemorates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Theophany is a time of spiritual enlightenment, renewal of creation, and most importantly, the sanctification of water, which will then serve as a means of baptism for all Christians.
Looking to the words of The Great Blessing of Water, taken from the rites which surround the feast of Theophany, the emphasis on the renewal of creation becomes apparent:
“Today through the presence of the Lord, the waters of the river Jordan are changed into remedies
Today the whole universe is refreshed with mystical streams
Today the sins of the human race are blotted out by the waters of the river Jordan
Today paradise as been opened to all, and the Sun of Righteousness has shone upon us
Today, at the hands of Moses, the bitter water is changed into sweetness by the presence of the Lord!”
Christ by his incarnation gave new life and meaning to the whole of the material world. Not only did his very presence sanctify creation, but also elevated it as a means to sanctification. Much of this power which nature possesses to draw humans closer to their creator has become blurred by man’s misuse of it.
That is not to say that man is some plague which ought to be removed in order to allow the natural world to thrive. Rather, the natural world should serve as a pulley to draw mankind’s thoughts up to God. In short, nature should serve as a conduit to God.
How then are we to reconcile these two realities? Firstly, that nature in its nascent state was designed to lead men to Christ. And secondly, that humankind has in many ways disrupted its ability to do just that.
As Christians, our entire life’s goal can be summed up as “an imitation of Christ”. Here then we are brought back to the theme of Theophany. Christ’s presence turned the natural world into “a remedy”. He refreshed the universe, blotted out the sins of mankind, and thus opened the way to paradise. While we Christians cannot literally do that which Christ accomplished by his incarnation, baptism, death, and resurrection, we are called to imitate him by seeking to remedy the ways of man, and in doing so make the path of salvation more visible to others.
This has been the primary goal of the Catholic Ecology Center, that is, to “Connect [people] to Christ and His Creation”. In the past year alone, we have planted dozens of trees, a pollinator garden, and acres of prairie. There are new bluebird houses in every area, beehives, a chicken coop, a greenhouse, and hoop house, each lending to the effort of ethical stewardship. The old troop house is now a nature center. The paths which wind through the woods and interact with the creek and river have crosses and trailside shrines to help elevate the thoughts of each hiker. We have led and hosted dozens of retreats. The grounds also offer an opportunity for visitors to volunteer and give back. Before each addition to the property or new event, we ask ourselves “How will this help us to better accomplish our mission?”.
When our Executive Director, Joe Meyer, began the Laudato Sí project back in 2016, who could have foreseen that the fruits of his labors would manifest in the founding of the Catholic Ecology Center? On March 8th, the CEC will be celebrating its one year anniversary. This passage seems an appropriate meditation for reflection as we herald our second year at the CEC. The Theophanic spirit of restoration and renewal permeates every acre of the property that was once Camp Winding River.
By His baptism, Christ sanctified the waters; by His incarnation, He elevated all of creation; in imitation of Him we must work to preserve and restore that Edenic quality of our natural surroundings which brings mankind close to God. We are just getting started and the path of renewal takes much time and effort, but our hope is that the Catholic Ecology Center will serve as a small piece in realizing this Theophanic vision.
The Catholic Church has a rich history of liturgical traditions which have largely been lost or confined to places with a strong local devotion to a particular saint or holy figure. These devotional practices serve to enrich our everyday lives with the cyclical life of the Church. How better to teach children about the saints than through hands-on activities which revitalize the stories of their lives? Rather than allowing these traditions to fade into the forgotten past, we should make them an everyday reality. Here then is the tradition of wheat for St. Barbara’s Day:
St. Barbara’s Day is celebrated on December 4th. Barbara, born in the third century in present day Lebanon, was the daughter of a rich pagan named Dioscorus who kept her locked into a tower to preserve her from the suitors of the outside world. Unbeknownst to her father, Barbara converted to Christianity.
When Dioscorus found a rich suitor who he believed to be acceptable, Barbara refused to marry him, having consecrated herself to Christ. One day, upon returning from a long journey, Dioscurus found that Barbara had had a third window built into the tower in honor of the Holy Trinity. Seeing this her father drew his sword in anger, determined to kill his once beloved child. St. Barbara jumped out of her tower window and fled. Upon being captured she was tortured for days on end by means of switches, lashes, iron hooks, the rack, torches, red-hot pincers and hammers. But every morning her torturers would return to find her healed. In order to put an end to it all, her father claimed the honor of cutting off the head of his daughter who had scorned the gods. It is said that upon returning home, Dioscurus was struck by lightning.
From one of the details of this story, the tradition of St. Barbara’s Wheat was born. It is said that when fleeing persecution, Barbara ran through a newly planted field of wheat. As she ran, the wheat grew instantly covering her path and protecting her from those chasing her. And so, on December 4th, Catholics would plant wheat seeds in honor of St. Barbara. When the wheat had sprouted it would be used as decoration, either near the family nativity scene or on the Christmas table. In France and the Ukraine, the wheat seeds were planted in three small saucers to represent the Holy Trinity.
Legend has it that if the wheat germinates well and is prolific, the year’s harvest will be plentiful. There is a traditional saying in Provençal: “Quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn !”: If the wheat goes well, everything goes well!
It has been humbling to see our ministry grow over the last 5 years. From the simple beginnings of Laudato Si’ Project to the establishment of the Catholic Ecology Center, God’s fingerprints have been especially present in our work in recent years. On March 8th, 2021 we were able to purchase nearly 60 acres of amazingly diverse and beautiful property from the former Girl Scout Camp; Camp Winding River. Our property is also part of a 225-acre preserve complex thanks to adjacent land purchase of what is now Camp SIM. God’s providence also allowed for us to partner with Milwaukee Catholic Home’s Clare Gardens to grow organic produce on site to feed the senior living homes in Milwaukee and also educate people about living sustainably.
Our mission seeks to connect people of all ages and backgrounds to Christ and His Church utilizing the beauty and wonders of the natural world as a conduit to make this connection. Our programs are varied in nature and include retreats, ecology programs, service projects and recreational opportunities.
Within the first few months after establishing the Catholic Ecology Center, it became very clear that the desire of schools, parishes and families for faith-filled, nature based programming was necessitating our hiring of a new staff member. In June of this year, we were honored to hire Theresa Liebert to become the Program Coordinator.
Theresa grew up in the driftless region of Wisconsin on a small hobby farm. She graduated from Wyoming Catholic College in Lander Wyoming with a bachelor’s degree in the Liberal Arts. Before joining the Catholic Ecology Center, Theresa worked on an organic produce farm and as a CNA for five years. During her time in Wyoming she spent over 70 hours in the back country and enjoyed many outdoor activities including rock climbing, white water kayaking, cross country skiing, canyoneering, caving, and backpacking. Theresa has always found beauty to be the transcendental which brings her closest to Christ. She hopes to share God’s first book with others through her work at the Catholic Ecology Center.
From the very beginning of our founding as Laudato Si’ Project and right through the present ministry of the Catholic Ecology Center, our mission is Christ focused and faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. This was exemplified when we held our formal CEC blessing and Mass in July. It was an amazing day beginning with a blessing of the Catholic Ecology Center by Bishop Schuerman of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and followed by fun, family activities, culminating with an outdoor Mass with the Bishop.
I want to thank the generousdonors that have made this all possible. Without your support of the vision for the Catholic Ecology Center we would not exist today. I also want to thank all our members. Yourmembership supportallows us to keep our doors open, trails accessible and mission and outreach increasing. Thank You!
Read more about who we are and what we do in these articles:
Often when we think about Saints, our minds are drawn to the more obvious candidates such as the great theologians, Doctors of the Church, and missionaries. When we think of great scientists and naturalists, people such as Newton, Galileo, Mari Curie, Darwin, John Muir and Aldo Leopold come to mind. But how often do we combine those ideas, that is, saint and scientist? It is a fairly well known fact amongst Catholics that in 1979, St. Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis of Assisi the patron Saint of those who promote ecology. However, very little is known about the more obscure Saints who were greatly involved in the study of nature and promoting its integral beauty.
In this secular age, which prizes science almost as a religion unto itself, little credit is given where it is due. Most do not know, or perhaps they ignore, the vast amount of information which the Catholic Church safeguarded and indeed, added to the scientific knowledge which we have today. During the Middle Ages, the preservation of philosophical and scientific texts were largely due to the copying of manuscripts which took place within the monasteries. Furthermore, the Medieval monasteries often contained extensive herb gardens. The monks would record their findings about the medicinal properties of plants in a text called a Materia Medica. Not only did the Church contribute greatly to scientific advancement during the Middle Ages, but also into our modern time.
We, as the Church militant, have an obligation to pray for the Church suffering, but so too should we acknowledge the great sacrifices and accomplishments of the Church triumphant. By elevating these holy souls to the status of saint, mother Church has given us a plethora of figures to emulate and call upon in our daily lives.
While Saint Ambrose is one of the four original doctors of the Catholic Church, he is also the patron saint of beekeepers and candlemakers. Legend has it that when he was a baby a swarm of bees landed on his face and left behind a single drop of honey. His father took this as a good omen, declaring that his son would grow up with the gift of a “honeyed tongue”. The prediction did indeed come to pass and St. Ambrose became an excellent writer and a persuasive orator.
Saint Ambrose, pray for us.
Feast day: December 7th.
St. Valentine is, of course, the patron saint of love and happy marriages, but he is also one of Catholic Church’s other patrons of bee keepers. As a physician, St. Valentine would often use both beeswax and honey in his practice. Historically, bees have been associated with love, and so in St. Valentine we find the perfect marriage of bees and love. Calling upon the intercession of this great saint was thought to ensure a sweet harvest of honey and protection to those who care for bees.
St. Valentine, pray for us.
Feast day: February 14th
Isidore was born in 1070 A.D. to a peasant family near Madrid, Spain. He often came later to work in the fields than other laborers because he would first attend Mass in the morning. Yet his work never suffered and he always met the chores required of him. It was said two angels, one on either side of Isidore, appeared and joined their pious companion in plowing the fields. St. Isidore is the patron saint of farmers.
St. Isidore, pray for us.
Feast Day: May 15th
St. Fiacre has been recognized as patron saint of gardeners (as well as cab drivers and florists, among other things) since medieval times. Born in Ireland in the 7th century, Fiacre was raised in a monastery. During the Dark Ages, monasteries were repositories of learning, and it is here that Fiacre became a skillful user of healing herbs. As he earned fame for his knowledge of plants and healing abilities, disciples flocked to him. Fiacre sought more solitude and left Ireland for France where he established a hermitage in a wooded area near the Marne River. Here Fiacre built an oratory in honor of the Virgin Mary and a hospice where he received strangers. He himself retreated to a solitary cell, living a life of prayer and manual labor in his garden.
The legend upon which Fiacre’s sainthood rests is this: Fiacre asked the local bishop, Bishop Faro, for more ground on which to plant food and herbs. Faro told him he could have as much land as he could entrench in one day. After prayer, Fiacre used the point of his staff to turn the earth, topple trees and dig up briers and weeds to prepare the land for a garden.
St. Fiacre, pray for us.
Feast Day: August 11th
Gall was born in Ireland and, after growing up, he became a monk. He traveled to preach the Gospel and help start new monasteries until he became ill and needed to stay in one place to heal and recover. Gall often spent time outside in nature reflecting and praying. Birds frequently kept him company during those times.
Gall miraculously performed an exorcism for a woman who was possessed by demons who hadn’t come out of her previously when two different bishops had tried to exorcise them. But when Gall tried to exorcise them, the demons flew out of Fridiburga’s mouth in the form of a black bird. That dramatic event inspired people to make Gall the patron saint of birds.
Gall encountered a bear in the forest near his monastery one day and stopped the bear from attacking him after it charged toward him. Then, the story goes, the bear went away for a while and returned later with some firewood it had apparently gathered, setting the wood down by Gall and his fellow monks. From that point on, the bear reportedly became a companion to Gall, showing up around the monastery regularly.
St. Gall, pray for us.
Feast Day: October 16th
Saint Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard was born in 1098 to a noble family in the county of Sponheim, west of present-day Frankfurt. As a child she experienced visions of God, which she described as “living light.” She was given over to the care of a nun at the age of eight, who taught her to read and write, and by 14, she was a nun herself. When her mentor passed away in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously chosen to lead her Benedictine monastery.
In addition to running the monastery, Hildegard also devoted her time to writing musical compositions, poems and plays, as well as theological texts, medical books and scientific essays. She founded two monasteries, and extensively travelled around Germany on numerous speaking tours. All in all, Hildegard was a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath of the High Middle Ages.She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most recorded in modern history. She has been considered by many in Europe to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. She is the patron saint of musicians and writers.
One of the greatest challenges today is reigniting the faith of our youth. We are seening the result of poor catechesis, tepid Catholicism and the secular culture pushing in from every angle. This is coupled with the disintegration of how to understand faith’s relationship with ecology and the disconnect of how we are called to care for creation. So…what do we do? Laudato Si’ Project and the Catholic Ecology Center’s mission is born. We seek to deepen faith and foster a stewardship ethic through hands-on encounters with the natural world. We bring a message of Hope!
The most clear path to instilling faith and fostering a stewardship ethic is through programing that intentionally connects the two. Our ecology programs and retreats are a clear path to showing the beauty of what is around us while catechizing youth about the depths of our faith. Stewardship projects flow from our faith in God and are our response to the many gifts he has given us. Our stewardship projects put faith into action and exemplify a living out of Catholic social teaching, especially care for creation. These stewardship projects include woodland restoration, prairie plantings, wildlife monitoring and more.
Fostering a Stewardship Ethic; Our Faith in Action
Laudato Si’ Project seeks to use the natural world as a conduit to facilitate a quiet place for prayer and utilizes Wonder to deepen faith. We need the stillness offered by nature to heard God’s voice in the whispers and time in nature is always “re-creational”. Opening our eyes to the ecological intricacy of the little things around us can help awaken a child-like Wonder which can then be directed toward God. One doesn’t need to go far to experience this. Here are some examples from the insects that call our prairie plantings home.
Get outside and rediscover your sense of wonder for creation
March can be such an emotional roller coaster; warmth and sunshine followed by ice, snow and cold. The landscapes look brown, devoid and lifeless. Yet, God’s life is stirring-up and working throughout the created world.
Maple Sap is flowing to the tops of trees while providing a sweet treat for sugarer’s during this Lenten season. Skunk cabbage, our earliest blooming flower, has already made its way through the ground to bloom (often needing to melt ice by creating heat). Woodcock’s are performing their mating ritual of the sky dance, fluttering several hundred feet into the air only to drift downward in a falling leaf display. Mourning cloak butterflies (our first butterfly to emerge) have spent the winter as a frozen adult and now search for nectar from broken tree branches and sap-sucker holes. These are all amazing indeed, but it is even a more hidden treasure I would like to highlight today.
God has written a precious book, whose letters are the multitudes of created things in the universe.
After the first warm rains (and even with nighttime temperatures in the 20’s) our native salamanders and crayfish are heading to the ephemeral ponds and waterways to mate and lay eggs. This is the exact moment when researchers and citizen scientists do their live-trap monitoring.
Our native salamanders (Wisconsin has 7 including the newt and mudpuppy) are secretive creatures. We may have have found these critters as kids under logs or in our window wells. Three of our salamanders awake with the first rains and head to the nearest fish free wetland and vernal ponds to mate and lay eggs. Setting minnow traps to catch them is a great way to monitor their presence, abundance and breeding.
All water creatures, bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all forever.
It is not just the salamanders you discover but many other little treasures along the way; sandhill crane nest, mud minnow, diving beetle and migrating birds.
The other cold-blooded creature moving during the nights may come as a surprise to you; the prairie crayfish. That’s right, not all crawfish spend their life underwater and Wisconsin has 6 native species. I recently discovered a crawfish burrow in the middle of a prairie on a nearby preserve and wondered what kind of crayfish it could be. Let the live-trapping begin!
Not a lot is known about these crayfish species and much of our knowledge has come in recent decades using live trapping. Like salamanders, the prairie crayfish comes out after the first rains to find water to breed (even with nighttime temperatures in the 20’s!). During the warmer months, they forage nocturnally in the prairies and woodlands for worms and other food. There burrows can be quite elaborate and go as deep as needed to hit the water table, even up to 10 feet.
There are amazing natural treasures all around us all the time. Many are right before our eyes but we need our eyes “focused on the little things” to see.
A special thanks to Dr. Gary Casper of Great Lakes Ecological Services and Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.
God continues to richly bless Laudato Si’ Project‘s ministry and this February our organization will be turning 4 years old! Our mission has reached new levels in the last 12 months with new partnerships, programs and nearly $300,000 raised for the future Catholic Ecology Center land acquisition! None of this would be possible without our generous members, donors, partners and volunteers. Thank You!
2019 By the Numbers:
Over 1200 students, families and adults took part in faith-based and ecological programming
100 hours of educational programs
Over 465 volunteer hours of stewardship caring for our common home
30 hours of recreational outings to get outdoors and explore nature
We are excited for what 2020 has in store for Laudato Si’ Project and the Catholic Ecology Center. Please continue to pray for us that God’s will may be done through our ministry. Keep up with all the happenings this coming year and join us for a program by liking us on Facebook.
The Bible is full of analogies that use the Earth and its abundance to describe our God and His love for us. It also uses the imagery of farming, scattering seed and harvesting to illustrate our need to cooperate with God’s will, evangelize, die to ourselves and bear virtuous fruit through our actions.
On this feast of St. Francis of Assisi and during this wonderful harvest time of our crops and vegetable gardens, perhaps we are more attune to this connection with God’s creation and our role to be stewards of it.
Fall is also the perfect time to seed a native prairie. That is, of course, after you have prepared the site and removed all unwanted “weedy” species like crown vetch, wild parsnip and Queen Anne’s lace before you seed natives. It is just like our life of virtue in which we must clear a space for the Lord in our hearts and replace our habitual vices with acts of charity or other virtue. Prairie sites can be prepared in 3 primary ways; agricultural tilling, smothering with cardboard, or herbicide treatment.
Laudato Si’ Project has done many such restoration projects over the last 4 years including plantings on preserves, at schools, or for private landowners. The amazing thing about these native plants is their tremendous root systems, sometimes extending over 10 feet down. They seem to heed the Bible’s advice to put down deep roots of faith to avoid quickly abandoning God when hardship or suffering comes along. For a plant, this hardship would be the availability of water and their deep roots solve that very problem.
Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever. -Daniel 3:76
Prairies and butterfly gardens not only look beautiful but can have some other important benefits as well; like helping pollinators, increasing infiltration and reducing soil erosion. They are also great places to do educational programs, both in the planting of them but also throughout their life.
Below are pictures from various prairie projects we have done and the many students and volunteers that helped to make them happen. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi Laudato Si’ Mi Signore; Praise Be To You My Lord
Spring is a time rich with opportunities to get people back outside after a long and cold winter. The last couple of months have been packed with retreats, educational programs and stewardship projects. Below are some of the highlights.
Education: Live Owl Program and Owl Prowl; Care for Creation Pollinator Program
We ran a sold out live owl program for our friends at Tall Pines Conservancy. We learned about all the amazing creatures that are active at night and learned about the adaptations that allow them to be so successful. Thanks to Wanakia Wildlife Rehabilitation for bringing live animals including the american crow, great horned owl, barred owl, saw-whet owl, eastern screech owl and opossum. The educational program was followed by an owl prowl looking and calling for owls on the amazing Camp Quad Conservation Easement. We finished with a bon fire and s’mores.
We also ran a Care for Creation program for St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Milwaukee. First graders through adult learned about topics including our Catholic call to be stewards of creation, prairie ecology and the diversity and importance of pollinators.
Stewardship: Camp Quad Conservation Easement
Tall Pines Conservancy’s private conservation easement on the 300 acre Camp Quad property is truly a treasure. We spent the morning with Marquette High School student volunteers marking their new nature trails throughout the property.
Faith: Retreats for St. Gabriel and St. Jude the Apostle
We always enjoy running retreats for the schools and parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In April we did so for St. Gabriel middle school at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in Port Washington. In May we ran a retreat for St. Jude the Apostle 6th graders which took place at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha.
The 4-part Outdoor Adventure Series will consist of essays written by students who participated in one of Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expeditions: a 21-day backpacking trip infused with faith, community, virtue and beauty.
Choose Wisely by Emily Gecosky
Wild berries were our staple snack food during our time in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. They were our sustenance: our sweet antidote for the soggy bland oats, the crown of our backcountry apple pie, the rich carpeting of several campsites, and even fish food. I remember standing on a rock one day during our three week escapade, tossing small rosy berries onto the surface of the veiled yellow depths of Lake Vera. I watched them drift lazily, and within moments a little fish pounced upon one of the berries, sucking it up with a sudden plop.The other berries soon met their demises in this fashion. Moments ago the fish had been wandering the sandy floor of the lake, sucking on pebbles and spewing them out again, but they forgot about their pebbles when they noticed the berries.
How like these fish we as human beings are: searching, foraging, grabbing at good things when we perceive them— perhaps for better things than we had before, as the fish abandoned their pebbles for the sake of berries. But what if they weren’t good— what if the berries I threw to the fish were poisonous? They probably would’ve eaten them anyway, mistaking them for food. In the same way, I think we often judge incorrectly: that in our innate desire for good things we can end up taking what merely appears good, but what is not actually good, and that in our hunger we often don’t distinguish between good berries and poisonous ones. We are beings cursed by concupiscence, which is the moral tendency to veer off course as misaligned tires would cause a car to tend slightly to the left, needing constant correction. It is precisely this bi-product of the Fall which makes us confused and causes us to choose wrongly. I then remembered how C.S. Lewis put words to such confusion in his Screwtape Letters. In one of the letters, the demon Screwtape corresponds with a less experienced demon, instructing him in the fine art of corrupting people. He explains the subtle differences between kinds of joy and how to use them to their advantages. Screwtape says, “Fun is closely related to Joy— a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.
The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field…” (Lewis, 50). The demons speak of a type of joy that will strengthen a person with good things versus a joy that will lead to their ruin— the difference between the good berry and the poisonous berry. People love and gravitate towards humor— why else are memes so popular? But in their desire for humor, they are prone to choosing the detrimental kind, a kind that will wound and degrade. A sad irony arises as well: even the demons are confused on what is “Enemy” and “evil”, as they use these words to refer to “God”, and to “goodness”. They have it flipped around.
My thoughts were interrupted by the chattering of chipmunks in the trees above me. There I stood, thinking deeply over something as insignificant as snacking fish. It wasn’t all that strange, since the day was especially set aside for this kind of meditation, for silence and self-reflection. A few hours in the presence of raw nature can turn anyone into a philosopher. With the day ahead of me, I kept tossing berry after berry, seeing the hungry mouths of fish breaking the surface of the glassy yellow water.
It has been another great year for Laudato Si’ Project and this February our organization will be turning 3 years old! There have been so many highlights and adventures in the last 12 months and it is all because of our generous members, donors, partners and volunteers. Thank You.
2018 By the Numbers:
Over 1400 students, families and adults took part in programming
80 hours of educational programs
Over 650 volunteer hours of stewardship caring for our common home
25 hours of recreational outings to get outdoors and explore nature
In 2018, Laudato Si’ Project ran 80 hours of educational programs! We were able to connect with hundreds of school students ranging from kindergarten up through college. Whether it is speaking at a school, retreat, conference, or out in the woods- education is at the core of what we do. Our School Partnerships have really expanded Laudato Si’ Project’s reach. With our partnerships growing, we are able to work with teachers to help them connect students to the teaching of the Church and Laudato Si’. This ensured they could find ways to get students into nature, sparking curiosity and developing a love for this amazing natural gift.
One of Laudato Si’ Project’s most impactful programs are the retreats we facilitate for parishes and schools throughout Southeast Wisconsin. This fall we were privileged to work with nearly 300 students, deepening their faith and calling their love for God into action through stewardship of our common home.
Watch our short video about Laudato Si’ Project Retreats.
In 2018, Laudato Si’ Project logged over 650 volunteer hours! Stewardship is all about getting our hands dirty. It is our philosophy that is it not enough to just learn about nature, you have to work to help restore it. By allowing students opportunity’s to give the Earth a helping hand- we are instilling a sense of mercy for our common home that they will carry with them throughout their lives. We are very proud of the great partnerships we have struck with multiple organizations including Tall Pines Conservancy, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Waukesha Land Conservancy, Catholic Heart Work Camp, Heiliger Huegel Ski Club and Schoenstatt Retreat Center.
In 2018, we planted 7 different native butterfly gardens totaling nearly 4000 native wildflowers! These gardens are an oasis for our native bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Over 200 students assisted with the plantings and also learned about the benefits of prairies and unique ecology of the organisms that call it home.
In 2018, Laudato Si’ Project created 25 hours of recreation outings. We seek to create intentional recreational opportunities so that students, adults and families can spend time enjoying our beautiful natural environment.
It has been a great year! God has richly blessed our organization again this year and has given us countless ways to spread our vital mission. We look forward to busy and fruitful 2019. Happy New Year.
Sat January 26th 10am-noon Hartland Marsh Stewardship
The 4-part Outdoor Adventure Series will consist of essays written by students who participated in one of Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expeditions: a 21-day backpacking trip infused with faith, community, virtue and beauty. You can view a video and learn more about Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expedition offerings HERE
Essay #1: Mt. Geikie
by MaryAnne Speiss
With a slap, cold woke me; I was freezing! The chill of last night’s storm hung on the air of the tent, and trying to pretend it away did no good. I tensed my entire body to combat the frigid air sneaking into everypore and extricated my aching limbs from the thin bag that had so wretchedly performed its function. All my clothes (save the thin layers I wore) were wet; I could not warm myself. The tent dripped on us; I could not fix it. My bare feet, cringing as they slid into clammy sandals, hurt as cold bit them. I was completely powerless to ameliorate the situation. All I could do was grit my teeth and hurl myself, exhausted and rebellious, through the tent flap and onto the wet mountain grass of the windy valley. My stiff body uncrumpled and poised upright, and then I saw it!
Mt. Geikie stood before me, but not the brutal mound of rock that I had summited
the day before. It still retained its perfect shape, climbing and climbing to a double peak, and my feet and hands still vividly recalled the ledges and dark boulder fields discernible from below. But the storm had transformed the sight before me. No longer was it something known and familiar, as it had been in the garish sunlight; it was now something of immense power, almost eerie in its captivation as soft tendrils of cloud swirled white against the dark peaks, mirroring their swaying counterparts in the sky. They flowed in slow succession into all the crannies and crevices of Geikie, almost to the tree-line. If ever a mountain took on the robes of a god, this was the moment! A shuddering thrill: I had stood on holy ground and had not known it! Would that I had knelt upon the peak. What words were whispered between the rugged rocks and soft curling cloud I could not hear, but though the wind swirled hard about my huddled shoulders and bare ankles, I stood stunned, my misery forgotten.
The vision only lasted a few breathless moments before I was filled with such inspiration that I found myself tromping off, still shivering, to attack the camp’s morning duties with a gusto so intense that it rivalled my recent, vicious frustration.
I was shocked! Had this really happened? Had an experience of intense beauty just given me the ability to bear cold serenely (which had never happened before in my life)? Where was the writhing of my soul in the face of my inability to improve the situation? It was gone, not explained away but suddenly absent, crowded out of my small brain by a deluge of beauty. The frustration begin to seep back from time to time over the course of the morning, and with it the vivid consciousness of pain, but whenever I remembered the beauty of my early morning vision it would again vanish. I was intrigued and began a quest of speculation.
I at last hypothesized that pain is comprised of two things, both which we call pain by themselves though perhaps we are wrong in so doing: firstly, the discomfort caused by an inevitable stimulus, and secondly, the impotent frustration that usually ensues. These go hand in hand so regularly that I had not clearly noticed this distinction before. It appeared to me now that the frustration was not inevitable and could indeed be avoided by counteracting it with beauty, either in actuality or in memory, which would then allow for a strengthened and vivacious going-onward with life. So I set out to test my theory, and I soon broadened my experiment not just to physical discomfort but also to mental discomfort.
As painful situations would spring upon me, I was ready for them. At one time my eyes ached from exhaustion; I recalled the crescent moon crested by a planet that I had seen the night before, and, sure enough, I found that I could go on invigorated, my frustration dissipated. At another time, I found myself on the verge of cursing at an annoying situation; I looked up and saw some fresh-cut flowers and returned to a place of inner cool. In no case did the exhaustion or annoyance magically disappear, but they lost the edge that made them feel unbearable, and I could then attack or tolerate problems with considerably more ease and courage. St. Paul might have meant something far more immediate and tangible than I had ever realized when he famously penned “whatever is lovely … think about these things.” (The Holy Bible, RSV, Phil. 4.8). So far my vision of Mt. Geikie had only lead me to confront lesser manifestations of the problem of evil. Little did I suspect that through it, and through my speculations on the nature of pain, I would get a glimpse of a deeper answer I had been seeking for years.
I, (and I know that I am far from alone in this), have long been locked in close combat with the problem of evil’s most affronting manifestation: the suffering of innocent victims. I was aware that my impotent rage at this injustice was etching itself deeper and deeper into my heart. The older I got, the more it threatened to shatter me. I could follow the arguments of theologians like C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain as they used logic to explain how such outrage could be allowed by a good God. I could even intellectually assent to such arguments; only, I could not come close to inward peace on the subject. I had no concrete example to draw upon in order to comprehend how somehow, someday, it could be possible to accept a reason for innocent suffering without experiencing devastating inward rebellion. Indeed, I had several times considered whether I should “most respectfully return [God] the ticket” (245) to heaven, alongside Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov.
But then I saw it! Of course! Everything suddenly came clear; my image of Geikie was the example I needed! For an intense, flashing second I saw a metaphorical Geikie, not the mountain of stone but now representing the whole of history. It too was swathed in clouds, the clouds of all innocent suffering since the fall of man. If, thought I, the very clouds that caused the misery on the freezing morning were the things that redeemed it in the end — with beauty and not explanation — then it is possible, just possible, for the same to be true of innocent sufferings when seen from the end of time.
This Fall has presented countless opportunities to connect with nature, grow in faith, and care for our common home. Over 300 people, ranging in age from 3 years old to 80 years old, took part in Laudato Si’ Project events this Fall! These included educational programs, retreats, recreational outings, and stewardship projects.
Programs with Saint John Vianney 7th and 8th grade, Woodside Elementary, Families at Schoofs Preserve, St. Gabriel Flea Market and Schoenstatt Families
Catching insects as part of family retreat weekend
Care for Creation Search
Catching insects as part of family retreat weekend
Catching insects as part of family retreat weekend
Laudato Si’ Project was also honored to have executive director Joe Meyer awarded Ozaukeee Washington Land Trust’s Michael Frome Education and Outreach Award.
Programs with Cristo Rey High School, Woodside Elementary, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Casa Romero Center, Marquette High School and other hard working volunteers.
Fun and Games at the Schoenstatt Family Retreat Weekend
St. Kateri Cross
St Kateri Cross
Recreation: Nothing beats time spent in nature. Student groups find that hiking and exploring in our natural world is truly Re-Creational.
Laudato Si’ Project seeks to utilize connections with nature to instill a sense of wonder and begin to create a stewardship ethic rooted in faith. The summer months present great opportunities to do just that. Using small mammal live traps, snake boards, turtle nets and other ecological monitoring equipment, we are able to let groups get up-close and hands-on with Wisconsin wildlife.
A Masked Shrew
Checking a Snake Board
Learning about Painted Turtles
Holding a Painted Turtle
Removing a Snapping Turtle from the Live Trap
Safely Holding a Snapping Turtle
Learning about the beautiful treasures of creation is not limited to the daytime. Few people experience the diversity of our nocturnal animals: bats, lightning bugs, and moths. We use ultrasonic microphones that hook-up to your smart phone that detect feeding bats overhead that are using echolocation. Even though you may not see them, the device makes audible their echolocation and auto-id’s the species of bat. Although Wisconsin’s 8 bat species present great opportunities for discovery and topics of conservation, our hundreds of species of moths should not be overlooked.
Blacklight Live-Moth Trap at Night
Collecting the trap in the morning
We make this great diversity of moths accessible through live moth trapping. By
making a homemade moth live trap you are able to make visible all those amazing bugs that move about while we are asleep inside. All you need to do is turn the black-light on in the trap before you go to bed and in the morning feast your eyes on the treasures it has collected. If you really want a project, purchase a Peterson Field Guide to Moths and try to identify some of them.
Painted Lichen, LeConte’s Haploa, Ailanthus Webworm and Virginia Ctenuchid
Yellow-Collared Slug Moth
Lesser Grapevine Looper Moth
Yellow-necked Caterpillar Moth
Large-maple Spanworm Moth
Canadian Owlet Moth
Geranium Plume Moth
“Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” -Pope Francis Laudato Si’ (Wis 13:5)
With Earth Day just this past Sunday, we thought we would share all the great happenings within the last week. If you haven’t read the article about Laudato Si’ Project in the National Catholic Reporter, you can view it HERE. We also had the opportunity to speak about Care for Our Common Home on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air. You can listen to that Conversation HERE.
This week we also had the privilege to work with 2 middle schools in the Archdioscese of Milwaukee, St. Alphonsus and St. Jude the Apostle. We helped St. Alphonsus 7th graders with a service project and teaching them about how our faith connects with Care for Our Common Home. We continued with a woodland restoration at our Schoenstatt project area removing invasive species and putting up bluebird and kestrel nest boxes.
Laudato Si’ Project also led the 6th graders of St. Jude the Apostle in their retreat focused on Respect, Peace and Acceptance. This is part of a continued partnership with Marquette University High School, Laudato Si’ Project and middle schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The weather could not have been better and the students were able to experience a fun, faith-filled retreat that drew them closer to God, one another, and Creation.
Lastly, we have finished installing our Bat Boxes on several properties in Washington County. These boxes will serve as a day-time roosting site for our many bats that call Wisconsin Home. You can learn more about helping bats at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/bathouse.html
Even with snow on the ground, adult mourning cloak butterflies emerge from their winter slumber spent under leaves or loose bark. They are one of only a handful of butterflies to overwinter as adults. To keep from freezing, mourning cloaks reduce the amount of water in their blood by as much as 30 percent and then thicken it with a sugar solution of sorbitol. Biologists in Alaska found that mourning cloaks do not freeze until the temperature reaches minus 220°F. Once they emerge, they need to quickly feed, so they often seek out running tree sap or rotten fruit. Mourning cloaks win the award for greatest longevity among butterflies, living 10 or 11 months. Search the woodlands near you this spring.
February and March can be tough months, with some warm days followed by a snow storm. One way to sweeten this emotional roller coaster is to experience the maple syrup season. Even when nature seems asleep, maple trees are sending sugary sap up to the branches where the buds will use the sugar to make leaves in a few weeks. In my experience, having days around forty and sunny with nights below freezing produces the best sap flow. When temperatures reach high forties and fifty the flow actually stops. The sap is about 2-5% sugar and will be boiled down to about 66% sugar which we then call syrup. This boiling can be slow going as you may have to evaporate off 50 gallons of water to get 1 gallon of syrup! Sugar Maples are the most common tree used for syruping but other maple family trees can be used; silver, red, and boxelder. In Alaska, without maple trees, they utilize the sap of birch trees to make syrup!
Maple Syrup demo at HH Ski Club
Watching the sap drip
A bucket-line method
Boiling off the Sap. On the left is the concentrated syrup, Right is the Sap
Some of our mammals began to awake from their winter slumber in March but many
mammals were active all winter. Laudato Si’ Project is beginning some small mammal survey’s using live traps in order to gain understanding of what lives in certain areas and how many. The goal is also to create programs open to the public so they can see many of these amazing critters close up. It also demonstrates ways in which research scientists monitor and study these animals. Our target species include: meadow vole, short-tailed shrew, meadow jumping mouse, woodland jumping mouse, deer mouse, 13- lined ground squirrel and flying squirrel.
The sherman live traps we use for our small mammal survey’s
The sherman live traps we use for our small mammal survey’s
Spring Avian Arrivals
Many of us look forward to the first calls of red-winged blackbirds, robins, and sandhill cranes, but there is another bird species that begins its unique mating dance in March, the
American Woodcock. On these spring evenings, just before dark you will begin to hear the “peenting” call of the male Amercian Woodcock. Without knowing this, you might write it off as a silly insect buzz but what follows is truly a spectacle of nature. The male continues his “peenting” call for several minutes before taking flight. Then begins a circular flight into the sky, during which you will hear a high pitch noise as they fly made by the sound of their wings. They continue these concentric circles until they are several hundred feet in the air and then continue with their “falling leaf” display. This consists of erratically falling through the air while making high pitch vocal tweets. Their sky dance ends with them swooping silently to the ground where they originally took off and continue their “peenting.” This mating display continues well into the night and sometimes in the morning as well.
February and March is also a great time to cleanout your bluebird nest boxes for the arrival of the Eastern Bluebird. These gorgeous birds arrive early in the spring and begin to choose nest sites; tree cavities or nest boxes. American Kestrels also begin choosing their territories and picking out nest boxes as well. Laudato Si’ Project is helping to boost both bird populations with the installation of dozens of kestrel and bluebird nest boxes in Southeast WI. Many of our bird houses are made from scrape lumbar reclaimed from construction sites. Volunteers and Boy Scouts are placing them at several sites including Schoenstatt Retreat Center, Daniel Boone Conservation League, Tall Pines Conservancy’s Camp Quad Easement, Heiliger Huegel Ski Club and several other private land owners with appropriate habitat.
Our Peterson Bluebird Nest Boxes
An American Kestrel Nest box we placed at Daniel Boone Conservation League
“The poor and the earth are crying out.” -Pope Francis Laudato Si’
As we embark on this Lenten season, we do so with the structure of the 3 pillars of lent; Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. These actions of self denial orient us toward the Creator who is the source of all life and true happiness. Many of our transgressions against God and one another stem from a distorted understanding of our place in this world. When we forget our rightful place as creature and not Creator, we focus only on ourselves and neglect our prayer life, our role as stewards of creation and service to one another. We can also use the 4 Cardinal Virtues as a guide to reflection about our personal stewardship ethic.
What is owed my neighbor? What is owed to generations yet to come? How are we going to hand on this Creation that we have been called to steward?
One of the hardest but most impactful of virtues. How can we restrain our consumption and always wanting more? How can we simplify our lives to make more room for God?
This virtue allows us to discern the true cost of our actions. Our consciences need to be formed by our Faith. This will allow us to guide our families and those around us to more sustainable choices and lifestyles. We can also give thanks for what we have been given.
The virtue of fortitude gives us the perseverance to live more simply and the courage to be counter-cultural. It also gives us the strength to remain hopeful amidst the hardships and injustices in our world.
In your prayer this Lent, take time to pray for Our Common Home and those which depend most intricately on it, the poor. Click Here for a great prayer by Pope Francis
In an effort to rid our hearts and lives of that which is not essential, the Church calls us to simplicity through fasting. Much of our environmental and social degradation is due to a “throw away culture.” This Lent, fast from those wasteful habits in your life.
The paradox of Christianity is clear; less is more, give and you will receive. By detaching from our money we more clearly can experience God’s love and freedom in our lives. There are so many wonderful organizations helping Humanity and our Common Home. Consider supporting Laudato Si’ Project this Lent.
Guest Reflection by Woodside Elementary Kindergarten Teacher Peter Dargatz
Some of my earliest and favorite childhood memories are my experiences with nature at Underwood Creek, catching frogs at Menominee River Parkway, and rock hunting along the shores of Kohler-Andrae State Park. Nature has always been a place of peace and passion in my life. No matter what else was going on in life, nature was a constant. Living in Wisconsin means amazing seasonal variability and wonderful access to nature. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. As I grew up, I knew that nature would continue to be something I enjoyed personally. I never expected it to be something I could enjoy professionally. Fortunately, I can now do both. I am ecstatic to be able to continue sharing my passion and love for the natural world with my family and my students.
Teacher burnout is a real thing. I love educating children, but after years of teaching, I couldn’t help but feel that change was needed. I saw my students excelling academically but falling short in other areas. The change I needed was not a new job, but a new direction. That direction led me back to my love: nature. Initially, my rejuvenation began with the creation of the Tyke Hike program in my volunteer work for the Ice Age Trail’s Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter. These monthly hikes along a segment of the trail focused on more unstructured exploration and nature play combined with some service learning and emergent learning opportunities. Seeing how excited children were at being able to observe, explore, and play in nature inspired me to find a way to bring that enthusiasm to my classroom. I found that way with the nature kindergarten concept. Being in a public school, there were many potential hurdles. However, with tremendous support, access to land, and a seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, it soon became a reality. My students receive daily interactions with nature with a nature-infused curriculum bursting with project-based, personalized, and play-based experiences.
The Tyke Hike program and my nature kindergarten classroom are extremely important to my family. Besides the substantial support and assistance with the responsibilities these activities require, my family is my inspiration for my continued development as a teacher and nature steward. My daughters inspire me to create a classroom community that would make them proud. My wife inspires me to follow my dreams and try new things. We constantly share our own nature experiences and making new nature memories together. My wife and I want our girls to experience and celebrate nature so that they will appreciate and honor it on their own.
Whether it be visiting my outdoor classroom, walking through the nature preserve at the end of our block, or visiting one of our many favorite nature spots throughout the area, nature is and will always be an essential element of our lives. We don’t learn about nature. We learn from and in it.
In my three years as a nature kindergarten teacher, I have worked to revamp and rejuvenate my instructional practices by enhancing my curriculum with opportunities for my students to dig into nature, both figuratively and literally. We engage in a diversified set of activities aimed at creating a well-rounded whole-child experience. Place-based learning is crucial to this. I want my students to more deeply understand their community and more importantly, their place and role in that community. While there are a variety of specific activities and experiences we use to deepen our connection to the natural world, the first and far most valuable resource is time. Time to explore, observe, and play. Every day. Mother Nature is a much better teacher than I could ever be so giving her control allows the students to see their world with a different perspective.
This different perspective aims to create and instill a passion for appreciation and love of the land. I want my students to experience the land, understand their place in it, and preserve it. For example, students learn about invasive species. With garlic mustard being easy to find and just as easy to pull out, it is a natural choice to use as a learning tool. We learn about what garlic mustard is, what it does, and why getting rid of it will be helpful for our land. Once we learn that, our daily interactions with nature include garlic mustard picking. It becomes so motivating for kids. I have received many correspondences from parents stating how their child spent hours at home and in the neighborhood pulling out plant after plant. Similarly, to diversify the land, we work on prairie restoration. Using old donated tarps, the students choose a spot to kill off the bland and homogeneous grasses. Later on, they remove the tarp, move it to a new location, and plant prairie plants in that spot. They also distribute native seeds and study different plans to purchase. Additionally, the students do a variety of things to help our animal friends. Whether it be building bird feeders or setting up winter dens, we learn about nature by immersing ourselves in it.
Pulling Invasive Garlic Mustard
Using a tarp to prepare a site for native plants
An example of a winter den
Read a great article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Peter and his classes HERE
Laudato Si’ Project was thrilled to help run the high school retreat for St. Catherine of Alexandria in Brown Deer. We began in the morning with a presentation and discussion
on Living Laudato Si’. Topics included: What the Church teaches in regards to Care for Creation, what are the major themes of Laudato Si’, and how to we live a Laudato Si’ stewardship ethic day to day.
After a great morning session, it was time for lunch and then out into the sunny 40 degree January weather! We were off on our faith-based ecology hike to explore the amazing beauty of the Holy Hill segment of the Ice Age Trail.
Joining us for our walk was volunteer educator Steven Schwartz. Steven earned his Bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and wetland science and is currently taking Master’s classes at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences. It was a blessing to have Steven’s faith and expertise on our hike. We discussed some of the unique geological features that can be found in the Kettle Moraine and heard insights for great Saints like St. Kateri Tekawitha. It was truly a wonderful day for the youth and it ended with the sacraments of Reconciliation and Mass at the Holy Hill Basilica. A special thanks to Lorrie Maples who is the Formation Director for St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Holy Hill Basilica
Ice Age Trail Hike
A prayer by St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Ice Age Trail Hike
Ice Age Trail Hike
Pope Francis prayer intention to Care for Our Common Home
Volunteer Educator Steven Schwartz speaking to the group
Having a good time on the trail
Outdoor Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill
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’
Our MUHS boys helping with the woodland restoration
Our brave volunteers for the “Canticle of Creation” skit
Water Quality Testing with MUHS
St. John Vianney 8th Grade Retreat
A twelve spotted skimmer dragonfly
Laudato Si’ Project guided hike with Chesterton Academy: Connecting Faith and Care for Creation
Laudato Si’ Project’s “Nature Discovery Zone”
Our Great Team at the Sustainability Weekend at St. Gabriel Parish
St Leonard’s VBS
Volunteers at our Adopt-a-highway cleanup
Eagle Scout Project
Our Student Stewardship Award
St. Gabriel’s Nature Club
Candle-light hike at Winter Carnival
Well, it’s hard to believe that were are wrapping up 2017 already. It has been another big year for Laudato Si’ Project and this February our organization will be turning 2 years old! There have been so many highlights and adventures in the last 12 months and it is all because of our generous members, donors, and volunteers. Thank You.
The summer of 2017 was the 2 year anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Pope Francis also made “care for our common home” a work of mercy 1 year ago in 2016! (see New Work of Mercy). This solidified Laudato Si’ Project’s mission and gave us even more momentum moving forward. As our mission states, we are dedicated to restoring humanity’s connection to the natural world through education, stewardship, and recreation.
St. Dominic Middle School Retreat
Mr. D as St. Francis of Assisi
Learning about amazing prairie roots
A nice breakfast before the presentation
Stations during the retreat
Finding an American Toad
Laudato Si’ Project’s “Bug Hike”
Beginning Birding Hike
Joe Meyer leads a prairie hike at HH ski club
2017 Nature Club at St. Gabriel Parish School in Hubertus, WI.
In 2017, Laudato Si’ Project ran 70 hours of educational programs! We were able to connect with several hundred school students ranging from kindergarten up through college. Whether it is speaking at a school, retreat, conference, or out in the woods- education is at the core of what we do. Our School Partnerships have really expanded Laudato Si’ Project’s reach. With over a dozen partnerships and growing, we are able to work with teachers to help them connect students to the teaching of the Church and Laudato Si’. This ensured they could find ways to get students into nature, sparking curiosity and developing a love for this amazing natural gift.
“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’
A nest box we put up at Patnode Pastures
Planting the butterfly garden
Removing buckthorn from the trail
A tagged monarch butterfly
About to release a tagged monarch
Conducting a controlled prairie burn starts with “back-burning”
Savannah Restoration Team
Art Teacher Stacey Kodra and English/Latin Teacher Erica Zunac show off their restoration tools
In 2017, Laudato Si’ Project logged over 600 volunteer hours! Stewardship is all about getting our hands dirty. It is our philosophy that is it not enough to just learn about nature, you have to work to help restore it. By allowing students opportunity’s to give the Earth a helping hand- we are instilling a sense of mercy for our common home that Pope Francis has called us to.
“We must hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” –Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
Our butterfly catching crew on the search for insects
Chesterton Academy students on retreat and ready to take a faith and ecology hike with Laudato Si’ Project