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Day of Education Explores Earth Issues

October 26, 2015, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and interested local community members gathered October 15 at Weber Retreat and Conference Center to explore issues of concern for Earth and the creatures who inhabit her. The free program was offered by the Congregation’s Office of Global Mission, Justice and Peace, directed by Sister Kathy Nolan, OP.

After a welcome by Sister Kathy and contemplative prayer led by Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, focused the morning on exploring Laudate Sí, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change and care for Earth. Sister Pat, founder of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, walked participants through a “roadmap” of the encyclical: its various themes and its hopeful message. Sister Pat repeated this presentation on October 17 for the Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Watch her presentation, recorded and posted on the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ website.

Lura Mack, Executive Director of the Portfolio Advisory Board, addresses the group.

Sister Pat returned in the afternoon to speak about the United Nations Climate Summit, planned for November 30 through December 11, 2015, in Paris. This is the 21st UN gathering on climate change, Sister Pat said, noting that during the 17th conference in 2011, the negotiators said that by 2015 they would have a framework that could be implemented. 

“The ultimate objective of the climate summit is really to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations or emissions internationally,” Sister Pat explained. The purpose is “to limit global temperature increase above the pre-industrial levels by no more than 2 degrees Celcius” – 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. “Scientists today are saying that [we can afford] an increase of no more than 1.5 degrees. 

Sister Elise García, OP, spoke of the urgency of the issue, of the great need for the negotiators from the 195 member nations to succeed in bringing about a binding agreement. She noted that global temperature has already increased by nearly 1 degree. “That’s why it’s so critical now that we really stop the path that we’re on in order to make sure that we don’t hit the tipping point.” 

The 2015 UN gathering is the 21st to focus on climate change, Sister Pat said, noting that during the 17th conference in 2011, the negotiators said that by 2015 they would have a framework that could be implemented. “Let’s hope that this time the countries around the world really are able to accomplish this.” 

At the same time as the UN Conference – at which about 15,000 official representatives are expected to gather – members of the Civil Society Sector will gather, representing a variety of activist groups concerned about the environment and its impact on low-income people. Sisters Pat and Elise will attend events at the Civil Society Sector. Sister Pat will preside at a special tribunal, the Third International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.

“We’re trying to plant the seeds for a legal system that’s going to protect not only human rights but sees human rights as a part of the larger rights of nature, and that nature itself – our rivers and our mountains and our other brothers and sisters in beings – have intrinsic rights to exist and flourish,” Sister Pat explained. 

The tribunal called by the Global Alliance – modeled on the concept of the war crimes tribunals that were held after World War II – will present a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to show corporations or other organizations have violated the rights of aspects of nature such as eco-systems. “We don’t have any judicial body to take this to, even if there are violations,” Sister Pat explained.  “We are trying to model what we think a world tribunal on climate justice should look like.” 

The first international tribunal, held in Ecuador in January 2014, looked at the evidence of eight cases of environmental rights violations, including the endangerment of the Great Barrier Reef. 

Sister Elise, who covered the first tribunal for the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report, will again be covering the tribunal and other events in Paris for the Global Sisters Report. “The reason I’m going is to try to bring some press and publicity to what’s happening in the civil side of the Paris talks,” Sister Elise explained.

Father James Hug, SJ, presides
at the closing Mass.

Rounding out the afternoon events were three brief reports on different ways that care for Earth is addressed at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse.

- Sister Carol Coston, OP, spoke of the work of the Permaculture Office, which is finding ways for the Motherhouse grounds to be more sustainable. 

- Father James Hug, SJ, sacramental minister at the Motherhouse, spoke of a letter from Catholic colleges and universities throughout the world, promising their support for the Pope’s environmental efforts, as described in Laudate Si.

- Lura Mack, Executive Director of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) spoke of ways that the PAB is supporting the Congregation’s sustainability efforts through its work in corporate responsibility and through making low-income loans to organizations such as the Solar Energy Loan Fund in Fort Pierce, Florida.

The Day of Education ended in prayer, with a special Mass at which Father Jim presided.

Sister Carol Coston Addresses Graduates, Receives Award from University of Great Falls

June 2, 2015, Great Falls, Montana -- Sister Carol Coston, OP, spoke to the graduates of the University of Great Falls about her work in permaculture and received the University’s Uncommon Courage Award during commencement exercises last month.

She was recognized for her work in the environment, as well as in other social justice causes. “Sister Coston has spent her life’s work on the betterment of others,” the University noted in a press release announcing her selection as commencement speaker. “Her most recent focus has been on protecting the environment through an ethic of living lightly on Earth.”

In an interview, Sister Carol said she was surprised and honored by the opportunity to address the graduates of the Catholic, co-ed university sponsored by the Sisters of Providence. President Eugene J. McAllister, PhD, invited her to address the graduates after learning about her involvement in permaculture from the website of Santuario Sisterfarm, “A Catholic view on the environment, especially with Pope Francis’ recent emphasis, seemed a natural,” he wrote in inviting Sister Carol to be the commencement speaker.

The commencement speaker at Great Falls University traditionally receives the Uncommon Courage Award – after the special emphasis that the university places on the virtue of courage – and has a tree planted on campus in his or her name.

Introducing herself as a “Green Sister,” Sister Carol told the graduates that women religious had been involved in environmental issues long before Pope Francis was encouraged to write his encyclical on the environment. She traced the movement of “Green Sisters” from St. Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century abbess, to Sor Juana Indez de la Cruz, a 17th century woman author and scientist, and women religious of today.

During her address, Sister Carol also told the graduates about permaculture principles, which include observing and interacting, working with nature rather than against it in all planting practices; producing no waste; and using and valuing diversity. Sister Carol uses those principles in her current ministry as coordinator of permaculture efforts at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse campus.

Before coming to the Motherhouse, Sister Carol co-founded Santuario Sisterfarm in 2002 with Sister Elise García as a “center dedicated to cultivating cultural diversity and bio-diversity – and living in right relationship with the whole Earth community.” It was closed in 2011, but the website remains open to educate the public about permaculture and other means of sustainable living.

Sister Carol was also the founding director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby based in Washington, DC, and founding director of Partners for the Common Good, an alternative investment fund for community organizations. Her work in social justice earned her the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Clinton and the Alexandrine Medal from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  



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