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.