By. Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center www.lavistaelc.org
Recently I had the opportunity to represent the Oblate Ecological Initiative at a Pollinator Dinner at the St. Louis Zoo. The theme for the evening’s presentation was “Reconnecting Wildlife and Habitats.” The speaker shared the grim awareness that the more “connected” humans become, the non-human life with which we share this planet becomes increasingly disconnected. Wildlife are becoming isolated in patches of habitat surrounded by a human-dominated landscape. This results in species population decline and possible extinction.
Why should Catholics care? In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis points out that, “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.” We care because we are joined by God in an intimate relationship with the world around us! We have a responsibility to care for all life. Our speaker offered many ways to address the problem of habitat fragmentation, and two solutions stood out for me: establishing protected areas close together and managing land in ways that allow wildlife to thrive. The Oblates have been committed to just these solutions, especially on their property in Godfrey, Illinois.
In 1993 when OMI leadership decided to dedicate sixteen acres at their Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate in Godfrey as an Illinois Nature Preserve, they were leading the way in a growing movement. Now there are several miles of contiguous habitat along the Mississippi River which is
a flyway for migratory birds. This area is also the route for the great monarch butterfly migration. The Novitiate lies in the heart of this region, and the protected land is a key player in connecting isolated bits of habitat, ensuring continued life for many species as well as beauty for the human eye.
Also at this Pollinator Dinner I received a map showing significant preserves, gardens, parks and projects in the greater St. Louis area that together are connecting habitats for the health of wildlife. To my delight La Vista Ecological Learning Center, which maintains a large pollinator garden, was included as one of 25 places in Illinois highlighted on the map.
Looking at the broader picture, I had to think of Oblate parishes and retreat centers where there is an opportunity to choose how land is to be cared for. Our speaker ended his remarks with a challenge for all of us, “Everyone has a part to play in wildlife conservation, and everyone can make a difference. By starting right at home, growing native plants and encouraging others to do so, you can help create habitat corridors for wildlife.” Starting right at home might mean on parish land or at a retreat center.
These special places where people of faith meet offer an opportunity to educate and live the message of Laudato Si’ in which we are called to “care for our common home.”