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Practical ways to make a difference

This article is reprinted from fall 2008 issue of HOPE.

Biomass, biodiesel fuel — these may be great for institutions, but how can individuals make an environmental difference? Sisters Florence Norton, Evelyn Ovalles and Mary Moloney share some practical ways that they are making a difference.

The importance of water

Growing up in the city, it would have been easy for a young Sister Florence to not appreciate nature. Her father, however, was interested in plant and animal life. Through his contagious interest, Sister Florence developed a love for things in the heavens, in the trees and on the ground.

Early this summer, Sister Florence took vacation from her ministry as a pastoral associate at Our Lady of Grace Parish, Chicago, to participate in the Women of Providence in Collaboration’s Earth Plunge event. This workshop features several days of immersion into Earth to contemplate its impact on participants’ spirituality. Although she has always been aware of the sacredness of water, the workshop drove home the point of how expensive and destructive bottled water is. At $1.28 for one bottle of water, it was figured that a gallon of water would cost $8. Additionally, the plastic bottle is often not recycled and is made with petroleum.

As one who lived and taught in Peru, South America, for eight years, Sister Florence knows how important water is. She also knows that when communities in economically poor countries finally get clean, safe drinking water, it is cause for a big celebration.

“We need to be able to use what we have in such a way that other people can enjoy what we have. I think it’s a [responsibility] to be able to save water and not to waste it,” said Sister Florence.

One step at a time

Just what is sustainability to Sister Evelyn Ovalles?

“I think it’s an attitude of enoughness. OK, this is what I have; do I need more? At the same time, how do I give back? The air I breathe comes from the plants and if I uproot everything, it won’t sustain me. It’s a cycle. For me, sustainability is being mindful, not only of my needs, but also the needs of others. And when I talk about others, it includes the whole of planet Earth,” explained Sister Evelyn, director of the Tribunal and judge for the Diocese of Gary, Ind.

Earlier this summer, Sister Evelyn bought a bag of cherries. The next day, she discovered five or six ants in her kitchen. She trapped one and took it outside her apartment.

“It just made me more aware of our interconnectedness and the attitude of human beings in the past being that of superiority over all other creation. Through the years I have learned to appreciate more interconnectedness and our role in nourishing this planet and preserving this planet,” she continued.

Sister Evelyn is very honest that she is always trying to improve on making sustainability a part of her life. She does recycle and often brings that recycling to the motherhouse. Her office also participates in a recycling program.

Some things are harder to change in life. For Sister Evelyn, that challenge is water. She’s disciplining herself to turn off the faucet when the water isn’t needed, such as when soaping.

“It’s one step at a time. You cannot take the big leap right away,” she said.

Eating locally

“The thing that I am really working on right now is eating locally,” said Sister Mary Moloney, a chaplain at Mercy Health Center and Oklahoma Heart Hospital, Oklahoma City.

Sister Mary participates in the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, (www.oklahomafood.coop) which was launched in 2003. The co-op’s logo is “From our family farms to your family table.”

Sister Mary paid a one-time $50 membership fee. Food and non-food products grown in Oklahoma can be ordered on-line and picked up at locations throughout the state. She also purchases food at a local farmers’ market that is open all year on the campus of Oklahoma State University.

At her home, Sister Mary has a 4-by-8-foot raised bed where she gardens with compost and soil. She raises peppers, heirloom tomatoes, squash, lettuce and she even tried planting some watermelon. In her yard, she grows okra and has a perennial flower garden.

“I think there’s nothing more important we can do than buying local food,” said Sister Mary, who noted that the average food for one family’s table travels nearly 1,500 to 2,000 miles. “I’ve cut out all that transportation. That’s where I’m really putting my energy — trying to find sources of local food.”

As Mother Theodore would say

Sisters Florence, Evelyn and Mary beautifully illustrate that small changes can make a big difference. Or as in the words of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin: “We are not called upon to do all the good possible, but only that which we can do.”

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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