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Care of Earth in everyday life: Sisters Ellen Cunningham and Rosemary Nudd

Sister Ellen Cunningham

Sister Ellen Cunningham

Many Sisters of Providence are making efforts to walk more softly on Earth in their individual lives, whether they live in a house with one or two other sisters in a city or at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

What does it mean to strive to live more sustainably? Sisters Rosemary Nudd and Ellen Cunningham, both Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College faculty, live together in Terre Haute and share some ways they make conscious decisions when it comes to Earth.

“We try to buy local, seasonal, organic produce when we can,” Sister Ellen said. “Of course, we get rather little in the summer due to CSA, which we love.”

Community Supported Agriculture programs exist all over the United States. Shareholders buy in at the beginning of the season (some are year-round and others are only summer) and pick up their fresh vegetables and value added products on scheduled days. Sisters Ellen and Rosemary belong to the CSA at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. There are options to participate in weekly whole shares and bi-weekly half shares.

Sister Rosemary Nudd

Sister Rosemary Nudd

“We take a whole share for the two of us and happily scramble to stay ahead of it,” Sister Ellen said. “We have dinner together three weekday evenings when schedules permit. We take turns planning, shopping, and cooking by the week. Ordinarily our meals are vegetarian.”

“We are demon recyclers, often picking up cans and plastic bottles on the street or retrieving them from trash containers,” Sister Ellen said. “We pay for curbside recycling to make it visible and save us some time, of course, although we really think those who don’t recycle should be the ones to pay!”

The sisters have found other avenues for what their curbside recycling program doesn’t accept. Plastic bags of all sorts go to Kroger; and glassware goes to the Indiana State University recycling center.

“We especially like it when the neighborhood fraternities have a service day and will take it for a donation to Red Cross,” Sister Ellen said.

To save paper they print on both sides whenever possible, or print on scrap paper.

“Rosemary is especially good at that,” Sister Ellen said. “When possible, we avoid printing entirely. I do a good bit of reading onscreen and insert comments into students’ work. As far back as the class of 2000, there was one computer-savvy student with whom I never exchanged a piece of paper. Now that’s not the norm, of course!”

Several of their monthly bills are paid by automatic deposit, but they’d like to get a few more converted to paperless soon.

Even though these sisters are demon recyclers they choose to go one step further and not use recyclable items in the first place, like plastic and paper.

They take plates, cups and cloth napkins to faculty assembly meetings and department lunches. We take the items home to wash them as a little favor to Earth,” Sister Ellen said.

Sister Rosemary said this “is one way to tell Earth, our mother and our only home, that we care about her. And yes, it is a task. Supplies for refreshments for about 50 people means bringing plates, etc., in bins, leaving the office early to set up for the meeting, collecting and hauling soiled stuff home, scraping and rinsing the plates prior to the dishwasher, putting the napkins through the washer and dryer, and returning to the bins, ready for next time. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much in print, but it is time-consuming. We hope, too, that we are raising Earth-consciousness in our SMWC colleagues.”

They don’t buy paper napkins — always use cloth — and use very few paper towels. A small box under the kitchen sink has neatly folded rags to be used for spills, and, of course, a kitchen hand towel. They wash plastic bags, plastic containers and aluminum foil for reuse and reuse, and reuse…

Energy and resources
Sisters Rosemary and Ellen try to be conscious of the thermostat, the lights and faucets. They also try to combine car trips, when possible. They shared one car from 1984 to 2004.

“We became rather ingenious in planning how various trips and errands could be accomplished. Eventually, it became apparent that we needed a second car, but we still try to travel together to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods most days.”

Their neighbor, Sister Dorothy Rasche shares in the composting efforts. The three of them bury fruit and veggie scraps along with a lot of leaves, which are abundant in their neighborhood.

“It is amazing to see how fast the scraps break down, and wonderful to realize that new life is being generated out of decay,” Sister Ellen said.

Their compost pile has two compartments bordered by cinder block. “When one side is pretty well on its way to being nice ‘potting soil,’ we let it lie fallow and start on the other side,” Sister Ellen said. “Dorothy uses the rich soil for gardening.”

(This article is additional web content for the Fall 2013 issue of HOPE magazine. Read the full issue of HOPE here.)

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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  1. Avatar joanne classick on October 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Dear Sisters,
    I was “raised” at St. Anthony School in Indianapolis by the Sisters of Providence and I’m so happy to see that I must have learned to love the Earth from you. I do all the same things that you do for recycling. I also have put clothes lines in my garage (the neighborhood does not allow them outside) and I dry almost everything there, except for a few nice clothes and a 5 minute tumble for the towels. (My husband likes his towels soft. Sissy. Ha. ) I do have a little garden and compost and recycle magazines at the V.A. Hospital. My son found a place that recycles cardboard and every scrap goes there. I have started a newsletter in my community giving hints on how to save money through conservation of heat, water, etc.
    Keep up the good work you are doing. I’m so proud to have had your congregation for my teachers.
    Joanne Classick

  2. Avatar Cheryl Casselman on October 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    What a nice note, Joanne! Bravo to you for taking all these steps in sustainable living. It’s great to hear from you. Thank you!

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