Director hanging up her overalls
The director of the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (WVC) at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is hanging up her overalls after five years of services as interim director and director and 12 years as a WVC staff member.
Sister Maureen Freeman, who is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ), came to WVC as a volunteer for six weeks as part of her sabbatical in 2002.
During that time, she experienced several firsts. She witnessed the birth of an alpaca, directed a college alternative spring break experience, cleaned the berry patch, refinished all the benches in the Reflection Garden, shoveled a lot of alpaca manure for composting, learned to card alpaca fiber, and got her first pair of overalls.
“It was physically exhausting, and I loved it,” Sister Maureen said about her volunteer time.
Not long after that, she was hired as the administrative assistant for WVC. Then, in 2009, she became the director.
Sister Maureen said throughout her time at WVC, more people have come on board to help deliver and believe in the mission.
“I think when White Violet Center started, a lot of people thought that Sister Ann Sullivan, founding director, and the Sisters of Providence were foolish, especially the farmers in the area,” she said. “And that is something I have watched change over the years.”
Sister Maureen, who is retiring at the end of March, believes WVC has become more nationally known in recent years as an eco-spirituality center.
“I think it’s very important for people to know that White Violet Center is unique compared to any of the other centers that I know,” she said. “We have land projects, garden projects, a variety of programs, animals, a forest, hoop houses, internships, and a variety of fiber work.
“If you go to any other center, they have some of these, but they don’t have all of these programs. The variety offered here helps the people who come here truly understand the interconnection of everything. It is very unique.”
She added that participants spend time at WVC for internships, volunteerism, and retreats or sabbaticals, and they can focus on horticulture, gardening, animal husbandry, or eco-spirituality.
From people who experience time at WVC, Sister Maureen has received comments like, “This was life-changing for me,” “I’ll be back,” “It’s so peaceful here,” or “I see God in new ways now.”
“My greatest hope is that this place continues because it is an oasis for a lot of people,” Sister Maureen said. “It gives people hope, it really does. Here’s another thing I hear a lot, ‘At least I know you’re there caring for Earth.’”
Sister Maureen believes one of the strengths of WVC is the change of leadership. The reins were passed to her by the first WVC director, Sister Ann Sullivan, who had been the director since 1995.
“It’s time for new ideas, new leadership, which I think is the gift that White Violet has,” Sister Maureen said. “You need some movement.”
During her time at WVC, some of the accomplishments include building a new greenhouse, securing grants for the forest plan, the raising of two high tunnels, re-instituting the Community Supported Agriculture program and advisory board, developing the sabbatical program, and the hosting of many national speakers in the eco-spirituality program.
Also, most recently, she is proud of being involved in the Sisters of Providence adoption of a “Land Ethic.”
“Not every religious community has that,” she said. “People aren’t thinking in those terms. And we have to be if we’re going to have a future.”
Sister Maureen’s immediate plans include a three-month sabbatical that includes time at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, and the Osage Forest of Peace in Oklahoma.
She was also recently elected to the membership team of the St. Louis Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and will begin July 1.
What has Sister Maureen always hoped people will take away from WVC and the staff that will continue?
“A sense of the Divine and the interconnection of everything,” she said.
A celebration for Sister Maureen has been scheduled to take place from 2-3 p.m., Thursday, March 27, in the Providence Hall dining room. The public is invited.
About White Violet Center for Eco-Justice
White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, teaches, cares and inspires for all creation. More information about White Violet Center for Eco-Justice may be found at WhiteViolet.org.
About the Sisters of Providence
The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.