White Violet Center for Eco-Justice interns Sister Kara McKenney and Matthew Bush put up one of the Cosmic Walk signs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. It is open to the public.

The Cosmic Walk at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. It is open to the public.

From our very foundation, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods have sought to reverence the sacred inheritance given to us by a Provident God.

As women religious, whose mission and legacy it is to honor Divine Providence and to further God’s loving plans by devoting ourselves to works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people, we have come to see that mission as extending to interrelationships with all of creation within the entire web of life.

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when religious groups are called to take a prophetic stance in the cultivation and care of their properties and resources, large and small. They have turned to Aldo Leopold, conservationist and environmentalist, who developed a Land Ethic as a way to guide such decision making. His Land Ethic enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. A Land Ethic attempts to take into account both the needs of the community and the sacredness of the land. In Leopold’s own words, “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in.”

From the land at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods that once belonged to the indigenous people, to all those places and resources that have been passed to us one generation to another beginning with our beloved foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin—we embrace this understanding of the “land” or, in the words of the Earth Charter—one Earth community—that comprises air, animals (includes humans), plants, soils and waters.

It is the intent of this Land Ethic to reflect the knowledge that our relationship to Earth is a moral imperative involving a question of what is just and good for the present and for the future of the whole Earth community.

This document:

  • proclaims our beliefs about God’s great gifts of creation and the responses we hope will flow from these beliefs,
  • lays out principles to guide us in carrying out those responses,
  • offers commitments that will challenge and direct our actions.

As a shared vision for the loving care of Earth community, may this ethic provide a foundation by which each of us and all of us can live. Together in hope may we affirm these beliefs, be guided by these principles and do our best to live out these commitments.

Guiding Beliefs

We embrace the values expressed in sacred scripture, Catholic tradition and in the writings of church and world leaders to guide us.

Paul tells us in I Corinthians Chapter 12: “Now the body is not a single part, but many… The eye cannot say to the hand I do not need you, nor again the head to the feet, I do not need you.” Perhaps we can begin to imagine ourselves saying to a tree, “I do not need you” (even though we cannot breathe without the trees). Or to the wetlands, “I do not need you” (even though the wetlands filter toxins and act as the kidneys of the earth and serve as nurseries for fish and all manner of bird life). And to the soil, “I do not need you” (even though the soil is the source of our food, our very substance). Can the body exist without the trees, the wetlands and soil?
– Jeanne Clark, OP, “Spirituality and Land,” a joint NATRI/LRCR Project 2003

“My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good.”
Pope Benedict XVI, World Youth Day September 4

Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created “in a state of journeying” (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call “divine providence” the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection.
Catholic Catechism 302

“Our ethic for the twenty-first century…must incorporate respect for all life. Fair treatment, meaning justice, of people and of the environment are connected, for “the poor” now includes other species of life. Moreover, it has been a basic principle of Catholic social justice for many years that the Earth and its resources are a common heritage for all the inhabitants of our planet.”
Indiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, Care for the Earth 2000

“Not only human life but the whole living Earth is God’s beloved creation, deserving of care. This in turn requires us to shift ethical attention away from human persons alone and to re-center vigorous moral consideration on the whole community of life. In an ecological ethic, Jesus’ great command to love your neighbor as yourself extends to include all members of the life community.”
– Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, Quest for the Living God
NY: Continuum International Publishing Groups, 2007, p 197-8.

Additionally, in any decision we make about our resources and their use at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and beyond, we will rely on the Earth Charter (www.earthcharter.org).

Guiding Principles

And we will be guided individually and communally by the following principles:

We believe that Earth is a primary revelation of God and the sustainer of all life; this belief urges us to deep reverence and strong commitment to deliberate, ongoing action toward right relationship with Earth community.

We believe that Earth’s beauty sustains and refreshes the human spirit; this belief urges us to unending gratefulness and generosity.

We believe the human and natural world is one sacred Earth community; this belief urges us to ongoing education, prophetic witness and advocacy on behalf of all creation, especially the most vulnerable.

We believe that we are called into being by God to participate as a community in extending the providential designs of God to all creation (Constitutions, Art. 5); this belief urges us to careful research and action on any decisions made individually or in community regarding our resources and their use at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and beyond.