By Sister Janet Siepker
October! What a great month for a Franciscan to be writing an article!
On Oct. 4 we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis. God bless our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has awakened the world to a greater depth of understanding of this poor little man called Francis, a lover of creation. Our Holy Father mentions St. Francis in the opening paragraphs (10, 11 and 12) of the encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).
You can easily see how I immediately desired to share the encyclical with the staff at Queen of Peace. I feel very blessed that Father Justin Fish, our pastor, prepared a presentation and led a discussion at our annual staff retreat. I really encourage every educator to take the time to read and reflect on the importance of the Holy Father’s message in this encyclical.
Our staff concentrated and discussed from chapter six the Holy Father’s challenge: “There is nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living things, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity. We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel life on earth is worthwhile. Good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life” (211-213).
Practical changes are in place at Queen of Peace Catholic School to help move toward the successful implementation of our Holy Father’s challenges. The staff now saves coffee grounds for composting; classroom wastebaskets were replaced with recycle boxes for paper, plastics and all other recyclable material; Clorox wipes are replaced with anti-bacterial cloths; in the lunchroom, we now recycle and encourage the use of reusable containers, as well as keep a daily count of members of a “Clean Plate Club,” which helps to reduce food waste.
Although I know these are small steps to a greater awareness of the care of our environment, my thoughts and prayers often return to the first five chapters of the encyclical, where the Holy Father presents to us the world situations that far exceed the deprivations that we experience here. It causes me to question how to present to our students the responsibility, solidarity and compassionate care for others that best expresses generosity and joy of heart.
I am confident that our students will think of and want to do more projects than I can imagine. So what creates the solidarity that goes beyond what we find in other schools? “It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures” (236).
Our adoration hour on Wednesdays and the culmination of our school week with Mass on Fridays and Mass on Sundays helps us to trust that the work of Laudato Si’ is being accomplished at Queen of Peace Catholic School.
Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Janet Siepker is principal of Queen of Peace School in Cloquet.