Many search for the right words to explain why they want to protect land, including Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, who have recently protected 138 acres with ACRES. Their search for clarity in stewarding the land of Victory Noll resulted in a documented land ethic, steeped in their spirituality. They recently shared the origins of their guiding principles for land stewardship.
“It was a natural development of our spirituality,” says Sister Ginger Downey. “Many sisters come from farming backgrounds close to the land while some sisters have come to an awareness of the cosmic spirituality of all life being interrelated, an understanding that ‘this is a place we inhabit, but we don’t own it.’ Our views are coming together in protecting land with ACRES.”
While planning for their own transition, they wanted their land to be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
So they formed a stewardship committee in 2013 to clarify their principles and draft their land ethic. Sister Mary Jo Nelson explained how the images from the Hubble telescope were transformational. These images of deep space show that there is much more than life on Earth. For many sisters, these images were a spiritual awakening. Along with others who also recognized this astounding magnificence, they reached new conclusions: Everything has meaning, everything is connected, and diversity creates life.
“The idea that it’s all connected, bigger than what we see here, motivates a number of us. Essentially, there is no thought, feeling, action, direction or plan that doesn’t impact the rest of the world. We as human beings are challenged to see and implement the principle of connectivity,” says Sister Mary Jo.
Since the Catholic Church’s Vatican Council, there has been an evolution in science and spirituality, resulting in “a new view of life and God. Nature is the first scripture of our life…none of us could create this…the seasons rising, changing, dying, how closely this mirrors the rhythm of people’s lives. This alone is beyond us.”
“More recently, Pope Francis’ ‘Laudato si’, an encyclical letter on ‘Care for our Common Home’, came as a seminal document for the care of Earth and addressing the climate crisis,” says Sister Mary Jo. “So we asked ourselves: how can we use our land for a greater good, to provide a little more oxygen, clean soil and water, all the benefits nature offers? We can’t do everything, but we can do this and it will last, ministering— for generations.”
The Sisters share the benefits of land, based on their own deeply felt personal experiences.
“Nature ministers to us through all our emotions, absorbing them in ways people can’t. You can talk to a tree and leave behind what you’re feeling. The tree can take it. It’s a healing sense,” Sister Ginger shares.
“A lot of the sisters spent their formative years here, seeking solace in the woods. A lot of tears have been cried in these woods. This piece of land has been part of people’s prayer and reflection. One of my favorite places? Under the big oaks. Standing there, enveloped in light streaming through the trees…it’s comforting…or rejoicing.”
Now the Sisters want to offer nature’s revelation, comfort and rejoicing to future generations. “I see ACRES’ future trails here as our continuing to give,” says Sister Mary Jo. “Whether we are here or not, I see Victory Noll Acres as a place for others in the future.”
With the support of members, ACRES will honor their gifts forever.