Sister Janet Kuciejczyk: Reverencing the Earth

Stories of Justice: Engage Support, Reverence the Earth

By Mary Flick, CSJ, Justice Office Coordinator

 

When Sister Janet Kuciejczyk retired after teaching both high school French and Spanish for 41 years, one would have thought that she would take some time to consider where she might next focus her energy. But, her passion for justice has not required any long deliberations.

Sister Janet currently is involved in three justice ministries. As one of the foundresses of Marian Middle School, she serves on its Members Board. She also recently began tutoring a woman from Sierra Leone through the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Project. But the ministry that has garnered her faithful allegiance for 14 years is the Intercommunity Ecological Council (IEC).

Sister Janet Kuciejczyk

Begun in 2001, the IEC represents 15 congregations of women religious and one male congregation, as well as Rockhaven Ecozoic Center. Its members meet monthly to share and discuss ecological topics and take action on a variety of eco-justice issues and projects. Sister Janet has represented the Sisters of St. Joseph since 2002, following the first three CSJs on the committee: Sisters Audrey Olson, Rosemary Connell and Maggie Hamm.

S. Janet says the IEC counts among its accomplishments carbon footprint workshops in the St. Louis area, an interfaith film series on justice issues, a sustained voice for urgency in the Westlake Landfill issue, and, most recently, an interfaith prayer service prior to last December’s climate forum in Paris.  

S. Janet was involved with the IEC while she was teaching full-time at Ursuline Academy. She blended her passions for the environment and for teaching when she helped found the Inter-School Ecological Council in 2008. The ISEC includes six local all-girls high schools, including St. Joseph’s Academy and Ursuline, where Janet served as co-moderator of the Environment Club until retiring in 2014. Under her guidance, students worked with food service consultants to provide more vegetarian options for the school lunch programs, to buy from local grocers, to eliminate the purchase of bottled water, and to decrease the use of Styrofoam. It was a concrete way for Janet to pass on her concern for the environment to the next generation.

S. Janet sees her fidelity to the IEC through the years as a work of its own, as well as serving as an important link between the CSJs and the other communities. “I bring a sense of who we are and what we are doing to the IEC,” she says. “And I bring back to the community what the group is proposing and working on.”

Recently, she reconnected with one of her former students, Melissa Vatterott, who was active in the first group of ISEC students and is now working for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “It was an opportunity for me to see how I helped form some of the next generation,” S. Janet says. “To see my students continue in their work for a sustainable ecology is really heartwarming.”

S. Janet is eager to talk about her highest ecological issue. “Water is a human right,” she says. “The crisis in Flint, Michigan, is an example of the abuse of water. Water is not a luxury, not something to pay for. And it is an issue that I personally can do something about.”

She also called attention to one of earth’s primary nemeses – plastic. “There is a plastic island in the middle of every great waterway,” she says. “It’s an island of plastic waste. And plastic never disintegrates, it just gets smaller, until it’s eaten by animals and passes into our food chain.” What can be done? Janet’s first answer is practical and simple: “Remember your cloth bags.”

She sings the praises of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on integral ecology, Laudato Si’. “Other popes have spoken about ecology, but not much attention was given to it,” she says. But Pope Francis has addressed his message to the Church and the broader community. “We have a spiritual and religious incentive to do this [care for the earth] as well as a global incentive to do it. Our faith is hand in hand with what is happening in the world and the crisis of today. That should inspire and encourage us.”

So, too, is the inspirational and encouraging work of the IEC. “It’s not only the things we can do at home, but how we can be advocates for the environment,” she says. “We don’t have to be demonstrating, but we can be petitioning and letter writing agencies about the earth issue.”

S. Janet says the gifts of the IEC are both visible and unseen. “Doing with other communities gives us more personnel, more energy. We are not alone. We have one another’s support and encouragement in reverencing the earth.”

It’s a support S. Janet finds crucial, as the Sisters of St. Joseph continue to be in communion within the earth community and to join with others in addressing issues important to the dignity and well-being of all.

               Sister Janet’s Top 5 Earth-Friendly Tips

“Environmental issues can seem so huge,” S.  Janet says, “and we find ourselves asking, ‘What can I do about global warming?” Here’s a start:

  1. Use cloth bags while shopping
  2. When cold in the winter, instead of turning up the heat, put on a sweater
  3.  Drive less, consolidate trips
  4. Avoid wasting food; take smaller portions
  5.  Refuse to buy bottled water; carry your own BPA-free water bottle

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