Stories of Justice: Laudato Si Discussion Groups


Conversations Engage Minds and Hearts on Care for Creation

By Mary Flick, CSJ, Justice Office Coordinator


We believe that Creation is a sacred trust given to the whole Earth community … We commit ourselves as a congregation to participate in in processes and experiences that engage the mind, heart and will for conversion. -- Congregational Acts of Chapter 2013

Call it the work of the Spirit. How else can the Sisters of St. Joseph explain their focus on Creation? 

In its 2013 Acts of Chapter, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet cited “Communion with the Earth” as one of its five areas of collective focus over the next six years.  Beginning at its assembly last August, the St. Louis province chose to emphasize this act for one year.  Then came the synchronicity of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: Care for our Common Home, which was released last May.

The encyclical and the Acts of Chapter look at integral ecology more than simply climate change. Both documents call into focus the direct connection between the Earth and the human activities, recognizing our use and abuse of Earth’s natural resources, particularly at the expense of the poor.

As the Acts of Chapter call the CSJ community to participate in in processes and experiences that engage the mind, heart and will for conversion, several groups have sprung up in the St. Louis province to discuss the encyclical and apply it to their daily lives. 

Last summer, Sister Betty Leiwe was inspired to pull together a discussion group with people who shared her interest in responsible use of creation and care of the Earth. “A papal encyclical is not something we normally read,” Sister Betty says. “But it was Pope Francis,” referring to the pontiff’s widespread appeal, “and the theme was of interest.”

So she came up with a “huge list” of names to contact. “I was astounded at the enthusiasm people had for reading the encyclical together,” she says. Her efforts not only resulted in her forming a group of eight members, but many others said they wanted to form groups in their own communities.

Sister Betty also invited sisters who recently had moved to St. Louis from Atlanta and Denver to join the group. She found it added a valuable perspective.  “Different examples of caring for creation would be raised by the group from different parts of the country, and that made our discussion even more enriching,” she says. “We get so much out of a reading when we do it with others."

Another discussion group in the province meets on a monthly basis at the Village at Nazareth. Currently, its eight members are halfway through Laudato Si.

“It’s very readable, and timely, says Sister Bonnie Murray, a member of this group. “Pope Francis is very accessible. He invites us to read, and I want to read it. He lives it.”

And “living it” is key for Sister Marianne Keena. “Reading this has made me aware of how our responsibility for creation is being lived out.”

Sister Marianne also says the encyclical affirms some the practices she’s already doing and makes her aware of what else she can do. “Suddenly, I’m seeing connections. Like the Colgate toothpaste commercial during the Super Bowl that focused on the use of water worldwide.”

Sister Marion Renkens, discussion group member and motherhouse administrator, agrees. “It speaks to what we are as a community, and to what we are doing [at the house].” Sister Marion has implemented many practices at the motherhouse aimed at curbing waste, including the use of cloth napkins and composting.

That connection is what drew motherhouse resident Sister Ida Berresheim to invite her local community, Holy Family, to read and discuss the encyclical weekly. Sister Ida says, “As we read the document, we see how our lives affect the lives of everyone else. We are all one.”

This idea of "oneness" is one that the Sisters of St. Joseph have embraced for more 360 years, but, Sister Ida notes that as a society, “We have not brought this to consciousness yet. We have not touched how our throw-away culture affects everyone else.”

Committed to acting with urgency to protect Earth’s stability, integrity and beauty, the Sisters of St. Joseph will continue to move their conversations into action.

Laudato Si’
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