It’s sweet. It’s nutritious. It was the tasty result of a class offered by Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries to make organic jam with half the sugar. The jam making seminar, held last fall, DSC_0099School Sister of Notre Dame Mary Beck sorts the jars of jam she made during a Jam & Jelly Making workshop last fall at Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries in Mount Calvary. During the Oct. 15 workshop, Sr. Mary instructed participants in organic jam and jelly making using half the usual amount of sugar. More photos from the workshop can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Sam Arendt)was among a number of educational courses offered to reinforce an appreciation for the beauty and fragility of the Earth, and garner a sense of responsibility for the effects humans have on the planet. 

A growing number of sisters in the Milwaukee Archdiocese are rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty to safeguard the land on which they live, tending to animals, growing organic food and preserving what they grow. The mission of Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries is to unveil the sacred story of creation and include it in their daily lives, sharing it with those who wish to find the spirituality inherent within all of creation.

According to Sunseed director, School Sister of Notre Dame Suzanne Moynihan, the sisters are committed to transformative change through holistic education, empowering humans to live on earth in a mutually enhancing way.

“As School Sisters of Notre Dame, rooted in contemplation, we believe the world can be changed through the transformation of persons,” she said. “Basically, we empower people to experience the miraculous beauty of creation while being sensitized to its fragility.”

Sunseed developed after School Sister of Notre Dame Mary Ann Smka was asked in 2000 to become the local leader at Mount Carmel Convent in Mount Calvary. Through the wide-open space, wildlife, fresh air and lush land, she felt the longing of the land to give life.

For more information, contact:

Sr. Suzanne Moynihan, director Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries
13105 Watertown Plank Road
Elm Grove, Wis., 53122-2291
by email or calling
(262) 787-1011

See “Happenings,” Page 15, for several Earth Day observances, including some hosted by religious women.

“Because she knew (School Sister of Notre Dame) Sr. Mary Beck also had a farm background and could assist her in developing the land, Mary Ann invited Mary to come to Mount Calvary,” said Sr. Suzanne. “The two of them developed organic gardens featuring a wide variety of vegetables and flowers. In addition, they also restored a prairie on the property, welcomed a local beekeeper to cultivate his bees there, tended the oak savanna, coaxed along an old apple orchard and added a variety of fruit trees, and also began raising chickens and pigs.”

After working the land for five years, the two sisters invited other sisters, including Sr. Suzanne of the Milwaukee province, to plan a summer experience with them at Mount Calvary. Two reflective retreats, called “The Immersion Program,” became the foundation for the current Sunseed Eco-Education Center, which opened in January 2008.

As she was nearing retirement as a second grade teacher in 2006, Sr. Suzanne felt called to continue the ministry of earth spirituality, but was uncertain what path to take. Since 1985, she had been involved in the SSND Milwaukee Province Global Education Office and researched topics associated with justice, peace and integrity of creation.

“I knew I wanted to continue advocacy in the area of ecology, a call which was later deepened in me to focus on the spirituality inherent within all of creation. I made this known to our leadership who then invited me to go to Mount Calvary and help begin Sunseed,” she said. “I was also a strong influence in shaping the education component of the Sunseed program in

contradistinction to the farming aspect.”

While the Mount Calvary Sunseed site will close in June, the Elm Grove site is growing in programming, volunteers and memberships.

Courses are available for all ages, including elementary school age to seasoned adults, religious communities, NAMA spiritual directors, homeschooling groups, and more. A few of the sessions included:

  • The Birds and the Bees: How to Begin a Bluebird Path and a Beehive
  • The Great Lakes Compact
  • Seeing the Stars for the First Time
  • Native American History and Culture
  • The Labyrinth – A Path Within: A Day of Reflection
  • The Web of Life
  • Awakening the Dreamer
  • Rachel Carson and the Art of Wonder
  • Living the Vows in a Planetary Context (for congregations of women religious)

    Grant awarded to Franciscans

    ST. FRANCIS — The Land Use Committee of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi was recently awarded a climate grant from Freshwater Future.

    The $3,500 grant will be used to develop a climate adaptive land use management plan for the motherhouse complex, 3221 S. Lake Drive, home of the congregation since 1849.

    The plan will incorporate climate resiliency, sustainability and best practice models, and will serve as a community teaching tool, according to an April 16 press release from the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.

    The mission of the congregation’s Land Use Committee is to restore the property to a more mindful, spiritual and natural state that will serve as a model for sustainable urban land use and leave a legacy of best practices so that future generations will be less vulnerable to changes likely to occur due to climate change, according to the release.

    “We were so pleased to see the phenomenal efforts citizens across the Great Lakes region are expending to protect and restore their local rivers, lakes and wetlands,” said Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future, in the release.

    “A wide array of projects to help Great Lakes communities adapt to the impacts of climate change were proposed, and that of the Land Use Committee of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi rose to the top,” she added.

    Freshwater Future builds the environmental community in the Great Lakes region to protect and restore water quality in the basin by providing financial and technical assistance, and communication and network support to citizens and grassroots watershed groups.

  • Global Climate Change
  • Bread-making
  • Jams and Jellies
  • How To Do Sauerkraut
  • Square Foot Gardening
  • Kid’s Day on the Farm; Garden Plot to Kitchen Pot
  • On-site Classroom Experiences for Children and Youth
  • Programs for special days including Summer/Winter Solstice; World Water Day; World Environment Day; Earth Day; Dandelion Festival
  • A Mindfulness/Meditation Course

“Our participants grew in number from 600 in our full first year to nearly 1,500 the next year,” said Sr. Suzanne. “Many experiences involved students from Notre Dame Middle School and Tyme Out, a center for young people also begun by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. We are confident that as word travels about our new location that our sessions will grow in Elm Grove as well.”

Through caring for the Earth and educating others on the sacredness of creation, Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries lives out the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the mission of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

“To each of us at this moment of salvation history, the words of Christ ring clear: ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world…. May they be one in us … so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.’ We are called and sent,” said Sr. Suzanne, adding, “The mission of Christ toward unity is lived through Sunseed because of our emphasis on the oneness of all creation on a spiritual as well as a physical plane.”

Sunseed advocates that each person becomes more aware of our oneness of all of creation and therefore the choices made regarding the ways in which food, consumerism, home life, and transportation have on the life forces of the planet.

“Our mentor and teacher, Passionist priest (Fr.) Thomas Berry says, ‘What happens to the outer world happens to the inner world. If the outer world is diminished in its grandeur then the emotional, imaginative, intellectual, and spiritual life of the human is diminished or extinguished,’” said Sr. Suzanne.

Without a firm grounding in the authentic Christian tradition and the recognition that we are all to live on the mission of Christ, there is no meaning to life and no real purpose for being, explained Sr. Suzanne.

“What we wish to accomplish, even that desire, is born of the Christ,” she said. “It is what empowers us. Who we are, what we do is an expression of that mission, of his oneness with the Divine Energy, of the oneness he came to restore through a new social order, a new mindset, a new paradigm.”