Love of earth (and neighbor) compels Sister Amy

Click here for a Spanish translation of this piece.

When it comes to fighting climate change, Catholic sisters are on the front lines. This March, a 58-year-old sister will lead an effort to heighten sustainability in St. Louis.

Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ, is one of the inspiring environmental advocates you’ll meet. She can illuminate the spiritual underpinnings of sustainability with eloquence and grace, building on the concepts laid out by Pope Francis in his 2016 encyclical “On Care For Our Common Home.”  

“What we’re coming to realize is that it isn’t one species – we’re all interconnected,” said Sister Amy, who grew up on a farm and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. “Half our native bird species is in decline, if not endangered. A lot of that is because we’re not planting the right plants that bring the right insects that these birds want to eat. And as a society, we’re interconnected. What I do affects you, what you do affects me.”

Combating climate change is a cause that deeply resonates with young adults, Sister Amy said, and they can be attracted to religious life when they see Catholic sisters living out that mission. “The younger generation is like, ‘That is so cool!’” said Sister Amy, who helps coordinate vocations outreach for her community.

In fact, a woman entered Sister Amy’s community as a candidate this month.

Sister Amy lives in an eco-village in Dogtown, a blue-collar neighborhood on the edge of St. Louis, and is planning a March 9 event there called “Sisters Supporting Sustainability” in honor of National Catholic Sisters Week. It will be funded by a 2017 NSCW mini-grant. 

Sister Amy plans to team up with other CSJs and lay people in the neighborhood to install a bat-house, a bee-house and enhance an existing mini-garden pond. They will also plant Missouri-native plants in an effort to support pollinator populations and increase soil fertility.

Reflecting more deeply on Pope Francis’ encyclical is at the heart of Sister Amy’s work. “The pope brought out that the sustainability question is also a poverty question. The people who are most influenced by ecological degradation are the people on the margins, the most fragile, so everyone time I do something for sustainability, I’m helping somebody I may never see but whose life is one of grinding poverty,” she said. “I love that image: ‘Common Home.’ It really is. We are all in this together.”

And, she’s quick to add, we can all benefit from caring for the land. “There’s something so wholesome about the soil, about growing things and being in nature. “One time when I was out working on the garden,” Sister Amy said, “I felt like I was tending the garden and the garden was tending me. God was tending me. That is an awesome space.”

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.