- Posted November 20, 2012 by
St. Joseph, Wisconsin
Team iReport featured this story
Sister of the Earth Inspires America’s Youth
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
As the last few months of 2012 come to an end, the year may be most remembered for news headlines marking the re-election of President Obama, the challenges of a struggling economy and global unrest, and super storm Sandy. However, there are some stories lost in a sea of TV coverage, tweets, and Facebook posts. Beyond people’s feelings of disenfranchisement, despair, and destruction throughout the world, there are stories that provide a sense of hope, and inspiration. This is one of those stories- a story which provides a sense of hope as we prepare for the Thanksgiving season.
This story initially began as a feature on the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration [FSPA] an order of nearly 300 Franciscan Sisters who have been praying continually since August 1, 1878. This group of Sisters has been in constant prayer, 24 hours a day without interruption for over 134 years. It may be difficult to comprehend their commitment, or the history that has transpired.
I was first directed to interview Sister Lucy Slinger, who has a particularly strong background in teacher education, science, and environmental spirituality. A former public university professor, she has proven to be an inspiring figure for students of all ages as she teaches the importance of sustaining the land, and the earth. I met her tending an organic garden on top of a picturesque ridge in St. Joseph, Wisconsin, a tiny unincorporated community in western Wisconsin. Located here is a retirement villa for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. In the midst of group of enthusiastic and energetic students, there she was- Sister Lucy. She directed and coordinated the constant activity of 7th graders from Longfellow Middle School as they harvested vegetables planted the previous spring.
When I asked Sister Lucy what young students say about her being a Sister, she commented, “They ask me if I’m really a Sister, and that they have never talked to one in their life.” Sister Lucy paused and chuckled, “What a hoot!” She is not your typical Sister, but her love of the students, and the land is undeniable.
Nearby one of the teachers from Longfellow, Jeanne Halderson, stopped to say, “Many of these kids don’t know where their food comes from. The experience of planting and harvesting the food helps them understand how we make food, and how much goes into growing it.” Halderson later commented, “I knew something special was happening as I watched my students engaged in the work, wanting to do more, and really convinced me they were doing something to help the world.”
Jeanne has another special bond with Sister Slinger. She posed for a picture with Sister Lucy saying with pride, “I was in Dr. Slinger’s class when I was going to school to become a teacher!” A small world indeed.
Sister Lucy, a trained and accomplished science education professor, changed her career to become a Sister, a journey and process that would take her 10 years to complete. Sister Lucy says, “As a student I would never have done it...no way! That was the whole story of me telling God no all my life… until I couldn’t say no, no more.” And with that decision she took her vow of obedience and in a sense became “married” to the FSPA life. Her devotion is marked with the ring on her finger, and the medallion she wears around her neck. As Sister Lucy tells anyone, “I will live this life for the rest of my life.”
For the young students she teaches, it is a joy for them as much as it is for her. From long stalks of brussels sprouts, large cabbage heads, and garlic bulbs, Sister Lucy talks about the process of organic farming and the importance of taking care of the land, and the earth we live on. For many of the students, this was their first experience of seeing how vegetables and fruits are grown and harvested.
For Liz Ramsey, a science teacher from Longfellow, this is a unique opportunity for her students to have a live laboratory outside of the classroom. Ramsey said, “This is the chance for students to see the full circle of growing plants.” What one class planted in the spring, is now harvested by another class in the fall. Ramsey added, “I believe Sister Lucy’s garden teaches our students much more than just a good day’s work.” It teaches us to “give of yourself, cooperation, that food comes from the earth, and doing something for someone else feels good, and much more.”
As the students ran and worked throughout the garden, they continued to dig and harvest the fall organic crop without pause. The students lined up for individual portraits as they held their prize vegetable of the day. One of the students, Simone said, “Today taught me not to waste food.” Another student, Katy said, “It takes a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of people to do it.” Sabrina, a student featured in a CNN iReport on organic farming and the U.S. drought popped up and exclaimed, “This is a great way to learn!”
The harvesting continued as overfilled bushels of carrots, cauliflower, and kohlrabi were organized in a nearby shed. Sister Lucy, who now serves as a science professor at Viterbo University, invited her college students to be part of the event. Not only does she teach local 7th graders, but she mentors her college students as if they were part of her own family.
As the school bus pulled away, Sister Lucy took a few moments to talk personally about her life and experience as a Sister. She spoke about how much she appreciates being away from technology and the distractions of life, and appreciate how fruitful the land is. She thought about the day saying, “I don’t spend time worrying any things more. In my heart I am doing what God wants me to do. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen. God will provide.”
As the interview came to a close, Sister Lucy reflected on her love of God, the earth, and the students she teaches, and inspires. And with that her cell phone went off. It was one of her college students, needing some help. Sister Lucy was off to her next task for the day.
I gathered my gear and walked to my car. I took a moment and looked at the now vacant garden that was just filled with the excited voices of 7th graders. You could smell the rich earthiness of the dark black soil, where the vegetables had been pulled from. In the distance you could gaze for miles at the ridges and valleys as the sun peeked behind the clouds signaling the end of the harvest season. This was truly Sister Lucy’s land, a place to teach and to inspire. Up at the villa, I am certain she is smiling, giving thanks, and looking forward to the next class the coming spring.