Welcome to the prairie this Earth Day 2012


By Barb Arland-Fye

A pond at Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland.

WHEATLAND — Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat, a ministry of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, is hosting an Earth Day celebration to welcome new staff and a new advisory board.
The public is invited to the event, which begins at 2 p.m. with welcome and refreshments. Short presentations will follow and then guests will form a procession and walk, accompanied by music, to the outdoor labyrinth on the Prairie property. Flowers will be planted near the Prairie house. Refreshments will be served afterwards before guests depart at 4:30 p.m.
Sister Kathleen Storms, SSND, the Prairie’s new director, believes hospitality is an essential element of stewardship of God’s creation. In her previous assignment she established the SSND Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry in Mankato, Minn., which is headquarters for her religious community, the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
“Because we were doing rural ministry, we worked closely with farmers, especially those doing diversified farming, farming that was very friendly to the land,” Sr. Storms said. “Farmers were my best teachers … it was the farmers who challenged us and said, ‘What are you doing on your land to support the Earth and its health?’”
Lessons learned from those farmers are being applied in her ministry at Our Lady of the Prairie. Natural, earth-friendly practices are the guiding principle. “The Sisters of Humility have had a commitment to Earth for many years. I have been able to use my skills to enhance what’s already here,” Sr. Storms said. Sister of Humility Kathleen Henneberry “lives with me and supports the work I’m doing out here.”
Among the first things the two Sisters did was to eliminate all paper and plastic products. “We use cloth. (Two of the Sisters made cotton napkins for the prairie, for example.) We do a lot more laundry, but it’s a much more friendly way to teach people things that can easily be done. It sends a message to guests that we’re concerned about what we put in the landfill,” Sr. Storms said.
She credits her predecessor, Sister Joann Kuebrich, CHM, for initiating recycling and is striving to build on those efforts. “We’re composting fruits, vegetables, egg shells and coffee grounds,” Sr. Storms said.
The Sisters use plenty of grains, beans, vegetables and fruits in their cooking, concentrating on what’s seasonably available. “Right now we’re into rhubarb and asparagus. We’re returning to what our grandparents did; they didn’t have food shipped across the country. It keeps us conscious about what Earth is doing at a given time.”
An herb garden that Sr. Kuebrich started is being put to good use in the meals that staff and volunteers prepare and serve. Most guests appreciate the different menu, which is a change of pace from typical retreat center fare. Sr. Storms does make allowances for foods that aren’t available locally, such as avocados, because of the nutrition value and taste.
The Prairie’s garden is being prepared to grow lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, peas and pea pods, which Master Gardeners will assist with.
Boy Scouts have been enlisted to build benches for the plentiful walking trails on the 200-acre native grass prairie woodland, which is located along the Wapsipinicon River about 40 minutes from downtown Davenport. The benches will offer stopping points “so people can experience the solitude and absorb the silence and listen to the birds and feel the wind,” Sr. Storms said.
“The Catholic Church has always had a strong sense of earth being a part of how God shows God’s face,” she added.
Perhaps that explains the growing popularity of a daylong retreat called “Come to the Quiet” which now is offered monthly instead of five times a year.
To learn more about Our Lady of the Prairie, visit the website: www.chmiowa.org. For direct inquiries, call (563) 336-8414 or send an email to olpretreat@gmail.com.

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