Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity
Holy Name Province
Stella As Peace Center
The Stella As Earth Center Program began in 1991, when a group of women religious were assembled at the 134 acre property of Stella Niagara, New York, which houses a convent, a school, a health center and a hospitality center called the Center of Renewal. Eighteen of the women present expressed an interest in working for ecological harmony, using the property, resources and building. A three-fold task was determined: 1) the group must educate themselves in order to 2) educate the larger community of Sisters at Stella Niagara by word and deed and 3) to set an example for the community of Sisters of St. Francis throughout the United States. Immediately bi-monthly meetings were established, experts were contacted and the group began establishing sub-committees to set and achieve appropriate goals.
With this in mind, in the spring of 1991 the group recommended that a Resource Audit be performed on the land and the buildings. In July 1992 this took place resulting in a 33 page report of suggestions arriving in August. From this was developed a Statement of Purpose:
A Five Year Plan, 1993-98 was created accordingly and in the early part of 1996 this Plan was updated to form the 1996-2000 Plan (enclosed). The Plan includes the following categories:
A need was identified to establish personnel to coordinate the Plan and a budget was requested which would include a full-time and a part-time salary for this purpose. In the spring of 1994, Karen Allen, OSF began as part-time Coordinator, taking care of finances, scheduling meetings and handling communications as well as working on the grounds whenever possible. Carolyn Fisher, OSF accepted the position of full-time Coordinator, working almost exclusively on the grounds. Today the grounds are cared for by a local landscaping firm. Sisters still continue to take care of some of the garden areas.
The Program integrates the goals of natural resource conservation by 1) the creation of a recycling program, collecting plastics, glass, metal, paper and corrugated cardboard weekly; 2) the creation of a composting system, collecting fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc. daily and placing them in one of 6 compost bins built outdoors for this purpose and 3) educating the residents, students, employees and visitors of Stella Niagara in the importance of natural resource conservation. This last object is achieved through videos, newsletter articles, posters made by students and participation in ecological events. Earth Week is annually celebrated with an outdoor clean-up, celebrations and a ritual service. Mulch wood chips and leaves are obtained from NYSEG and Niagara Mohawk Electric to replenish flower beds and protect trees from drought and lawnmowers. Drainage problems have been corrected at the Stella Cemetery and along the river banks with the help of Niagara County Soil & Water Conservation, the Town of Lewiston, DEC and the Army Corp. of Engineers. A wild life refuge was created by planting wild flowers in the meadow and reducing the mowing to once per year. Economically the entire Complex has gained with the reduction of garbage collection due to recycling and composting, the success of the garage sales and the reduction of grounds work due to the creation of the wildlife refuge. Human Development has prospered as consciousness has been raised through example and education, in the areas of environmental welfare and global harmony.
Stella Niagara houses a variety of people, our diverse groups consist of Sister residents, including those living in the Health Center, employees, school faculty, students age two and one half to the 8th grade and visitors. Benefits of the Program can be seen in an increased respect for the natural and architectural beauty of Stella Niagara and the participation in environmental programs and classes targeting a variety of groups.
This Earth Center Program can easily be replicated by other religious communities. It will encourage them not to sell their property to developers but to provide an oasis of natural beauty at a time when business, economics and development predominate this decision making process. The Program enhances natural resources, saves money and provides the local community with an example of the ease and benefits of living in a natural and ecologically harmonious manner.
Natural Resource Conservation:
The Program conserves natural resources by: correcting drainage, which has prevented erosion; planting flowers which attract birds; erecting blue bird houses, purple martin houses and a structure for barn swallows; erecting bat houses (which also served to decrease the mosquito population); cutting back wild vines to save trees, reducing waste through recycling and composting and cutting back on the need for weekly garbage dumpsters. Natural resources have been broadened through the planting of raspberry bushes, elderberries, currents, plum and peach trees, rhubarb plants and caring for older apple trees. Douglas fir trees were planted to create a north wind shield and a variety of pines were planted along the west side of a parking lot to act as a wind shield as well. Christmas trees are annually cut to thin out areas and encourage the growth of other trees.
The size of the community is approximately 60 residents, with about 1/3 residing in the Health Center; 90 employees, 260 students and approximately 6,000 annual visitors to the Center of Renewal (which provides overnight and day time accommodations for individuals and groups). The population is diverse and it is unique in that it ranges from age 2 ˝ in the Montessori classes to parents of the student and Elderhostel participants, 55 years old and older, who attend six annual weeks of programming. The educational and outreach opportunities of the Program include Earth Week each April, Peace Week each October, the school’s Garden Club, the Herb Garden, with identified plants and booklet available for purchase, labeled trees, Open Grounds and House Offerings; Elderhostel classes on herbs, trees, bird watching, Niagara Falls, Niagara River, fishing, apple growing and exposure to the various recycling and composting programs. Future plans for outreach include sharing our learning experiences and communicating with the Stella community, the community of Lewiston and the various retreatants. Eventually the Earth Center will create a more global outlook by networking with similar organizations, the Sisters of the Earth, Franciscans, Resource Audit Institutions and others.
STATIONS OF CREATION
Around the Stella Niagara campus are eight Stations of Creation, in keeping with the dedication of Stella Niagara as a Peace Site.
These areas are places of prayer and reflection. Rivers, trees, seeds, earth, rocks, the labyrinth, prayer garden, and the cemetery are the themes of the stations. A booklet of prayers for each area can be purchased in the Center of Renewal bookstore.
O God, gardens help us to discover an inner place, a secret garden of silent enjoyment. Thank you for drawing me into the garden of your creative love.
STELLA NIAGARA NATURE TRAIL
The Stella Niagara nature trail was designed and built in the Fall of 2002 under the direction of Sister Karen Allen. It is an easy 1/4 mile loop located on former farmland and is accessible from the cemetery road. In spring the vernal pool shown above is most evident.It shows the reality of ecological succession or the observed process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time.
Students of Stella Niagara Education Park use the trail to observe seasonal changes in flora and fauna. Pamphlets that outline the trail can be obtained at the Center of Renewal or at the head of the trail.