On April 29 the world celebrated its 45th annual Earth Day, but for Mary Elizabeth Clark, SSJ, caring for Earth is more than just one day.
For eight years, Clark has been the Director of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Earth Center, located near the lower parking lot. “Actually, it’s me, because we don’t have any staff,” she says with a laugh, as she talks about being the Center’s one-woman powerhouse. What she does have is the CHC Sustainability Task Force, a group composed of about 20 members from administration, faculty, staff and the student body, whom she calls her “green team.” They help her plan and execute programs and initiatives at the College, which include an annual conference and Earth Day.
And what an Earth Day it was. This year’s theme was food, so Clark partnered with Chartwells, CHC’s resident catering company, to deliver the message of sustainability to as many students as possible. The dining staff gladly loaned out the cafeteria for part of the day’s festivities, hosting a film fair during lunch hours. Logue Library also joined in, lending the Gruber Theater for a showing of the movie “Dive,” a 2009 film by Jeremy Seifert, on the trend of dumpster diving. Even ARAMARK, the company that provides the College’s housekeeping and maintenance staff, donated posters and offered information on their 100 percent toxic-free cleaning solution.
The high point of the afternoon however, was the tree planting and rededication of the St. Francis Pledge by Wolfgang Natter, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. Residence Life ran a tree-naming contest in the cafeteria where students submitted names that would later be voted on by the Green Team. Monica Segeren ’18 submitted the winning name, “The Growth of Hope.”
Joannie Cassidy, SSJ, director of campus ministry, led the students in prayer, as they blessed the new addition. “It’s among our many responses to injustice in our world, and really living out of our core gospel values,” she said. “When we say Dear Neighbor, it’s including earth.”
Since joining CHC in 2007, Clark has made sure that she has more than responded to her dear neighbor. Aside from the festivities on campus, the Earth Center also does outreach programs for area schools and parishes. The Center’s mission was inspired by what is known as the “New Universe Story,” a different way of looking at creation, which accepts the scientific explanation of the Big Bang Theory, while also maintaining the idea of a higher power.
“As science has evolved, and we have learned from science, people of faith can make the leap and say that we can’t define God,” says Clark. “So a God we can’t define or limit would certainly be fine with what science is telling us.”
She believes that changing the mindset around earth and the universe ultimately leads to greater understanding of the importance of social justice, particularly the conservation of Earth.
“I believe that when you shift from objectifying earth, even by dropping the word the [before it], you actually change your mindset,” she explains.
Clark shows no signs of slowing down any time soon; the Earth Center recently launched a student-led composting program in the dining hall, and she’s seeking to make CHC a completely water bottle-free campus in the coming years, as a part of her Bottled Water Campaign. In a survey, Clark found that more than 50 percent of the campus’s water fountains were non-functioning. Armed with this information, she began working with Lauri Strimkovsky, senior vice president for financial affairs and chief of staff, on replacing the water fountains with newer, updated models with filling stations. “[It’s] in the long haul because we can’t really demand it until we have alternatives, so that students can fill their refillable bottles with filtered water,” she says.
Other Earth Center initiatives include an herb garden in the dining hall and a recently added storm garden behind the Center.
—Frances Ellison ’15