Over the past several months, Lawrence resident Rachel Myslivy has taken an interest in the environmental activism of nuns.
As part of her participation in the Religion of Kansas Oral History Project led by Tim Miller, professor of religious studies at The University of Kansas, she initially decided to travel to Nazareth Convent and Academy, the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, to document the lives of nuns living there.
Myslivy, a research assistant at The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, interviewed Sister Bernadine Pachta.
"Environmental themes kept popping up in our conversation. She started telling me about the importance of recycling, composting, eating low on the food chain and so on," she said.
"The effects of environmental degradation, over-consumption and pollution are most directly felt by the poor. The sisters see protecting the Earth as a primary means of protecting those who need it most."
Myslivy also learned about the sisters' environmental efforts, including an organic community garden where local citizens can rent space to grow their own food or flowers and screening of films about the world's food supply.
"At the end of the day, I thought I needed to follow-up on that," she said.
Also at that time, Myslivy was taking a grant proposal writing class and decided she would write a grant proposal for a Green Sisters in Rural Kansas project to document the Concordia nuns' environmental activism.
Her proposal won a grant from the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. The grant allowed her to travel to Concordia at least twice this summer to document the nuns' environmental and spiritual work and gather other related materials from the convent's archives. The information will be used for a future written project.
During visits to the convent July 6-9 and Aug. 4-6, Myslivy learned about many of the nuns' rural backgrounds and how they became interested in environmental issues.
Sister Judy Stephens, member of the alternative energy committee and leadership council for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said the nuns have had a long-standing concern for the environment.
"For us, it not only makes good sense (but also emphasizes) how no human being is separated from all of creation," Stephens said. "It's a way of looking at reality."
In addition to the community garden, which has 26 lots that are each rented for $13, the nuns have replaced half of the windows in the 102-year-old motherhouse to conserve energy, replaced light bulbs with energy-efficient ones and, when needed, purchased energy-efficient appliances, she said.
The sisters also have explored the use of solar panels and wind turbine engines.
This fall, Myslivy will be a graduate student at KU studying religion in Kansas, with an emphasis in environmental and social justice.
She wants to apply for another grant to "upscale" her Green Sisters in Rural Kansas project to include other convents in Kansas. She has learned of nuns doing similar work in communities such as Atchison, Great Bend and Wichita.
Myslivy is trying to find funding sources for the project, which has a budget of about $4,500. Already expressing interest as a partner is Ecumenical Christian Ministries at KU.
"They're amazing women," she said of the Concordia sisters. "Throughout history, nuns have always been at the forefront of working for what's right. It only makes sense that they'd be fighting for the Earth now."