Q & A with Srs. Mary Alan Wurth and Janis Yaekel, caring for Earth

In the 1980s, the United States was in the middle of an agricultural crisis. Farms across the nation shuttered as farmer debt rose and food prices dropped. In 1985, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Ruma, Illinois, formed a committee to study the farm crisis, which led to a number of environmental stewardship initiatives.

Today, the Ruma motherhouse is home to a beekeeping effort, a nature program for local children and a vegetable garden, among other things. In celebration of Earth Day, Srs. Mary Alan Wurth and Janis Yaekel shared with Global Sisters Report the story of the Adorers' relationship with Earth.

GSR: Sr. Mary Alan, I hear you're the resident environmentalist for the Adorers. Is that an official title?

Wurth: That's just a nickname. [Laughter] It came about because of my love of trees. Eight years ago, when I had my 50th jubilee as a sister, part of my gift was five trees planted here on the property. I have an interest in trees and with, really, many things that are growing.

And more trees are being planted in honor of the Earth Day theme, 'Trees for the Earth.'

Wurth: At the moment that we're sitting here talking, they are planting two apricot trees in our grove area.

Sr. Janis, why do you think environmental stewardship has been such a major theme for the Adorers?

Yaekel: Many of the sisters come out of rural backgrounds, and so there's just this natural affinity with the Earth for our sisters. The sisters are really energized by it.

And it seems like that's led to an environmental outreach of sorts.

Yaekel: What we often try to do is to help people to get in relationship with the Earth because once you're in relationship with the Earth, you will begin to care about the Earth. So many people live in apartments or in places where they're never touching the ground, but I think the Earth kind of reveals the God experience. We believe that God is in all creation, and so as people begin to take in the wonder of creation, I think they begin to touch the God center that's there also. 

So you've got a vegetable garden that provides food for the motherhouse, you've got bees, and you've got milkweed plants to support monarch butterfly populations. What else do you do at the motherhouse?

Yaekel: Besides the vegetable garden, we have a beautiful flower garden because we really want people to enjoy the beauty of nature. We also have, all over the place, bluebird houses to attract the bluebirds.

Wurth: One of our sisters has a spirituality directed program where she has workshops on the prayer labyrinth. We have here on the ground a large labyrinth that has been carved out of the grass; there's no rock, concrete or anything between your feet and the grass-covered earth that you walk as you walk the labyrinth. And people find that a very wonderful, spiritual experience. 

Yaekel: One of the things that people often say is that when they come onto this property, there is such a sense of peace. And I think not only is that true because there have been so many sisters through the years that have prayed here, but I think it's also because we're in harmony with this earth around here, and there is just this sense of peace that folks experience. I can't tell you how often people have said that. 

You've also got a program for children, right?

Wurth: For years, we've hosted a nature day for children. The sister who hosts this is just like a Pied Piper with these kids. She's marvelous. The program brings the children into contact with the Earth. One of the highlights is the fishing because we have three or four ponds on the property that are stocked with fish.

The milkweed and the beekeeping are fairly new initiatives. Can you tell me how they're coming along?

Yaekel: The bees have just been here about a year, and they're doing well. The beekeeper is out there working with them today. He's put up what they call traps because he's trying to get another swarm of bees. We have apple trees, so I'm sure they're getting nectar from the apple trees right now. The milkweed, that's been a couple years, I think.

Wurth: A couple of years. Last year, we really did the most. Last year, we were very much aware of the larvae, the caterpillars as they came forth and were chewing up those milkweeds.

Yaekel: It got to the point where there were hardly any leaves left on the milkweeds because the larvae were eating it all. 

How does environmental stewardship fit into the charism of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ?

Yaekel: One of the things the Adorers of the Blood of Christ always talk about is the suffering and dying of Christ — and the Resurrection, of course. For me, personally, when I see a piece of land that's being destroyed or bulldozed or whatever, I can hear inside of me, 'This is my body, being given up for you.' And when I see polluted waters, I hear, 'This is my blood, and it's your blood that's being given up here.' So for me, it's very strongly a Precious Blood type of ministry that we do here with the Earth. 

Wurth: Some years ago, I was into writing haikus and poetry, and I wrote about the pain of the Earth and how we are called to comfort and to reconcile that pain. Our foundress, Maria [de Mattias], said we were to re-establish that beautiful order, which the great son of God came to establish on this Earth. And that's what we're about.

[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is a Global Sisters Report staff writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Her email address is daraujo@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @dawn_cherie.]