Caring for God’s Creation

Care of the earth is one of the core tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. The Sisters of the Holy Cross built their community and Saint Mary’s College to uphold this tenet for the last 175 years. They recognize the higher calling to protect people and the planet.

In the early days of the College, the Sisters and students in the academy farmed the land. In addition to coursework, students worked on the farm. Not only was this an educational and social experience, the students were also necessary for the production of feeding campus. The Saint Mary’s dairy farm provided campus with milk, butter, and meat. According to a College history written by Amanda Divine ’96 and Colin Pier-Silver ’96, in 1924, 120 of the 250 gallons of milk produced daily were used for drinking and domestic purposes. Although much of the dairy was state-of-the-art, six farmhands still milked each of the 72 cows by hand.

Student on Saint Mary's farm
In celebration of the College’s 125th anniversary, the campus Nature Area was established. Approximately 100 acres of land, owned by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, was dedicated as a nature preserve in 1969, especially for use by biology professor George H. Bick, Sister Rosaleen Dunleavy, and Saint Mary's biology students. George H. Bick wrote in the 1970 spring issue of Courier, "The Saint Mary's Nature Area is not a park artificially beautified for your enjoyment; it is not a forest cultivated for commercial purposes; it is not an area managed for wildlife. Rather it is an area, which henceforth will be left undisturbed, where any changes which might occur will be by Him, not by us. The area is for the enjoyment of the natural scene: It is for looking, listening, studying, contemplating, and for photographing.” This area has been studied for over 70 years by Saint Mary’s students under the direction of professors Clarence Dineen, George Bick, Richard Jensen, Doris Watt, Cassie Majetic, Laura Kloepper, and Joel Ralston.

To further study to the environment, the College established an interdisciplinary minor in environmental studies in 2011. Since spring 2018, the College launched an interdisciplinary major which involves courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, anthropology, global studies, political science, art, English, philosophy, business, and more. The new major has received a lot of interest as young women are interested in responding to the needs of the environment and evidence of climate change permeates our culture.

The College established the Going Green Committee in 2015-16 to advise the Vice President for Mission about sustainability and matters of environmental concern. Some of the efforts of the group has been to reduce the College’s carbon footprint by taking inefficient lighting and replace or retrofit existing fixtures and lamps to efficient LED lighting technology. The College received funds from the sisters’ Carbon Footprint Reduction Fund to do this work, which reduces the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the earth's atmosphere due to the replacement lighting, which is extremely electrically energy efficient and resulting in a reduction of kilowatt hours. Over the past four years, the College has had an energy savings of $3,737 and a reduction of 38.77 tons of CO2. In addition, the College has strategically planned other lighting projects completed in 11 phases that have yielded annual energy and cost savings of $148,544 in the last five years.

Over the past three years, a student initiative has begun composting food waste from the dining hall. Eleven students have joined the efforts for composting and this past year they have composted 10,414 lbs. Our hope is to use the composting for a sustainable farm the College is planning to incorporate as part of the program.

Saint Mary’s continues to pursue care of the earth as dedicated through our mission to integrate religious sensibility, intellectual vigor, aesthetic appreciation, and social responsibility into care of the earth.