Taking cue from Pope Francis, parishes put focus on caring for earth

By Sean Schultz | For The Compass | April 22, 2015

ALLOUEZ — Faith Petrick and Fran Patek, both teachers at Resurrection School in Allouez, are working to enlist the middle school students at the joint Resurrection and St. Matthew schools for a project that will take them well into the summer and beyond.

Lisa Milligan, left, chairperson of Resurrection Parish’s social justice and outreach committee, and Michele Becker, liturgist and music director at Resurrection Parish, are helping build awareness of environmental concerns, a topic on which Pope Francis will release an encyclical later this year. Resurrection and St. Matthew schools are also taking steps to study environmental issues. (Sean Schultz | For The Compass)
Lisa Milligan, left, chairperson of Resurrection Parish’s social justice and outreach committee, and Michele Becker, liturgist and music director at Resurrection Parish, are helping build awareness of environmental concerns, a topic on which Pope Francis will release an encyclical later this year. Resurrection and St. Matthew schools are also taking steps to study environmental issues. (Sean Schultz | For The Compass)

It’s all part of the parishes’ focus on social justice areas, including love of the earth, ecology and preservation.

School will be out for the summer, but the kids will tackle earth-friendly labors in June, July and August, too. Petrick said she will be recruiting helpers to meet with her weekly at the Rain Garden on the Izaak Walton Conservancy, which will need weeding and watering.

The Izaak Walton Conservancy is located on County Highway GV between the Village of Bellevue and the City of De Pere. The Izaak Walton League was founded in 1922 and is one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations. Currently they count more than 240 local chapters nationwide.

The league’s aim, according to The Izaak Walton League of America website, is to serve as a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the soil, air, woods, and water of the United States.

In Brown County, the league chapter has been working on conservation efforts for more than 80 years.

At Resurrection and St. Matthew, 90 students in grades six, seven and eight have already prepped the land they will work to beautify and preserve. It’s a parcel that’s 190 feet long and 15 feet wide. “The kids cleaned it out and planned for 25 rain gardens with plants,” Petrick said. They are, of course, “more enthusiastic about planting” than weeding.

Mother Nature can’t be trusted in April, so they will hold off on that planting. In the meantime, they are busy recruiting fill and flowers. “Some are doing letters to businesses asking for fill — wood chips, soil and rocks. Others will seek flower donations, from businesses and from families willing to share items from their gardens,” Petrick said.

They want to plant bulbs in the fall — daffodils and iris among them, but also have decided on Asiatic and day lilies, ornamental grasses and plants that will climb trellises and benches planned for the property.

Petrick sees the project as one that will take two to three years to get the rain garden established.

Petrick teaches physical education and health at Resurrection and Patek teaches math and science to middle schoolers at St. Resurrection. Both have taken outdoor education classes.

Students will have a broad range of learning experiences thanks to the rain garden. “There is math involved, the history of Izaak Walton, technology training, art,” she said. The garden will involve study about water runoff and its possible impact on the two nearby rivers — the Fox and the East River; water gardening; plant selection; garden design and more.

Petrick said there will also be music components from music teacher Kelly Benzschawel, with relevant Bible quotations.

Lisa Milligan is chairperson of the 10-member Resurrection Social Justice and Outreach Committee that has been inspired by Pope Francis and his emphasis on ecology and the environment.

They’ve also become enthusiastic about doing their part after hearing Dean Hoegger of the Clean Water Action Council speak at Resurrection Church April 21 about environmental damage caused by pollutants from the paper mills and farms.

The former include PCBs, the latter fertilizer chemicals and cow manure that harm fish in the waterways and can extend all the way to Lake Michigan and area man-made lakes.

The fact that in recent springs Resurrection School suffered water damage due to flooding also fostered that school’s interest in the topics.

Milligan is an associate member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross. She said this relationship fits nicely with Resurrection’s new direction.

Michele Becker, Resurrection Parish’s liturgist and music director, said Resurrection and St. Matthew parishes have welcomed the message from the pope and the committee. “We’re trying to get young and old involved. It’s ageless.” She added that internal changes that are environmentally friendly will include eco-friendly cups instead of Styrofoam and Fair Trade coffees.

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