November 5, 2021

2021 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Our Lady of Grace Monastery’s care for creation rooted in Benedictine spirituality

Sister Marie Therese Racine, left, Sister Angela Jarboe and Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick, all members of the Benedictine Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, pose on Oct. 4 in their community’s Peace and Nature Garden. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Sister Marie Therese Racine, left, Sister Angela Jarboe and Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick, all members of the Benedictine Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, pose on Oct. 4 in their community’s Peace and Nature Garden. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—The Church’s teachings on care for the environment may seem to be fairly new, only coming on the scene following the Second Vatican Council.

The Benedictine Sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove know different.

They see in the 1,500-year-old Rule of St. Benedict, which guides the life of their community, the application of Gospel principles to the care of the Earth and understanding humanity’s place in it.

And they’ve been putting those principles into action since the monastery was founded more than 60 years ago, maintaining a forest of more than 1,300 trees on its 30 acres of land in highly urbanized Marion County.

Since 2014, three acres of that land has been turned into the community’s Peace and Nature Garden where local flowers and other plants are able to grow free amid paths and benches that dot the landscape.

So, when Pope Francis issued in 2016 his encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” the Beech Grove Benedictines knew right away that the spirit of their community resonated well with what the pope taught in it.

“We human beings are related to every single thing on the Earth,” said Benedictine Sister Angela Jarboe, who helps oversee the Peace and Nature Garden. “Benedict was ahead of the game in that sense.”

Praying together as a community several times a day has been at the heart of Benedictine spirituality since its beginning. Benedictine men and women pray the Liturgy of the Hours and worship together at Mass daily.

Benedictine Sister Marie Therese Racine, Our Lady of Grace’s director of liturgy, said care for creation has become an integral part of that prayer.

“We find ourselves always praying for the creation, the poor, for justice and mercy,” she said. “We’re listening to the world [and its needs].”

Our Lady of Grace has also observed the Season of Creation, a time of prayer for the environment which spans annually from Sept. 1-Oct. 4, ending on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis began the Church’s participation in the Season of Creation in 2015.

The Beech Grove Benedictines have had Taize prayer services for creation during the season. This year, they used various Masses for special needs found in the Missal, including for a Mass following harvest, for the sanctification of human labor, for the preservation of peace and justice and in time of famine.

“Throughout the season, the prayers for Mass were from these ritual Masses,” Sister Marie Therese said. “Our chaplain, [Benedictine] Father Matthias [Neuman] loves the season and was grateful that we decided to incorporate it into the Mass.”

Benedictines have also at the heart of their charism the virtue of hospitality. So, when guests and the neighbors who live around the monastery come to their grounds, they see a physical witness to the sisters’ value of creation.

“We’ve run programs and given tours,” Sister Angela said. “I feel like my calling is to make people aware of what their surroundings are really about.”

She especially appreciates helping people understand the place of the Peace and Nature Garden in the wider ecology of the area.

“We’re witnessing,” Sister Angela said. “People come and think that there’s nothing but bugs over there and that they bite. No. They’re pollinators, and they’re not interested in us.”

Benedictine Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick points to the growing efficient use of electricity in the monastery’s buildings, to its recycling and care for its grounds as a way of setting an example for those who visit Our Lady of Grace.

She’s especially excited about the monastic community currently considering how it can participate in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a coalition between the Vatican, Catholic organizations around the world and people and groups beyond the Church to care for creation.

“We’re doing this and are inviting others to do it, too,” Sister Sheila Marie said. “It’s a constant invitation, encouragement and celebration of progress. It’s an ongoing effort to build upon what’s already done and to include others.”

In considering how to care for the environment in the midst of the particular needs of today and with an eye to the future, Sister Sheila Marie never forgets that this interest of hers is rooted in her Benedictine vow of conversion.

“It’s about growing closer to God and growing closer to [others in] relationships,” she said. “As we grow closer to God, we grow closer to our neighbors and the Earth. It’s all creation that comes together. We do it together, as a community. That’s so much of what Pope Francis says throughout Laudato Si’.”
 

(For more information about Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, visit www.benedictine.com.)

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