HOLLIDAYSBURG - At St. Bernardine's Monastery, the friars no longer plant crops for their own use.
But nevertheless, several acres have been plowed and are flourishing with vegetables and flowers.
The fields have been seeded under the Care of Creation Project, a program the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, began last summer to encourage people to care for all living things.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Father Patrick Foley cares for plants in the Care for Creation garden. The Franciscan friars have established a program that includeds gardening, presentations and festivals, to promote the value of connecting to nature and being concerned for creation.
This year's project includes gardening, classes on caring for the Earth and festivals with a focus on bringing people together to learn about the environment and how to live more healthy.
The Franciscan saw a need for a going green awareness during a symposium held at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio about three years ago.
Father Patrick Foley, project director, said St. Bernardine's was chosen for the Care of Creation Project because of its fertile acreage.
Care for Creation presentations are held at 6:30 p.m. during the following days at St. Bernardine's Monastery, Kladder Station, Hollidaysburg. They are:
July 12 - The Role of Pollinators in Keeping Things Green
July 26 - Go Green Gardening
Aug. 9 - The Role of Bees and Beekeeping in Going Green
Aug. 23 - Introduction to Yoga - Greening the Human Spirit
Sept. 13 - Healthy Cooking: Going Green a Nutrition Thing
Sept. 27 - What is CSA? Going Green as a Community Farming Thing
Oct. 4 - St. Francis,
Foley of Minneapolis said the project's purpose is to share communal, holistic, Christian, Catholic and Franciscan values concerning how to live in more sustainable ways.
He said that God created covenants with Abraham, Noah and Moses that showed a concern for the land and creation. God told Noah he would never flood the entire Earth again and that his covenants with Abraham and Moses made provisions for how to use, care and distribute the land, he said.
The message of Care for Creation is to consider all that it means to be a creature on the Earth and an awareness of the irrevocable pledge God made to the Earth.
"In reality, we have a dependence on Earth and interdependence with all other creatures," said Foley, who resides at St. Bernardine's during the growing and harvest seasons.
"Our ancestors were so dependent on Earth, that it was a reality that they lived."
Foley said there is no going back to the days when people foraged for food or grew their own crops, but a new awareness needs to be instilled in people.
"We have to choose independence and dependence in a way our forebearers didn't. We have to choose to care for creation," he said of the holistic approach to the environment.
The project's goal is to develop an awareness that people are part of creation and to learn how to work with nature through programs and celebrations.
Among the people working on the project are volunteers Cathy Schwartz of Hollidaysburg and Pat Trimble of Altoona.
Both are master gardeners who work with Blair County residents who grew crops at the community gardens on the the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home grounds.
In 2008, the community gardens were moved to the monastery to make way for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Readiness Center built at the veterans home.
As they worked with the community gardens, Schwartz and Trimble became involved in Care for Creation.
Schwartz said she attended an initial meeting on Care for Creation, and it was Foley's enthusiasm that got her involved. The master gardeners worked at the Care for Creation garden in 2009 with Schwartz overseeing the volunteers who weeded and cared for the plants. At the end of the season, volunteers took some of the harvest, and the rest was given to people in need.
Schwartz still checks the community garden for problems, such as the late tomato blight she discovered there, and then spends time in the Care for Creation garden, which has been planted with flowers, pumpkins, decorative gourds and edible squash.
She said the friars are invited to pick the flowers and take them to shut-ins while the pumpkins will be used for a carving contest at the fall festival. The squash will be given to people in need.
Trimble, who also works in the Care for Creation garden, said she got involved because she is interested in ecology and taking care of the Earth. She said she is a Secular Franciscan who made promises to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi at St. Francis University in Loretto.
"He is the father of ecology, and I have interest along those lines," she said.
Trimble and Schwartz serve on committees and are among the presenters of programs.
In addition to the garden and presentations, festivals are held to celebrate the season.
One held in May included a blessings of fields and seeds and a potluck dinner. A summer bounty and harvest festival also are scheduled.
Foley said the Franciscan friars expand the program every year and may include retreats in 2011.
Foley said the friars want to "bring people out of isolation and individualism into a communal response to what's going on in the environment. That way, things will ultimately change. Changes occur within a person, and from there, to their local community."
Schwartz said working in the garden makes her feel closer to creation.
"The grounds are so beautiful, and it is so quiet and peaceful," she said. "When I am troubled or need to think, I go out there and weed. I feel so much comfort."
"You are out in nature and feel closer to God," Trimble said. "You have an appreciation for everything God has created - for the beauty of nature."
Foley said the project has made changes in his personal study and reflection.
"I see creation and creatures in a different way. I have more sensitivity to all of them," he said.
Foley said stewardship and partnership with creation is conveyed in Christian values and in Catholic thinking.
He said Pope Benedict XVI speaks about protecting the environment. His 2010 World Day of Peace theme was "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation" and 20 years earlier, Pope John Paul II's theme was "Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation.
In his World Day of Peace message, Benedict said, "The environment must be seen as God's gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity."
He said "ecological awareness, rather than being downplayed, needs to be helped to develop and mature."
As Franciscans, the friars follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, who is known as the patron saint of ecology and who referred to all creatures as sisters and brothers, Foley said.
Although the program is based on Franciscan values, the program is open to everyone, and no proselytizing occurs, Foley said.
"Above all else, it is a celebration of creation," Foley said.