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Kentucky Sister Initiates New Sustainability Ministry

BARDSTOWN, KY [05/15/06] When Sister Claire McGowan was completing ten years on the St. Catharine, Kentucky Dominican leadership team, she knew her next call to ministry. She was to give the rest of her life to addressing the planetary ecological crisis - by promoting sustainability in rural Kentucky. She also hoped to reknit relationships between residents of the motherhouse and the people of the county where St. Catharine’s began over 180 years ago.

Claire applied for the St-Mary-of-the-Woods Earth Literacy Master’s degree program. Two years later she based her thesis project on interviews with leaders from various sectors of Washington County regarding the potential of the county’s systems to move toward sustainability. Enough openness was expressed to enable her to begin. In fall 2004 the organization was named New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future. She set about creating a logo, business card, mission statement, and brochure.

Somehow the mayor of the neighboring small city heard about the dream. He offered discounted office space in City Hall in exchange for New Pioneers establishing and overseeing a curbside pickup recycling program for the city. Though she knew nothing about public recycling operations, Claire rolled up her sleeves and learned. Today about 47% of city residents participate with pride in Springfield’s bi-weekly recycling program.

In the meantime, since women religious are no longer in a position to donate their service in new ventures, the organization needed funding. Grant applications were hastily written. Funding came from Kentucky’s Jonquil Fund and the Columbus and Springfield Dominican ministry funds as well as the Sisters of Loretto, family, friends, and local donors. “I’m learning to live with a few months financial security at a time,” Claire says. “We do everything we can while we are here. If the universe wants this work to continue, it will provide the resources.”

New Pioneers’ projects include “Soup and Substance,” a weekly lunchtime learning program, weekly columns on sustainability in the county newspaper, water protection education, and promotion of locally grown food. They work with the local Ministerial Association, St. Catharine College, the schools, agricultural organizations, business and civic organizations, and local government to promote sustainability in whatever ways are possible.

This month New Pioneers received a $12,000 grant from the county Agricultural Development Board to initiate a county visioning process. This extensive project will engage the county’s people in choosing a preferred future that integrates protection of natural resources, economic development, and community fabric by drawing from spiritual roots and rural values.

As this time of dramatic ecological challenge, New Pioneers works to create hope – one rural county at a time.

Today about 47% of city residents participate with pride in Springfield’s bi-weekly recycling program.

Kentucky Sister Initiates New Sustainability Ministry

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Since the time of St Dominic, more than 800 years ago, Dominicans have been living and sharing
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