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"A Sacred Trust" - Nuns and Kentucky's Land

Environmental activism is flourishing in Kentucky's communities of nuns, a commitment the sisters describe as a sacred trust. (Laura Michele Diener)
Environmental activism is flourishing in Kentucky's communities of nuns, a commitment the sisters describe as a sacred trust. (Laura Michele Diener)
April 11, 2016

MARION COUNTY, Ky. – Environmental activism is flourishing in communities of Roman Catholic nuns stretching from the Bluegrass to Appalachia.

Susan Classen is among 85 women who live at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Loretto. Those 788 acres of land in Marion County are home to both vowed sisters and co-members, like Classen, who is a Mennonite lay member.

"We describe our commitment to the land as a sacred trust," she states.

To do their part in reversing the effects of climate change, the Sisters of Loretto are divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in renewable energy.

Classen says while their voices lend credibility to environmental activism, the sisters' desire for sustainability has roots in their faith.

"We recently put solar panels on the cabin where I live, because we don't want to only be against something, we want to be part of living into the alternatives,” she stresses. “And there are alternatives to some of the destructive ways of using fossil fuels that we've become dependent on."

The faith-based activism in Kentucky is featured in the new edition of YES! Magazine.

Author Laura Michele Diener spent the fall and winter visiting Loretto, the neighboring Sisters of Charity at Nazareth and the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Tabor in Floyd County for the article.

Diener says she came away "incredibly impressed" by the sisters’ spiritual mission, and calls them a "vital force" in the environmental movement.

"To them, this environmental work was just one facet of how they define sustainability – that to them, sustainable living was about care of each other, care of their surrounding community, and care of the earth," she states.

In 2013 the Sisters of Loretto was the first faith group to oppose a proposed natural gas pipeline that threatened to cut through land in 13 Kentucky counties – including theirs.

The project was stopped, an experience Classen describes as a "gift" because it showed the sisters how deeply their neighbors also value their land.

"They'll describe land as a heritage,” she points out. “So, they describe it differently, but it's really that same sense of, 'We have been entrusted this land as something to care for.'"

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY