Among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, creation holds a special place. Many sisters have had life-long commitments to care for creation, whether through their ministries, ecological justice or sustainable lifestyles. The Sisters’ current vision statement entrusted to their elected leadership calls for a commitment to be creative and innovative with integral ecology.

Recently, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange developed their own Laudato Si’ Action Plan, in response to Laudato Si’ and “Pope Francis’ call to take to heart the need for an ecological conversion and commit ourselves to be instruments of God for the care of the whole of creation — concern for nature, justice for the poor and commitment for a just society.” The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have chosen water as the primary focus of their Laudato Si’ efforts.

Journeying alongside the broader Catholic community in caring for our common home, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have developed specific actions that respond to the seven goals of the Church’s shared Laudato Si’ Action Platform. Where the Church calls all to respond to the cry of the Earth, respond to the cry of the poor, engage in ecological economics, adopt sustainable lifestyles, develop ecological education, cultivate ecological spirituality and create community empowerment, the Sisters of St. Joseph have responded with enthusiasm and creativity.

In their homes, sisters make deliberate choices to conserve electricity, install solar panels, compost, use water-efficient appliances, recycle water for use in gardens or replace grass with native, drought-resistant plants. Individually, many sisters share their journeys of ecological spirituality, celebrate the sacredness of creation, contemplate in nature or pray on the needs of our beautiful yet wounded world.

Some sisters have even taken up ecological justice as the focal point of their ministry work. Sister Sara Tarango, affectionately nicknamed “Sister Soil,” works with Bread for the World to advocate for regenerative agriculture in the 2023 Farm Bill.

When asked about her ministry, Sister Sara remarked, “It’s all God.”

Since watching “Kiss the Ground” in a Laudato Si’ class and participating in regenerative agriculture education, Sister Sara has developed new perspectives on the integration of spirituality and science. Sister Sara asked, “Do you eat? If yes, then the Farm Bill affects you. It affects everyone, but it especially impacts our brothers and sisters who live on the margins. It also impacts creation, which is also on the margins right now.”

With regenerative agriculture, we can grow the food that is essential to all our nourishment, while also protecting healthy soil that can store the water that is essential to all life.

As a congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange support global efforts to address the water crisis through the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange Fund. The Fund invests in projects to build wells, filtration systems and water education programs in areas most impacted by the global water crisis. In 2023, the Fund will allocate 30% of its funding for Integral Ecology, which will include water, sanitation and hunger projects in India, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

The Sisters of St. Joseph engage closely with their broader communities through ministries. For example, the CSJ Education Network educates and motivates teachers, students and families in dealing with the water crisis. The education ministry also ended the use of plastics in all its sponsored events at St. Joseph Center and works with member schools to eliminate plastics from programs.

Similarly, the St. Joseph Justice Center engages in water-focused justice efforts, such as the weekly “Wednesday Splash,” education with the Orange County Water District, advocacy with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, action with the Orange County Interfaith Collaborative for the Environment, prayer and the annual Earth Day Celebration with sisters and employees of the St. Joseph Center.

Over the last year, the Justice Center has hosted an on-going speaker series on water. Recently, Mary Vanderhoof, Associate in Mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, described the effects of the growing global water crisis on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. The presenter shared the efforts of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia to fund global projects for clean water and sustainable change through their non-profit, Change for Global Change. Sr. Ellen O’Leary best captured the individual and congregational commitments of the Sisters of St. Joseph to caring for our common home, especially our shared waters. She explained that many of the sisters are very connected with the Earth, and connection with creation has become an integral part of their spirituality. Caring for creation means caring for people.

“The call from the Earth is present,” said Sr. Ellen. “As a community, it is essential to be conscious of the message from Laudato Si’ to care for creation. It is a message for each and every one of us that comes from the Earth through Laudato Si’.