Description of the Program:
The Stella As Earth Center Program
began in 1991, when a group of women religious were assembled at the 134 acre property of
Stella Niagara, New York, which houses a convent, a school, a health center and a
hospitality center called the Center of Renewal. Eighteen of the women present expressed
an interest in working for ecological harmony, using the property, resources and building.
A three-fold task was determined: 1) the group must educate themselves in order to 2)
educate the larger community of Sisters at Stella Niagara by word and deed and 3) to set
an example for the community of Sisters of St. Francis throughout the United States.
Immediately bi-monthly meetings were established, experts were contacted and the group
began establishing sub-communities to set and achieve appropriate goals.
With this in mind, in the spring of
1991 the group recommended that a Resource Audit be performed on the land and the
buildings. In July 1992 this took place resulting in a 33 page report of suggestions
arriving in August. From this was developed a Statement of Purpose:
A need was identified to establish
personnel to coordinate the Plan and a budget was requested which would include a
full-time and a part-time salary for this purpose. In the spring of 1994, Karen Allen, OSF
began as part-time Coordinator, taking care of finances, scheduling meetings and handling
communications as well as working on the grounds whenever possible. Carolyn Fisher, OSF
accepted the position of full-time Coordinator, working almost exclusively on the grounds.
The Program integrates the goals of
natural resource conservation by 1) the creation of a recycling program, collecting
plastics, glass, metal, paper and corrugated cardboard weekly; 2) the creation of a
composting system, collecting fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc.
daily and placing them in one of 6 compost bins built outdoors for this purpose and 3)
educating the residents, students, employees and visitors of Stella Niagara in the
importance of natural resource conservation. This last object is achieved through videos,
newsletter articles, posters made by students and participation in ecological events.
Earth Week is annually celebrated with an outdoor clean-up, celebrations and a ritual
service. An annual garage sale is held, encouraging the re-use of items. Money collected
from this sale is used to purchase necessary equipment for grounds work. Mulch wood chips
and leaves are obtained from NYSEG and Niagara Mohawk Electric to replenish flower beds
and protect trees from drought and lawnmowers. Drainage problems have been corrected at
the Stella Cemetery and along the river banks with the help of Niagara County Soil &
Water Conservation, the Town of Lewiston, DEC and the Army Corp. of Engineers. A wild life
refuge was created by planting wild flowers in the meadow and reducing the mowing to once
per year. Economically the entire Complex has gained with the reduction of garbage
collection due to recycling and composting, the success of the garage sales and the
reduction of grounds work due to the creation of the wildlife refuge. Human Development
ahs prospered as consciousness has been raised through example and education, in the areas
of environmental welfare and global harmony.
The Five Year Plan is annually
evaluated by the coordinators and review by the Earth Center Committee, who is charged
with a bi-monthly check on homework tasks and projects for the year. Important
achievements through the years include: 1) the clearance of the upper bank t obtain a view
of the Niagara River (passersby frequently stop to enjoy the view and take pictures); 2)
the establishment of a Tree Donation Planting Program beginning in 1991 in which trees
have been planted (sample card enclosed); 3) the beginning of a tree farm with seedlings
and utilizing compost; 4) the planting of an Herb Healing Garden with over 70 herbs; 5)
replanting neglected areas of the property such as Calixta Court, which was dedicated to a
deceased Sister whose life was spent gardening at Stella Niagara and 6) communication with
the various constituencies on the importance of the care of the earth and respecting the
natural elements. As Stella Niagara houses a variety of people, our diverse groups consist
of Sister residents, including those living in the Health Center, employees, school
faculty, students age two and one half to the 8th grade and visitors. Benefits
of the Program can be seen in an increased respect for the natural and architectural
beauty of Stella Niagara and the participation in environmental programs and classes
targeting a variety of groups.
This Earth Center Program can easily
be replicated by other religious communities. It will encourage them not to sell their
property to developers but to provide an oasis of natural beauty at a time when business,
economics and development predominate this decision making process. The Program enhances
natural resources, saves money and provides the local community with an example of the
ease and benefits of living in a natural and ecologically harmonious manner.
Natural Resource Conservation:
The Program conserves natural
resources by: correcting drainage, which has prevented erosion; planting flowers which
attract birds; erecting blue bird houses, purple martin houses and a structure for barn
swallows; erecting bat houses (which also served to decrease the mosquito population);
cutting back wild vines to save trees, reducing waste through recycling and composting and
cutting back on the need for weekly garbage dumpsters. Natural resources have been
broadened through the planing of raspberry bushes, elderberries, currents, plum and peach
trees, rhubarb plants and caring for older apple trees. Douglas fir trees were planted to
create a north wind shield and a variety of pines were planted along the west side of a
parking lot to act as a wind shield as well. Christmas trees are annually cut to thin out
areas and encourage the growth of other trees.
The size of the community is
approximately 60 residents, with about 1/3 residing in the Health Center; 90 employees,
260 students and approximately 6,000 annual visitors to the Center of Renewal (which
provides overnight and day time accommodations for individuals and groups). The population
is diverse and it is unique in that it ranges from age 2 ½ in the Montessori classes to
parents of the student and Elderhostel participants, 55 years old and older, who attend
six annual weeks of programming. The educational and outreach opportunities of the Program
include Earth Week each April, Peace Week each October, the schools Garden Club, the
Tree Donation Program, the Herb Garden, with identified plants and booklet available for
purchase, labeled trees, Open Grounds and House Offerings; Elderhostel classes on herbs,
trees, bird watching, Niagara Falls, Niagara River, fishing, apple growing and exposure to
the various recycling and composting programs. Future plans for outreach include sharing
our learning experiences and communicating with the Stella community, the community of
Lewiston and the various retreatants. Eventually the Earth Center will create a more
global outlook by networking with similar organizations, the Sisters of the Earth,
Franciscans, Resource Audit Institutions and others.
For additional program information
please contact Sister Karen Allen at (716) 654-4388 ext. 647.