photos by Kat Wetherbee

On a sun-dappled October afternoon, two deer wandered the peaceful St. Francis, Wisconsin, grounds of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi and paused just downhill from the stone archways of the grape arbor. This glimpse reveals a slice of the 22 acres of gardens, wetlands, urban forest, prairies, grapevines, and beehives the Sisters tend, nurture and beautify through each passing season. True caretakers of creation, the Sisters’ commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability is an expression of their Franciscan spirituality and will be part of their lasting legacy.

Their ongoing environmental efforts, supported by community volunteers and guided by a 2010 land use management plan called Earth Echoes, involved removing invasive plants that filled nine dumpsters, planting 250 trees to start an urban forest, annually starting about 5,000 seedlings which result in thousands of pounds of vegetables each year, and holding educational seminars within their congregation and for the community.

The Earth Echoes Facebook page states, "Our mission is to restore our urban landscape to a more mindful, spiritual and natural state that will serve as a model for sustainable urban land use."

The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi founded Cardinal Stritch University in 1937 on these Motherhouse grounds, in the buildings formerly occupied by St. Mary’s Academy.

Web links:

Read the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Sacred Web of Life statement, which inspires and guides their environmental efforts.

Listen to a June 2015 audio story produced by Milwaukee Public Radio about the Sisters’ efforts.

Learn about the beekeeping efforts through this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the man who tends the Motherhouse beehives.

Connect to the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Earth Echoes Facebook page for regular updates on their progress.

Link to the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi website for more information about their congregation, corporate ministries and upcoming events.

Photo gallery: