The Josephite Community, which includes the Australian congregations of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart and the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar (and extends to lay people who share the Josephite charism), has responded to Pope Francis’ invitation by committing to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. In addition, in 2022, the Josephite Community released its own Laudato Si’ Action Plan titled Explore~Embrace~Embody.
Sister Mary-Ann Casanova, a Sister of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart based in Adelaide, South Australia, is the Explore~Embrace~Embody Project Officer. An experienced teacher, Sister Mary-Ann has also worked for Catholic EarthCare Australia and the Rahamin Ecological Centre. She recently completed her Doctoral Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies, researching the relationship between science and spirituality in the lives of two priests — Julian Tenison Woods and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
“The Sisters of Saint Joseph were founded by Australia’s first canonised saint, Mary MacKillop, and Father Julian Tenison Woods, on the feast of Saint Joseph in 1866,” says Sister Mary-Ann. They did so “in response to the need for Catholic education for poor and marginalised children and to address poverty within colonial Australia which was rife at the time.”
“Both Mary and Julian were committed to sustainable living,” Sister Mary-Ann explains. “As a priest and scientist, Father Julian combined his spiritual and scientific passions in seeking environmental solutions. He advocated for legislation and management practices which respected the rights of the poor to earn a just living, the need to preserve biodiversity and the needs of future generations.”
Today, Josephite sisters continue to respond where the need is present. They also maintain a deep commitment to ecological issues and the environment. “Josephite congregations have sought to identify and address the needs of Earth, its peoples and all creation,” notes Sister Mary-Ann.
Leading up to the online launch of Explore~Embrace~Embody on 7 October 2022, the death anniversary of Father Julian, sisters, staff and supporters gathered to discuss and discern what would be the best way to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation in Laudato Si’.
“A positive outcome of the gatherings was the ability to put together recent Josephite documents and resources into a single volume,” continues Sister Mary-Ann. “This simple action reinforced the sense that we Josephites have been leaders in the field of ecological and evolutionary consciousness.”
Explore~Embrace~Embody incorporates the seven Laudato Si’ goals which have been reimagined into a Josephite context. The Josephite goals are: Nurturing Ecological Consciousness, Living Simply, Strengthening Ecological Economics and Increasing Community Engagement and Advocacy.
Sister Mary-Ann explains that the alliteration in the title Explore~Embrace~Embody “is a good tool for remembering and it reflects a cycle of personal and communal/organisational transformation or conversion.”
The launch date “was selected as it’s a common celebration for the Josephite Community. Associating the Action Plan with Father Julian strengthens the call to ecological and evolutionary consciousness as being part and parcel of what we do — we have a model from the very beginning,” says Sister Mary-Ann.
“The hope of the Action Plan is that although the subject matter will be ongoing, the call to personal growth, greater ecological and evolutionary consciousness is a lifelong work,” Sister Mary-Ann explains.
To date, the Josephite Community has produced videos on Explore~Embrace~Embody, featuring members of the Josephite Laudato Si’ Action Plan Committee and lay staff. In these videos, members share what Explore~Embrace~Embody is about, its goals, and how supporters can get involved.
Throughout 2023, the Josephites focused on the environmental impact of soft plastics, raising awareness and encouraging people to reduce the use of and to recycle soft plastics through a number of ideas and initiatives.
“The Soft Plastics campaign is a vehicle to invite change at an individual and systems level, weaving together awareness raising, action, economics, faith, morals and interconnectedness. It makes the four goals within our Action Plan operative at once,” says Sister Mary-Ann.
As the Josephites believe, whether a contribution is big or small, it all helps. As Saint Mary MacKillop said, “Do all you can with the means at your disposal and calmly leave the rest to God.”
*Communications Officer — Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart (Australia)
By Mary Baynie *