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Contact: Amy H. Smessaert
Communications Director
Congregation of the
Sisters of the Holy Cross
Telephone: (574) 284-5728
Date:March 18, 2010 

Sisters of the Holy Cross help prairie thrive through controlled burn

Notre Dame, Ind.  — The Sisters of the Holy Cross, who are committed to practicing and promoting ecological sustainability, are helping to restore the prairie on its campus through a controlled burn. This is a safe, environmentally sound strategy that reduces the number of non-native, invasive plant species and allows the native prairie vegetation to thrive.

“We see creation as a precious gift of God. It is part of our mission and our moral responsibility to care for Earth as a fragile and sacred trust,” said Sister Joan Marie Steadman, CSC, president of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. “Continuing to restore the prairie we have right in our backyard is one way we are demonstrating our commitment to practice and promote ecological sustainability.”

J.F. New & Associates, a full-service ecological solutions company located in Walkerton, Ind., worked with the congregation to plan and manage the burn.

“Our first concern is the safety and well-being of everyone on campus and the wildlife that lives on the prairie,” Sister Joan Marie explained. “The timing is carefully chosen for optimal weather conditions and in consideration of the spring growth cycle of plants and the return of the osprey that nest on the prairie.”

According to J.F. New, which has partnered with the congregation on several ecological initiatives on campus, there are numerous environmental benefits to using this kind of burn as an ecological management tool:

  • The entire 14-acre prairie is not burned at once. Fuels are carefully applied to the prairie so that the result is what is called a mosaic or patchy burn. This approach provides a refuge for temporarily displaced animals.
  • Fire consumes dead vegetation on the surface, releases nutrients back into the soil and allows more sunlight to reach the ground.
  • In addition, this process:
    1. heats the soil, providing a head start for warm-season native species; some native plants are dependent on fire to survive.
    2. reduces the number of woody non-native and invasive plant species.
    3. releases only as much carbon dioxide into the air as the natural decay of plants would omit.
    4. increases the diversity of the species in the prairie and provides a higher quality habitat.

Ecological sustainability is a priority of the congregation throughout the United States and the seven other countries where Sisters of the Holy Cross serve. Locally, the sisters and employees recently adopted a vision statement for a sustainable campus. In addition, the four congregations of Holy Cross sisters, brothers and priests last fall released a joint statement on climate change.

About the Sisters of the Holy Cross
Founded in 1841 in Le Mans, France, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is an international community of women religious whose generalate is located in Notre Dame, Ind. The congregation numbers approximately 450 members worldwide who serve in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Uganda and the United States. Sisters of the Holy Cross are called to participate in the prophetic mission of Jesus to witness God’s love for all creation. Their ministries focus on providing education and health care services, eradicating material poverty, ending gender discrimination, and promoting just, mutual relationships among people, countries and the entire Earth community.

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