A Victory Knoll Sister in a pink sweater tends to a garden full of yellow and orange flowers.

Women’s History Month Part 1: Strong women taking strong actions for the environment

“She surveys a field and acquires it; from her own resources, she plants a vineyard. She works energetically; her arms are powerful.” 

–Proverbs 31:16-17

This Women’s History Month, we’re shining the spotlight on women and women religious organizations who have made a difference in their parishes, communities, and dioceses by caring for God’s creation. 

Read more about the women and women’s organizations that make our work at Catholic Climate Covenant possible, and learn more about how you can support our work, too!

Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters (Victory Noll Sisters)

Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters (OLVM), or as they are more popularly known, Victory Noll Sisters, was founded in 1922 by Father John Joseph Sigstein. 

Sister Beatrice Haines, the social justice promoter for Victory Noll Sisters, shared more about how the religious order began.

“While visiting in the Southwest, Father Sigstein was distressed by the poverty and many problems and needs of people that were not being addressed by any existing religious congregation,” Sister Haines said. “He founded OLVM Sisters to respond to needs in the areas of religious education, social services and health care, from a personal, non-institutional stance.”

Rooted in the charism to proclaim the Gospel, especially in solidarity with those living in poverty and oppression, Victory Noll Sisters commit themselves to ongoing prayer, study, and action on behalf of human rights, justice, and peace. 

For the second year, the Victory Noll Sisters have partnered with Catholic Climate Covenant to distribute $100,000 in grants to Catholic communities across the United States eager to launch creation care initiatives. The Victory Noll Sisters also sold 150 acres of their land to ACRES Land Trust, a nonprofit that protects natural and working lands in several states, including the Victory Noll Sisters’ home state of Indiana. 

Additionally, the Victory Noll Sisters have created a Laudato Si’ action plan and accountability report to set environmental and creation care goals and monitor their annual progress as part of their enrollment in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform (LSAP). 

“We pledge to develop a seven-year action plan to respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” reads the first page of the commitment statement inside the Victory Noll Sisters’ action plan. “We are a small and aging community. In view of this reality, we whole-heartedly commit to collaborate with others in the work of caring for the Earth and reversing the damage humanity has caused to our brothers and sisters and to our Planet Earth.”

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An OLVMS leader leads “Prayer for the World,” which is held weekly at the OLVM motherhouse and emailed to sisters, friends and associates beyond Victory Noll. Courtesy Sister Beatrice Haines.

Sister Haines explained how she sees caring for our common home as living out our Catholic faith.

“Caring for our common home is a response to the call of the Gospel,” Sister Haines said. “This means fostering a sacred sense of all of creation as a gift from our Creator God. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis describes our response as one of ‘listening to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.’ It is responding to a crisis that is both social and environmental. Secondly, ‘caring for our common home,” is one of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching, a requirement of our faith.”

Sister Haines offered a word of encouragement for Catholics working for climate action. 

“Let us work together as a Church in response to the urgent call of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ and Laudate Deum,” Sister Haines said. “The pope’s hope is that action carried out by the global Catholic community will create the critical mass needed for irreversible systemic change that will seriously impact the climate crisis and heal our common home. The challenge is for every individual, family, parish, diocese, and institution to do what they can.”

Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province

The Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province is another women’s religious organization that helps Catholic Climate Covenant in our creation care work. The Sisters of Saint Anne began as a French Canadian organization, and as French Canadians migrated to the northeastern United States, the Sisters of Saint Anne followed to educate new immigrants and their families. It’s no surprise that the main charism of the Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province, is education. The province is also dedicated to social justice. 

Regina O’Connor, the director of the liturgy and social concerns office for the Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province, offered a glimpse of what the religious order is like in their Massachusetts community. 

One of the Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province buildings is home to five different Catholic congregations, giving the sisters ample opportunity to feel the pulse of their Catholic community. O’Connor said 25 of the sisters live on their own, while seven are in a rest home and seven are in a nursing home. Despite the women religious community being older, the sisters are as spry as ever when it comes to caring for our common home. 

“We went into the center of town with signs, and we wrote the signs in English, Spanish, and Portuguese because Marlborough (Massachusetts) has large populations of each,” O’Connor said. “And the signs were about the environment and what’s going on, and we’d walk up and down Main Street once a month with the signs about the environment. All of the congregations have a history of protest, so this was our take on that as they’re aging.”

The Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province, drew attention in the Marlborough town square, as the sisters stood with walkers and sat in wheelchairs, all holding protest signs. 

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Several sisters from the Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province, hold signs and posters, encouraging passersby to care for God’s creation. Courtesy of Regina O’Connor.

In addition to taking the Laudato Si’ Action Platform (LSAP) commitment, the Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province are evaluating their order’s and facility’s sustainability. 

“We don’t use paper (products) anymore, even for cookouts,” O’Connor said. “We only use ceramic dishes and cloth napkins every day. We’ve done a ton of education in different areas once a month for almost 18 months … on different things that have to do with the environment.”

The Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province, are also diligent about recycling. 

“They’ve looked into who we have for recycling to make sure they’re really recycling everything,” O’Connor said. “They’ve spent a lot of time on all their investments, and every three months or so, we look at their investments to make sure that they’re not investing in companies that are detrimental to the environment.”

O’Connor explained how the Sisters of Saint Anne, St. Marie Province, see caring for our common home as living out our Catholic faith.

“(Earth is) a creation of God that we are part and parcel of, not separate from,” O’Connor said. “And therefore, as we’re responsible to the people around us, we’re responsible to the earth. There’s a respect for the gift. And it comes from dignity of life across the board.”

O’Connor offered a word of encouragement for Catholics to continue working on climate action. 

“In many ways, it’s central to who we are as Catholics,” O’Connor said. “It’s not just a nice thing we do — it’s something that we do because we’re Catholic.”

Many of the women and their religious organizations featured in this Women’s History Month series have made Catholic Climate Covenant’s work possible through strong actions and financial support. You can support Catholic Climate Covenant’s work, too, by joining our movement or making a donation

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