History of the Oblate Ecological Initiative
2020 This year began with plans to launch La Vista Learning Garden's programs with Vernon DePauw as presenter and gardener. We had to shift gears in March when COVID limited our gatherings. We continued some programs outdoors, around a fire pit, or in the barn.
In August construction began on the Novitiate building, and the Learning Center office moved off-campus. We continued programs outdoors until winter when we moved to online programming. Our virtual Winter Solstice Celebration was a delight anyway, with longtime participants helping to lead the event very successfully. This challenging year turned out to be one for drawing closer to one another and deepening our appreciation of the land at La Vista.
| 2019| The highlights of this year were activities with the Confluence Climate Collaborative. In November we hosted the screening of "Biggest Little Farm" at the Wildey Theater in Edwardsville. Two hundred people participated, enjoying hors d'oeuvres prepared by farmers from Goshen Farmers's Market. After the film local farmers were part of a panel that affirmed the movie's content. This was a fine promotion of the local food movement. We also created a "Climate Fiction Book Club" which meets bi-monthly. Both of these are our efforts to encourage behavior change as we continue to look climate change in the face.
The Community Supported Garden at La Vista saw its last season and is now closed. BUT a new endeavor is in process, so stay tuned in 2020 for a creative adventure in farming.
| 2018| This year could be called the year of collaborations. The Ecological Consortium formed to offer a yearly conference to implement the papal encyclical Laudato Si. The Confluence Collaborative was created to promote environmental justice through activism and education. Both groups are diverse, including members from St. Louis, Edwardsville, Alton, and Godfrey.
This year also saw the creation of Earth Literacy On-the-Road, a year long program to introduce the novitiate community to this bioregion and to the concepts taught in our Earth Literacy program.
| 2017 | April was a watershed month this year. Sr. Maxine, along with members of the OMI Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Committee, participated in the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on Trump’s 100th day in office. They joined 100,000 people concerned about our planet. Closer to home, Seniors from Marquette High School spent two days donating their service to remove honeysuckle, mulch the pollinator garden, and clean up the area around the St. Joseph statue. In June we hosted our second Pollinator Garden Concert Fundraiser. Held on the terraces, the lovely music was joined by great weather and one hundred happy participants. The Community Supported Garden welcomed Phil Beile, our new farmer, who had a successful year in the field. It was a year of much good momentum and action.
| 2016 | As we continue to care for our common home, work continued on the Oblates Woods Nature Preserve. We now have a group of volunteers who come regularly to remove honeysuckle and trash. This November the volunteers, along with the Novitiate Community, participated in a prescribed burn of ten of the sixteen acres. Burns are an effective maintenance technique for renewing the forest. For the second year, we held our Earth Literacy program over a long weekend in the fall, and the Novitiate Community participated. The Community Supported Garden made it through a trying year, climate-wise, with Eric and Crystal as our farmers.
| 2015 | The highlight of this year was the publishing of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home. It includes so much of what La Vista has been teaching since its beginning, providing affirmation and further teaching on this important topic. The Novitiate Community joined with other participants in a six-session study of the encyclical. In addition, the Novitiate Community participated in our annual Earth Literacy program which was held in the fall over a long weekend. Norm Comtois and Sister Maxine were delighted to be with the community in this way. The Community Supported Garden enjoyed another great year with Eric and Crystal Stevens as our farmers.
| 2014 | The beautiful land called La Vista was a key player in 2014. Staff from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, along with the Novitiate Community, posted boundary markers on the sixteen acre Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve. In the fall work began to remove the invasive honeysuckle from the preserve. Also in the fall, our farmers teamed up with the Novitiate Community and other volunteers to create a pollinator garden on the terraces by the "bowl," responding to the plight of the monarchs and other pollinators. Eric and Crystal Stevens began their fourth year as our farmers, and the Garden completed its twelfth year!
| 2013 | In February Sister Maxine received the Leadership in Spirituality award from the Center for Spirituality and Sustainability at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. During the summer months Jason Rossignol, OMI, came to intern with the Learning Center and the Garden. In August, our annual Earth Literacy program was blessed with Oblate presence. Three OMIs and three OMI colleagues helped to create a rich experience for all participants! The Community Supported Garden expanded its reach by delivering vegetables to Edwardsville, IL, in addition to St. Louis, MO. It was a blessed year for the Oblate Ecological Initiative!
| 2012 | La Vista expanded its networking opportunities by becoming a member of the "Peace Partnership," an interfaith group sponsored by the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. Our first speakers were Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, and John Dear, S.J., a peace activist. The Garden faced a difficult summer of drought courageously with the expert work of our farmers, Eric and Crystal Moore Stevens. They succeeded in providing good shares throughout the summer and remarkably bountiful shares in the fall.
| 2011 | "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place and Planet," our newest discussion course, set the theme for 2011 as we introduced a variety of workshops and classes to include varied aspects health, personal and planetary such as Tai Chi for Flexibility, Canning and Dehydrating, Bread Baking, and Basket Making. Our farmers Eric and Crystal continued the theme with the workshop Creating and Outdoor Wood-Fire Grill and Cooking with Culinary Herbs.
| 2010 | La Vista Ecological Learning Center branched out by co-sponsoring a retreat with King's House led by Jack Lau, OMI, and by offering workshops to teach practical skills like basketry and growing and using medicinal herbs at home. Eric Stevens was hired to lead the farm for its eighth season. Eric, his wife Crystal and their son Cayan were a great addition to La Vista this year. New ground was broken as Eric and his wife Crystal-Moore Stevens, an herbalist, presented the workshop "Herbal Possibilities" for La Vista Ecological Learning Center. This collaboration between the Garden and the Learning Center brought shareholders together in a delightful experience of partnership.
| 2009 | Fr. Maurice took a leave of absence from his congregation. Sr. Maxine continued the work of the Learning Center, expanding it by co-sponsoring programs in cooperation with the Sierra Club, Rockhaven Ecozoic Center, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of St Joseph, and King's House Retreat and Renewal Center. The seventh season at the Community Supported Garden ended on a high note with a bumper crop of everything, thanks to near perfect weather and the expertise of Kris Larson who completed his fourth year as Head Farmer.
| 2008 | Fr. Maurice presented the Oblate Ecological Ministry at six Oblate Spring Regional Meetings, evidence of growing support for this work. La Vista Ecological Learning Center co-hosted with Sierra Club, Satish Kumar for an inspiring evening lecture at the Religious Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. We were thrilled to celebrate Earth Day by offering our first-ever "concert in the bowl" featuring Jan Novotka. The Community Supported Garden at La Vista began a new venture by taking on two interns to help the farmer and learn organic farming. Farmer Kris Larson extended his agreement with the Garden into the 2009 season. The fields of the Community Supported Garden at La Vista have produced tens of thousands of pounds of produce in these first six years of the farm.
| 2007 | The Community Supported Garden at La Vista began its 5th season with nearly 200 families sharing in the sustainably grown bounty of vegetables, herbs and flowers. With the generosity and hard work of many people, a much-needed irrigation system was installed! La Vista Ecological Learning Center had a great year with both the Silent Spring Retreat and Earth Literacy Program filled to capacity! One of the Earth Literacy participants, a filmmaker, created an informative and inspiring documentary about the Oblate Ecological Initiative entitled "Present to Earth". Magpie (2000 − 2007) Fr. Maurice's black lab and lover of the pastures, woods, and bluffs at La Vista will be missed by all. A garden was dedicated near the barn in her honor.
| 2006 | Sr. Maxine became Program Assistant at the Ecological Learning Center, and Mary Jo Jacobs was hired as the Administrative Assistant. Eighteen Oblates attended a Spring gathering at the Learning Center in conjunction with the Center sponsoring Satish Kumar who lectured at two nearby universities. The website for the Learning Center was launched. There was a focus on outreach to and collaboration with other institutions. The Community Supported Garden went through a challenging summer with the heat and drought, but Autumn's cooler temperatures and rain brought a tremendous abundance of food for approximately 200 families (equivalent of 120 full shares).
| 2005 | The Earth Literacy program was again at capacity. The number of shares in the Community Supported Garden grew to one hundred twenty. In June the Oblate provincial council approved a three-year recommitment to the Oblate Ecological Initiative in Godfrey. Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND was hired as assistant at the Ecological Learning Center. Head Gardener Amy Cloud completed her three-year term. Kris Larson was hired on as the new Head Gardener for 2006-2008 seasons.
| 2004 | Another doubling of participants for the August Earth Literacy filled the program to capacity. One hundred families signed on at the Garden to receive their six-month supply of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
| 2003 | The Community Supported Garden at La Vista distributed shares of sustainably grown vegetables to seventy families. Ten percent of these were low income. Hundreds of pounds of surplus vegetables were donated to a local food pantry. The number of participants attending the week long Earth Literacy program doubled.
| 2002 | With Fr. Maurice directing the Oblate Ecological Initiative, the Learning Center offered its first Earth Literacy programs. The first issue of the Initiative's newsletter "La Vista Visions" was published in the Spring. Infrastructure for the Community Supported Garden was started and in October a 30'x 96' greenhouse was erected by the local Rotary Club. Amy Cloud was hired as Head Gardener.
| 2001 | The Oblates assigned Fr. Maurice for one year to continue exploring the possibility of developing an ecological ministry on the Novitiate grounds in Godfrey. In August, a video produced at the site was distributed to all American Oblates highlighting concerns about Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation and encouraging action. December of 2001 saw the formal birth of the Oblate Ecological Initiative! The Oblate's provincial council approved the creation of this new ministry and gave a three-year approval (through June, 2005) to begin both the La Vista Ecological Learning Center and the Community Supported Garden at La Vista.
| 2000 | Fr. Maurice was assigned to work half time at Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Alton, Illinois, USA, and also to explore the feasibility of creating an ecological ministry in nearby Godfrey, Illinois.
| 1998-99 | Fr. Maurice was invited to participate in a two-year internship at Genesis Farm both in their Ecological Learning Center as well as their Community Supported Garden.
| 1997 | The worldwide Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate issued a statement (called a Vade Mecum) titled "Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation" which called on the members of the congregation to include this new reality in their missionary consciousness. That same year Maurice Lange, OMI, attended a two-week Earth Literacy program at Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, USA.
| History of Ongoing Programs |
2015 - Volunteer Work Days in the Preserve began
2012 - Tai Chi Sessions began in April
2010 - Saturday Cosmology Group at SSND Ripa Campus started in July
2005 - Monday Discussion Group at La Vista began in September
2002 - Participation in the Intercommunity Ecological Council started