Missionaries to the Planet

Call them what you will—"green nuns," "eco-nuns," or "green sisters"—but across the country Roman Catholic vowed women are actively engaged in tending and healing the earth. Their grassroots movement is growing in numbers and influence. When Sarah McFarland Taylor, now an assistant professor of religion at Northwestern University, began her research back in 1995, she was able to identify only about a dozen "ecological learning centers" run by Catholic sisters in North America. By 2006 she could document at least 50 such ministries, and she notes that today there are now "green sisters" involved in eco-justice ministries all over the world.

Neither Catholic nor a member of a religious community, Taylor offers the perspective of an "intimate outsider," and in this absorbing and comprehensive study of the "greening of religion" in Catholic religious communities, she takes the reader on a tour of everything from a biodynamic farm in New Jersey to a community garden in inner-city Detroit that replaced a burned-down crack house. Although this is a work of extensive academic research and scholarship, the narrative reflects the author's hands-on contact with her subject, and so we join her in peering into the geothermal tank in the basement of a motherhouse in Indiana, in shucking garlic on the porch of an old Victorian main house in Ohio, and in interpreting—and recovering from—a particularly intense retreat experience at a Sisters of Earth conference in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2007
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