by Paula M. Riley

Dr. Robert Meyer (kneeling), Director of Environmental Studies Department at Chestnut Hill College, shows students from Norwood-Fontbonne Academy how to plant perennials in the storm garden at the SSJ Earth Center. (from left) Sr. Marjorie Lawless, SSJ teacher at NFA, Kelly Doerzbacher and Sebastian Tilley and Joseph Valinis.

“As the grocery bag says, ‘There’s only one Earth,’” said Celia Mazzarelli, a Norwood-Fontbonne Academy third-grader who spent last Thursday afternoon planting a storm garden with her classmates at the Sisters of Saint Joseph’s Earth Center at Chestnut Hill College.

A sponsored work of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Earth Center’s mission is to “foster opportunities to reflect, practice and celebrate the truth that all is sacred.”

Sr. Mary Elizabeth Clark, special assistant to the president for sustainability and director of the Earth Center, worked with NFA teacher Sr. Marjorie Lawless to organize the planting effort.

“We wanted to teach the children how to build a storm garden and the importance of one,” Clark explained.

Because the Wissahickon Creek flows right through the College campus, there is often flooding during storms. The Earth Center building is located on a landfill just above the flood plain. Students worked under the direction of Robert Meyer, Ph.D., biologist and director of environmental studies, who designed the storm garden. He gave a brief lecture, dug the holes and let the third-graders plant all the perennials.

“The flowers we planted will keep the storm water that has the pollutants in it on the ground,” Mazzarelli said. “This will keep the polluted water from going into the Wissahickon, which goes into the Schuylkill, which goes into the Delaware.”

”This is so important because the Delaware is where we get our drinking water,” her classmate Kelly Doerzbacher said.

This was Clark’s first experience in working with elementary school students at the Earth Center.

“I was so impressed with the students,” she said. “They were incredibly diligent and worked together beautifully.”

Participating in such activities is an opportunity for NFA students to further live out the vision of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy since the SSJ mission is focused on care and respect for Earth, as is the Academy’s mission.

“We create experiences for our children to be one with the Earth,” said Sister Mary Helen Beirne, head of school. “They learn to be one with the Earth rather than be masters of it. We work to be in unity and reconciliation with all of creation.”

This statement describes Clark’s work as well. She is looking at all of the college’s systems to evaluate their sustainability.

“We are evaluating all our systems to deepen and improve our commitment to sustainability,” she said. “Our work includes looking at water systems, introducing more local food options, reducing consumption of bottled water and identifying the best energy systems.”

She most recently collaborated with an undergraduate and graduate program to develop a sustainability certification program now offered at the college, and she is a guest lecturer in this program. Clark also serves as an Ambassador for Catholic Climate Change, one of only 25 people nationwide trained by the Catholic Church Climate Change Coalition.