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Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry

Abstract Part of the Motherhouse complex and one of the ministries of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry (CESRM) sits atop Good Counsel Hill in Mankato, where it serves as a beacon of hope and healing for the surrounding land and people. Preaching reverence for creation and ecological stewardship, the Sisters who staff the Center promote justice and sustainability through education, earth spirituality, sustainable agriculture, rural ministry, and political advocacy. One of the purposes of the Center is to model environmental stewardship on the SSND campus itself through ecological awareness, ecosystem restoration, and environmentally sensitive maintenance practices. In addition to an environmental education and resource center, the CESRM hosts a two-acre, sixty-four member organic community garden that is tended by SSND Sisters and staff, as well as immigrants and low-income people from the city. Through retreats, discussion groups, advocacy efforts and the social teachings of the Catholic Church, the Sisters at the CESRM aim to “keep the land and people together” by supporting struggling farmers and rural communities and by emphasizing the religious and spiritual dimensions of human-Earth relations.
Religion Christianity
(Roman Catholic)
Geographic Location United States of America
(Mankato, Minnesota)
Duration of Project 1996–Present

Since its inception in 1912 until the end of the 1970s, the SSND Mankato Province on Good Counsel Hill was, among other things, a working farm that supplied meat, dairy, eggs, grain, and produce for the sisters and students who lived there. Due to a variety of social and economic changes wrought by Vatican II and the industrialization of agriculture in the United States, the farm was virtually defunct by the end of the 1970s. Renting their tillable land to a local farmer who cultivated corn and soybeans using heavy machinery and chemicals, the Sisters no longer directly tended the land and instead purchased their food from afar. After the farm crisis in the 1980s, however, a renewed interest in small-scale, sustainable agriculture emerged.

The Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry (CESRM) was founded in 1996 as a response to both the pressing concerns of rural people and the emerging environmental awareness of the Sisters themselves. The first issue of Earth Almanac, the Center’s newsletter, appeared soon after the Center was established and continues to serve as an educational venue for agricultural and ecological issues. After hosting and participating in a Holistic Resource Management course in 1997, the Sisters adopted an action plan to help them become better stewards of their 150 acres.

In 1998 the Sisters were able to begin a number of ecosystem restoration projects with help from the Department of Natural Resources. Seeking to phase out environmentally destructive maintenance, purchasing, and waste disposal practices, the congregation has also initiated a number of projects geared toward more just and sustainable resource use.

The Community Garden Project began in 1997 as a response to a request from an AmeriCorps member who was working within a community based English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Growing food seemed a natural way to help landless immigrants sustain their families while also providing the opportunity for sharing and conversation. In 1998 the Center began working with Minnesota Extension Horticulturists to extend the gardens to a children’s group, and Blue Earth County became a partner the following year. In 2000 the Center hosted a summer youth group, which raised produce for Echo Food Shelf. In 2002 they sponsored their first Third Grade class gardens and are hosting a YMCA after school program for kids in 2003. During the summer of 2001 CESRM received a grant to support their Local Foods Project. This grant allowed them to hire an intern to explore ways in which the congregation could purchase more locally grown foods. Since then, the Center has made progress on this front and has joined an initiative to expand the local Farmer’s Market.

Mission Statement “To enable all of us to become more mindful of the intimate connection of all relationships: with God, with all human beings and with earth. To reverse those personal and communal choices which exploit the earth and impoverish peoples.”
Partner Organizations Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota
Center for Rural Affairs
Global Education Associates
Land Stewardship Project
Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture
The Minnesota Project
National Catholic Rural Life Conference
Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
Long-Term Goals None Listed
Bibliography None Listed
Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry
(Community Gardens)
170 Good Counsel Drive
Mankato, MN 56001–3138
Ph:       507.389.4272
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)