New Jersey, La Vista, Kirkwood and De Soto: An Eco-Spirituality Quest

by Maurice Lange, Director of Eco-Justice,
Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

As a Catholic priest with the Missionary Oblates, I found myself in the mid 1990’s trying to find ways to blend my love for the Earth (ecology) with my devotion to God (theology). My quest to explore “eco-spirituality” got me invited on a two- year internship at Genesis Farm in northwestern New Jersey. After apprenticing for a year at Genesis Farm’s Ecological Learning Center, I became an intern on their 17 acre “Community Supported Garden.” Founded in 1988, this project was the 6th Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA) in the nation–currently there are more than 5,000!

What a year there in the “Garden”!! As a priest out in the public, I was a professional and was recognized as someone with status. In the garden as an apprentice, I hardly knew a pea from a bean and got chastised more than once by the head gardener. I was a quick learner though and reveled in those long summer days spent amongst the acres and acres of bio-dynamically-grown vegetables and orchards. Doing this kind of sustainable work called upon my ingenuity, creativity and flexibility, not to mention that my strength and endurance was tested in ways I had not previously known. In the midst of these physical and psychological challenges, I came to appreciate in a bodily way the deep and meaning-filled vocation of farmers. I haven’t looked at food the same way since!

In 2000, I moved to the Mississippi River bluffs in Godfrey, Illinois, and went on to found the Community Supported Garden at La Vista. This local CSA farm was one of the first of its kind in the St. Louis area. Now in its 11th season, La Vista has grown from the initial 65 shareholder families to more than 130.

Farmers Crystal and Eric Stevens are GREAT and have worked to have a St. Louis drop-off on Saturday mornings in Richmond Heights. La Vista is flourishing and I feel very happy and a bit proud!

Four years ago I moved on from my religious community and accepted a position with the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kirkwood as director for their corporate stance of Caring for Earth. We offer a free eco-film series and have gotten both Lambert Airport and QT Stations to recycle. I’ll be moving soon to the Sisters’ property near De Soto, Missouri, and this fall we’ll break ground for an organic demonstration-garden!