Whether weeding gardens, feeding chickens or speaking to students, Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz finds God in all of creation.
“There is a rhythm, a language that emanates from Earth. This rhythm calls to us, educates us and invites us to come to understand and know this great Universe and ourselves,” says Sister Lyn, Director of Ecology and Environment for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden.
While tending to 88 scenic acres in Western Pennsylvania, she helps students, volunteers and community groups foster an understanding and awareness of God and nature while simultaneously addressing hunger and food insecurity.
Through the Earth Tones ministry, which focuses on reverence for the Earth, Sister Lyn leads the Congregation’s conservation and sustainability efforts and also provides environmental education and outreach to students and community groups.
During a recent classroom visit, Sister Lyn showed kindergarteners the complex inner-workings of a beehive and talked about the life cycle of a honeybee. As the children sampled fresh honey and admired her beekeeping attire, Sister Lyn offered simple conservation tips to help students make their own backyard into a bee-friendly environment.
Since 2005, Sister Lyn has maintained an apiary which can include as many as 14 hives. During a good year, each hive can produce about 100 pounds of honey. The honey is used in the Sisters’ dining room and sold in the Motherhouse gift shop. The remaining beeswax is used to make all-natural moisturizing cream, soap and lip balm, which are also sold in the gift shop.
She also tends a Congregational garden, which provides fresh produce for the Motherhouse, and two 2,500-square foot community gardens, known as Miriam’s and Elizabeth’s Gardens. The community garden beds are tended by a combination of individuals, families and groups who donate a portion of their harvest. In 2015, 651 pounds of fresh produce and 40 dozen eggs, provided by hens that are also part of the Motherhouse ecosystem, were donated to local food banks and soup kitchens.
Through the Green Teens program, Sister Lyn teaches sustainable gardening practices to local high school students. A component of the community gardens, Green Teens encourages youth to develop relationships with the Earth and with one another while working to address the social issue of hunger.
The Earth Tones ministry, on the Motherhouse grounds and beyond, has expanded the ways in which Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden find unity with God, with creation and with their dear neighbors.