As women and men of Providence know, we are all connected, all part of the circle of life. This article shows one Sister of Providence who practices integral ecology and challenges us to do the same.
“Ever since Sister Sue Orlowski was a little girl growing up in Massachusetts, she has been fascinated by the natural world. She recalls being one of those kids who pestered her mother with questions about the birds, insects, animals and plants she encountered in the backyard and at the city parks. Even as a young Girl Scout, she was more excited to receive her bird and nature badges than her sewing badge.
Birds, especially, captivated Sue into adulthood. When she moved to Portland, Ore., in 1974, she learned quickly that the flora and fauna of the West coast is much different from the East. This prompted her to join the Audubon Society of Portland and to purchase a set of CDs about local birds so she could learn how to identify them. Researching birds led to a curiosity about butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. It grew from a hobby to a passion.
Around this time, as Sue was studying bird calls, she heard another intriguing call – to religious life. It was an unexpected yet persistent urge that set Sue on a two-year path of discernment. In 1981 she joined the Sisters of Providence, drawn by the charism, mission and constitutions that define the sisters’ commitment to those who are poor and suffering – encompassing not only God’s people, but also the Earth.
Now a resident of Spokane, Wash., Sister Sue’s official ministries over the years have included nursing, teaching, managing a college medical assistant program, parish ministry, coordinating provincial chapter events, assisting women experiencing homelessness, volunteering at Sacred Heart Medical Center as a nanny in the neonatal intensive care unit with premature babies and drug-affected infants, and participating on various environmental committees. Woven throughout are numerous activities integrating Sister Sue’s more specific passion for creation: avid birder, butterfly enthusiast, supporter of local conservancy associations, published nature photographer, cultivator of a certified pollinator garden and wildlife habitat, and cheerful resource for information on all of these subjects.
It will come as no surprise that Sister Sue is an active member of the Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province, Earth Committee which relaunched in 2020 with a focus on integral ecology and a direct link to Sisters of Providence Constitutions and Rules No. 28: “As we foster the human, social and environmental connectedness of God’s creation, we become more authentic signs of God’s loving Providence.”
Earlier this year Sister Sue joined other Sisters of Providence in an online retreat with Professor Patrick McCormick from Gonzaga University to explore the biblical and theological roots of the call to care for creation, the link between social and ecological justice, and some of the ways the sisters might engage and sustain themselves while protecting the poor and our Earth.
What struck Sister Sue during the retreat was just how intricately we are all connected. “I’ll never look at the Genesis stories the same way again,” she says. “We all come from the earth.”
Just as Pope Francis challenges us to practice an integral ecology in “Laudato Si,” Sister Sue hears and addresses the cries of the poor and the Earth, doing her part by transforming her personal lifestyle and encouraging others to learn about and change their practices. “Being pro-life is not just about babies, end of life and prisoners,” she says. “It’s also about our Earth.”
What integral ecology practices have you adopted as part of the challenges of Laudato Si put forth to us by Pope Francis?
Barbara McMullen, CDP