FALL RIVER ­­ —  The bad news is that many folks in prior generations and some still around today couldn’t give a hoot about abusing the ultra-sensitive environment, and the consequences of those actions; frankly because there was money to be made.

This doesn’t bode well for the following generations who have to live with those repercussions.

The good news is that the younger generation is working with older comrades who do care about this big blue marble. And changes are being made. Baby steps at first, that will ultimately blossom into a cleaner, healthy, happier planet for every age, race, and social background.

And some of those baby steps are being taken at the mother church of the Fall River Diocese.

The parishioners and friends of St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the sister parishes that make up the Catholic Community of Central Fall River, recently  built and initiated planting vegetables in a series of 20 garden boxes on the cathedral grounds. Work commenced during the final week of the Year of Laudato Si’, announced by the Vatican in May 2020, the fifth year of the encyclical. In 2015, Pope Francis introduced his well-known encyclical, Laudato Si’ (On Care For Our Common home). In it, the pontiff expressed hope that all around the world would work together to care for and sustain the planet and aid brothers and sisters in need.

“The Laudato Si’ Community Garden was created in response to a number of things,” Father Thomas Washburn, cathedral rector and pastor of Good Shepherd and St. Stanislaus parishes in Fall River, told The Anchor. “First, Pope Francis’ important encyclical of the same name got us thinking about ways that we could embrace these environmental themes more concretely. Here in the heart of the inner city, a community garden seemed like the right thing. We actually began planning the garden in 2019 for a 2020 start. That obviously got pushed off by the pandemic.”

It’s not just the three Catholic Collaborative parishes that are leaving a mark with their collective green thumbs, but Father Washburn chose to embrace every parish that once was part of the now collaborative, parishes that are not now in existence.

“The boxes are all named with all of the saints that are connected to our collaborative: St. Mary, St. Stanislaus, Good Shepherd, St. Patrick, Our Lady of the Angels, Blessed Sacrament, Holy Rosary, Holy Cross, St. Louis, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Matthew, Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Aparecida, Our Lady of Czestochowa, as well as a few others — St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Isidore, St. Frei Galvao,” said Father Washburn. 

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., helps plant in the Laudato Si’ Garden on the grounds of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River, following his blessing it. Story on page two. (Photo by Deacon Alan Thadeu)

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., himself a gardener, planted his own box — Our Lady of Aparecida, the patroness of the bishop’s home, Brazil.

Equally important are the smaller green thumbs of the students at St. Stanislaus School in Fall River.

“The school is already involved in our Brown Bag Sunday — the first Sunday of every month we have brown grocery bags out in all of our churches,” added Father Washburn. “The bags have listed on the side of them the items we need at the Outreach Center. Parishioners take a bag and return it the following week with the items listed. The school kids decorate our bags and prepare the lists.”

“As an educator, I think this is an awesome idea,” Beth Mahoney, principal of St. Stanislaus School, told The Anchor. “It’s a wholesome way to educate the children to take care of the Earth and the needs of people within the collaborative and the Church. 

“This affords us the ability to show the students why they learn about science, math, and even writing, since they’ll be writing about their garden experiences. And it’s all done within the call to action in the faith. Our school motto is ‘Faith in Action.’”

“The garden seemed like a great opportunity to involve the students further,” Father Washburn told The Anchor. “The kids are planting seedlings at the school that they grow on their class window sill until they are ready to plant. This gives us a chance to teach them about planting, the environment, healthy eating, and food insecurity and our common responsibility to reach out to our sisters and brothers in need.”

Currently, planted in the 20 garden boxes are lettuce, kale, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, thyme, oregano, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, squash, and more.

There are 14 large boxes measuring four feet by 10 feet, and six smaller ones, four feet by four feet. The corn, potatoes and other items are planted along the edges of the garden. 

“The students are learning to take care of our area,” added Mahoney. “They are also learning about planting, tending, picking the food, and also about what makes up a healthy diet.

“Come next school year, the students will begin planting seedlings for autumn and winter vegetables and then replanting them at the Laudato Si’ Garden. All of the harvest will go to the Pope Francis Outreach Center located at Good Shepherd Church on Stafford Road in Fall River.

“The students are very excited about this project and excited to learn new things about planting and harvesting, and more importantly, about helping others.”

“Over the course of the last year, we have greatly increased our outreach efforts in response to the needs of the pandemic,” said Father Washburn. “We began our Grab & Go meals in March 2020 which have now served over 60,000 hot meals (we serve every Wednesday and Friday). We’ve also increased our food pantry outreach. 

“One of the issues for people facing food insecurity is that the food typically available at a food pantry is canned, processed food. They have very little access to fresh produce. We’ve been blessed to be offering 200 boxes of fresh produce a week for almost a year through our partnership with the United Way and the YMCA and other organizations, but as we begin to move out of the pandemic, those programs are coming to a close. We wanted to be able to continue to offer this fresh produce to those we serve at our Pope Francis Outreach Center.”

On May 25, Bishop da Cunha celebrated at Mass at the cathedral and then went and blessed the gardens. Fifth- and sixth-graders from St. Stanislaus school were there for the event. 

“They were excited to be at the Mass and blessing and excited to get started,” added Mahoney.

The garden has received a grant from the United Way of Greater Fall River to assist.

Baby steps.