Bill Stigliani

The Care for Creation Committee (CCC) at Old St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia seeks to respond to the goals cited in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The first two are “respond to the cry of the Earth” and “respond to the cry of the poor.”  As a parish grounded in the Jesuit charism we are also called to respond to the Universal Apostolic Preferences. Two key elements are, “working together to care for the Earth, our common home,” and “walking with the poor, the outcasts of the world, and those whose dignity has been violated, in the mission of reconciliation and justice.”

These twin missions of caring for the Earth and tending to the needs of the poor coalesced when our committee forged a collaboration with our parish’s Faith Food & Friends (FF&F) program in autumn 2023. Established more than 30 years ago, FF&F is an all-volunteer outreach program in response to the Gospel’s call to feed the hungry and minister to the poor. A nutritious, multi-course meal is served restaurant-style, three days a week for approximately 60 guests in need. In addition, FF&F provides support services that include placement in housing and emergency shelters, advice on health issues, and dispensing of toiletries and clothing.

Our committee sought to add to this ministry by introducing our guests to Care for Creation as a means for enriching their spiritual lives. The plan we proposed was practical, tangible, and down-to-earth (literally). We invited the guests to participate in a neighborhood cleanup campaign in which we would walk along nearby streets and parks in the city picking up various types of litter. Thus far, we have gathered and appropriately disposed of more than 1,000 gallons of trash.

In the beginning we had no idea how this project would unfold, but there was a good spirit behind it. The result has been an upward spiraling of multiple environmental and social benefits. The guests love their role as good stewards in the community, helping to keep the neighborhood clean. Neighbors witnessing the cleanup have approached them and expressed sincere gratitude for their efforts. The park rangers are delighted with the guests’ work to beautify the parks. This outpouring of praise—recognizing them as valued contributors to community life—has imbued the guests with an immense source of pride that belies their marginalization by the larger society.

The collaboration is now evolving to include neighborhood leaders who have become actively engaged in working with the guests. The current focus is the restoration of a National Park area adjacent to the parish grounds. The guests, together with neighbors and members of our committee, have been uprooting invasive ivy, pulling weeds, saplings, and other overgrowth, and laying woodchips in selected areas. The goal is to transform this area into a beautiful green space on the corner of a busy urban intersection replete with a resplendent summer garden. This mini-park will be tended to by the guests with assistance from neighbors and CCC members.

Our committee will  celebrate this grand collaboration during the Earth Week season with three events. The first will be the planting of the garden on April 30. In preparation for this event, guests were invited to vote on which flowers they would like to see blooming this summer. Their final selection includes lobelia, butterfly bush, begonias, salvia, calendula, astilbe, lavender, coneflowers, and impatiens.

The second event is a lunch in the parish hall on May 4 in which members of the CCC and FF&F staff will honor the guests for all their accomplishments in the cleanup campaign and the restoration of the green space and garden.

The third event will be Butterfly & Ladybug Celebration Day on May 16 hosted by neighborhood leaders. The guests, committee members, neighbors, National Park Service rangers, and other invited citizens will convene in the mini-park. The guests will release live butterflies and lady bugs in the garden to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem resilience.

Our CCC has been working on our ecological ministry for several years. Whether your parish has a way of engaging in the Laudato Si’ movement or not, we hope our efforts can provide some inspiration to begin where you are. Any parish ministry can enfold the simple principles of caring for creation.

Local Catholic schools have also been preparing for Earth Day. Students at Saint Patrick School have been planting bulbs and seeds around campus. They have also been focusing STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math) classes on botany, composting, and pollinators this year.

At Mount Saint Joseph Academy, seniors in the Catholic Social Teaching class will join the Gardening club to plant native trees and shrubs near the streams on campus.  An after-school club called the “Wissaheros” has also been started. Students gather to clean up trails along the Wissahickon Creek in Fairmount Park.

To learn more and explore other Earth Day events happening around the Archdiocese, including an EcoPhilly Earth Day Zoom Reflection, click here.


Bill Stigliani is professor emeritus of environmental science and sustainability, director of the Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa, and author of five university textbooks on environmental chemistry.  He was a Senior Research Scholar in the Environment Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.  He is Chair of the Care for Creation Committee at Old St. Joseph’s Parish in Philadelphia. He can be reached at at