Amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping outside a Giant food store in North Baltimore Dec. 7, a small group of School Sisters of Notre Dame joined teachers and students from Notre Dame Preparatory School in gently nudging shoppers to protect the environment.
The green advocates encouraged those making their way into the store to swap out plastic shopping bags with reusable cloth ones hand-sewn by School Sisters of Notre Dame and their staff.
Alexia Smith, a 17-year-old senior at NDP, said most of those she approached listened to her pro-environment pitch and happily accepted the earth-friendly bags. Many also paused to look at a portable art gallery featuring environmentally-themed pieces created by members of an AP studio art class that incorporates service learning at the Towson school. The artwork highlighted the damage single-use plastics have on the earth.
“This was a very hands-on and interactive way to help the environment,” said Alexia, who noted that she also recycles plastic bottles, limits her time in the shower and turns off unused lights at home.
Alexia’s digital artwork detailed how air pollution contributes to the deaths of 4.2 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization.
Sophia Ocampo, a 17-year-old NDP senior who also participated in the “Green Habits Project,” said she was encouraged that many shoppers were already carrying reusable bags. Her artwork centered on albatross birds that suffer death and injury when they mistake plastics for food. Their chicks also suffer ill effects from pollution, Sophia said.
“A lot of times, I see posts on Instagram trying to promote help the environment,” she said, “but I’ve never tried to actively get involved. This (working on the Green Habits Project) was important to me.”
Sister Virginia Brien, a 94-year-old School Sister of Notre Dame, stitched more than 25 of the reusable bags. She began working on the project in August.
“It took not more than an hour for most of the bags,” she said. “For the more intricate designs, it takes a little longer.”
A vowed member of the School Sisters for 72 years, Sister Virginia also makes items for babies, mends clothing and takes care of household needs at Villa Assumpta, her religious community’s retirement home where she lives. She keeps a small image of St. Thérèse of Lisieux on her sewing machine and asks for the intercession of St. Marguerite Bays, who worked as a dress maker in Switzerland.
“I get ideas as I go along,” she said.
Care for the environment is one of the spiritual directives of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Organizers said they hope to engage the community in others ways in the months and years to come.
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org