Efforts in diocese echo spirit of Pope Francis’ creation encyclical

Photo Caption: Holly Boyles and Kamryn Burling look over the milkweed they planted in the butterfly garden as part of the Monarch Rescue Project at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Nauvoo.

By: By Jennifer Willems

NAUVOO — Native prairie grasses, flowers and milkweed aren’t the only things growing in the garden outside Connie Lake’s classroom at Sts. Peter and Paul School here. Math, science and language skills are definitely on the rise, as is respect for God’s creation.

The lessons in life and faith are being learned as the result of the school’s involvement in the Monarch Rescue Project, sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association. Sts. Peter and Paul School received a $2,200 grant to research, plant and study the garden in the hopes of assisting the Monarch butterflies during their migration from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in April and May and back again in October.

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“We’re hoping they find the garden. If they don’t find the garden, this fall we’ll probably take the milkweed (the caterpillars are) on and place it in the garden so they do their chrysalises there,” said Deb Moffitt, a retired science teacher who is serving as a resource to Lake, the lead teacher for the project.

“They’ll come back to where they were, which is amazing because it’s four generations in between,” Moffitt told The Catholic Post. “God’s so good. He’s so amazing.”

The life cycle of a Monarch butterfly is measured in weeks. That means it is the “grandchildren” of those who came north in the spring that will go to Mexico to hibernate over the winter.

Moffitt said milkweed is vital to the Monarchs because that’s where they lay their eggs and the larvae will feed on it. Flowers that produce nectar were planted in the garden to feed the adult Monarchs on their journey.

“When you look at it you think, ‘Oh, they dug a hole and put plants in it.’ Gosh, no,” said Lake, who teaches fifth and sixth grades at Sts. Peter and Paul. “There was so much more work involved in it. There was so much preparation and planning.”

The students started by researching plants that would be native to the Nauvoo area and writing reports. She said they learned not only the common names of the plants but their scientific names and now long it would take each one to germinate.

After learning about the Monarch butterflies and their life cycle, the students divided up into groups to write and illustrate books that they read to the younger students.

Lake also bought a sundial for the garden so the students could study the position of the planets. Each of her students made a personalized stepping stone out of quick drying cement and the new fifth-graders will add their own each fall.

Her wish list includes benches, a rosary walk and Stations of the Cross.
After planting and tending the plants in the classroom, the students were able to make the garden a reality on May 12 with the help of parents, grandparents and parishioners.

While “Laudato Si,” the document on care for creation written by Pope Francis, hadn’t been published yet, Moffitt said she could already see a relationship between the two.

Noting that the pope talked about how Jesus worked with his hands and had “daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship,” Moffitt said that on planting day “the students worked hard and rejoiced in the work they did.” One said, “I can’t believe how hard I’ve worked and I’ve had fun all day,” while another told her, “This is the bestest day ever!”

Just as “God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good,” the fifth/sixth grade class “is proud of the garden and has taken ownership of it,” Moffitt explained. “They come and check on the growth of the plants and make sure that it’s being taken care of. It is clear, by their actions and comments, that they have moved to a feeling of stewardship toward the garden.”

“I think it’s so important to educate the kids that everything God gives us is precious and we have to take care of it,” Lake told The Post. “By taking care of your own garden it goes back to we don’t pull leaves off trees. We don’t carve into trees. We don’t litter. . . . They’re really learning the lesson by living it, taking good care of God’s creation.”



CORDOVA — Another Monarch butterfly enthusiast in the Diocese of Peoria is Tracy Downey, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Rapids City.

Cordova, like Nauvoo, is a Mississippi River community. Downey said she began raising Monarch butterflies last summer after a neighbor showed her how.

When she finds a caterpillar on a milkweed plant, she places it in a small jar with holes punched in the lid and a sprig of the milkweed within. Just before they form a chrysalis, they devour the leaves.

“The most amazing thing is they form the chrysalis and (two weeks later) in the blink of an eye they open up into a full-size Monarch,” said Downey. When their wings dry in about four hours, she turns them loose.

Downey believes she is protecting the caterpillars from predators such as birds. And in the miracle of the transformation, she sees a metaphor for faith.

“No matter what condition or position you are in, you never know where God’s going to lead you and how your life can change,” she said.

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