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News Archives » La Vista Ecological Learning Center

Nature’s Soul April 8th, 2024

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

A few weeks ago, OMI Novices and I took a field trip to Treehouse Wildlife Center where the “intrinsic value” of creatures is honored, “independent of their usefulness” as Laudato Si’ states in paragraph 140. One of the permanent residents is a turkey vulture named Einstein, later discovered to be female. She was found as a chick and raised by a family. Since Einstein was human imprinted, she coud not be released back into the wild because, seeing herself more human than vulture, she would have trouble surviving. She is a resident for life, living in a glass enclosure inside the TreeHouse Center.

This is a photo of a painting which hangs near her enclosure. It shows Einstein looking in a mirror and seeing herself human-like. The artist poignantly captured Einstein’s perspective, and the human face is haunting, so much so that I was disturbed by the image.

Upon reflection, I find the painting holds implications for us humans who also seem to have an issue with self-identity. We, too, often live in a self-constructed world and fai to see reality, having been disconnected from the natural world for so long. We feel fundamentally unrelated to sun and moon, wind, rain, birds and all the many living beings we often don’t even notice as we live our daily lives.

Richard Rohr describes our situation as having “lost our souls”, and so we cannot see soul anywhere else. He writes, “Without a visceral connection to the soul of nature, we will not know how to love or respect our own soul…While everything has a soul, in many people it seems to be dormant, disconnected, and ungrounded. They are not aware of the inherent truth, goodness, and beauty shining through everything.” Rohr believes “…we can’t access our full intelligence and wisdom without some real connection to nature.”

Maybe that is one reason our wonderful world is suffering so much at our hands and why we are suffering too. We are like the vulture whose life is limited, enclosed, and out-of-touch with the magnificence of the natural world that is now beyond her reach; however, we have a choice! We can re-claim our soul within the Great Soul that is the Mystical Body holding all.

It seems that fitting conclusion to this reflection would be to listen to Heather Houston’s “Re-Wild My Soul”.



All-surrounding Grace March 14th, 2024

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Ctr

Especially on a sunny day one can stand atop the bluffs at La Vista and feel linked to eagles, hawks, or vultures riding thermals rising from those bluffs. When birds find these warm currents of air, they are literally lifted up by them. It seems that there is enough lift from the rising air that birds can stop flapping their wings, holding them still, extended sideways, as in this photo taken from the lodge.

I often think how much fun they are having, being birds on the wing in this gorgeous place! What must it be like to be so supported that flying effortlessly is the way  to go? Visitors to La Vista never tire of the sight, nor do I. We are mesmerized. In her poignant, brief poem The Avowal, Denise Levertov artfully offers two images from nature which help me explore this allurement: swimmers lying back while “water bears them”; hawks resting while “air sustains them”.

In a final revealing metaphor, she shares her deeply human wish:

to attain freefall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace”.

Maybe that is the draw when we witness or experience this kind of support. We identify the images with our own effortless experiences of the Spirit’s gratuitous embrace. When have you rested in this awareness?

May March provide you with ample opportunities to be present to Spirit in such an alluring way!

                     (Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay)       (Image by Veronika Andrews from Pixabay)

World Wide Technology Employees Engage in Corporate Volunteering at La Vista November 27th, 2023

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND

La Vista Ecological Learning Center’s usual monthly workday in the Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve became unusual when seven young people from World Wide Technology joined our efforts.  This company grants employees one day a year to do service, and this group, wanting to do something ecological, chose La Vista.

For the hours we were together in our important pursuit of restoring health to the forest by removing invasive bush honeysuckle, we felt a wonderful sense of belonging.  We belonged to a group of volunteers, for sure, but in a broader sense we felt our belonging to the larger Earth community so in need of healing.

We extend our gratitude to World Wide Technology for supporting outreach in the broader community!


Volunteer Gratitude Luncheon at La Vista January 4th, 2023

Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

Throughout each year groups of volunteers come from far and near to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate in Godfrey, IL, to spend themselves caring for the land by removing invasive trees, vines, and bushes; conducting prescribed burns; removing trash after flooding; restoring the Pollinator Garden to health; and caring for the renovated Lodge.

After our usual December workday, volunteers were invited to gather the Novitiate for lunch so I could express gratitude for their generosity. As it turned out, much more happened during our time together.  Since there are four groups who work at various times, we found this an opportunity to meet one another on a deeper level.  As participants introduced themselves and their interests in the field of ecological restoration, we were all enriched and amazed at the varied talents and areas of expertise among the group. Young and old felt encouraged by belonging to this unique blend of generous volunteers. 

As I reflected on the experience, I realized that even more was happening: volunteers were giving flesh to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si by “caring for our common home”, as well as to the Oblates’ Land Ethic by valuing the land known as La Vista.



La Vista Ecological Learning Center’s Outreach Ministry October 5th, 2022

Photo courtesy of Philippe Oursel, Unsplash

By Maxine Pohlman, SSND

As part of the outreach ministry of La Vista Ecological Learning Center, I recently offered a four-day retreat to the retired School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) at the Sarah Community in Bridgeton, Missouri. The theme for the retreat was Laudato Si and SSND, during which I explored with the Sisters how our SSND charism aligns with and is challenged by Pope Francis’ encyclical. The hope for the retreat was that Sisters would learn more about the urgency of the ecological crisis along with ways to be more integral to the solution than the cause.

Each day I addressed one concept from the encyclical, showing how Pope Francis’s words revealed new ways to live and express SSND’s charism of unity.  Themes included universal communion, ecological spirituality, ecological conversion, and ecological education. Along with the morning presentation, each Sister received a handout with quotes from the SSND Constitution, Laudato Si, and a prayer experience that gave flesh to the theme of the day. The retreat had a unique hybrid form, offering morning presentations and the option of individual direction in the afternoon with SSND spiritual companions.

Not wanting to overly burden the Sisters with facts about our crisis, I embraced Pope Francis’ attitude and ended each morning with one of my favorite quotes:

Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope. (244)

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