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  • Adirondack Chronicles 2015.2

    July 2, 2015

    mom with dragonfly

    In his Encyclical on the Environment Laudato Si, Pope Francis deplores what he calls the “throwaway culture” and cites the obvious benefits of nature’s recycling processes:  “It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.” (Laudato Si #22)

    Who knew that the humble facts of the organic digestive cycle would get recognition in a papal encyclical? He contrasts the natural cycle with the obtuseness of industrial production… “…our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.” (Ibid.)

    I thought of this passage in the encyclical as I watched a common grackle (above) feed her chicks in a nest along the Saranac River just outside of the historic Adirondack town of Saranac Lake.


    I counted four baby birds crowded into this nest.  They raised their heads expectantly when they sensed Mom Bird getting close with that delicious meal of dragonflies.  Here’s natural recycling at its finest!  Abundant dragonflies around the lakes provide food for birds that then drop nutrient-rich waste that helps to sustain the forest.

    chicks 3

    The chicks are hungry and demanding!

    chick hungry

    What mother hasn’t heard that “More! More!” scream from the kids?


    She returns with yet another delicious looking treat.


    The kids are satisfied for about three minutes.  Then the cycle begins again.  So it goes with wild families!

    This grouse just dares anyone to get near her chicks:


    While the mother duck just keeps her babies moving along…

    ducks 1

    Biodiversity is evident everywhere in the Adirondacks where the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve is an example of the kind of “…sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their original structures…because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem.” (Laudato Si #37)  Pope Francis specifically cites the vast Amazon and Congo basins as the most important and most environmentally endangered places in the world.  While the Adirondack Forest Preserve is comparatively tiny, the principle of preserving natural habitat from any human intervention is evident here, but not without controversy.  The tension between human economic development and environmental protection is constant.

    The grackle and the dragonfly illustrate the importance of an appreciation for biodiversity.  While I find dragonflies somewhat annoying when they fly at me on the lake, they are a vital food source for birds.  They also are beautiful in their own weird way with those lacy wings and big bulbous heads.  Pope Francis may have been thinking of dragonflies when he wrote that all creatures deserve appreciation for their part in God’s creation and we humans “have no such right” to destroy species. (#33)

    frog mossy

    “…the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms.  Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place.  Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state.  But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent.  As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions:  human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks this entails.  Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation.  For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture:  their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful. …A sober look at our worlds shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly…” (Laudato Si #34)

    Protecting the environment, writes Pope Francis, is an imperative of social justice.

    “We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, play the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.” (Laudato Si #36)

    hawk 1

    Next:  Learning to See Nature

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    Adirondack Chronicles 2015: Reflections on Laudato Si

    June 29, 2015

    “I urgently appeal…for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.  We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all…We require a new and universal solidarity…All of us can cooperate as instruments of god for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” Pope Francis, #14 in the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home

    3 LOONS 1

    Each year when I spend a few weeks in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, I am struck by three things:  the vibrant “secret” lives of all the wild things that go about their business even when we humans aren’t watching them, the sense of peace that comes when immersed in a place of wild beauty and quiet solitude, and the constant tension between the wilderness regions and the ever-present human thirst for development and the most modern comforts — wifi, air conditioning, indoor plumbing and a permanent end to flies and mosquitoes.  In search of those comforts, too often we destroy the very nature that all human life depends upon for clean air, pure water, and a life-giving healthy environment to sustain all posterity.

    3 loons 4

    Pope Francis has challenged the modern world to take on the severe problems of climate change and environmental degradation that are largely caused by human activities — the ever-more-urgent quest for development and the conveniences of modern life.  His new Encyclical Laudato Si poses questions for discussion and action that we must address.  I am reading the encyclical while here in the Adirondacks for my customary summer “escape” from routine, and in the next several weeks I will reflect on passages in the encyclical through my blogs on the Adirondack Chronicles.

    loon starting preening

    Sunday was gray and rainy when I stopped along the shore of Little Tupper Lake, a great example of how smart state policy preserves wilderness in the face of the urge to develop.  I saw three loons playing on the water, joyful in the rain, and with a long lens and the shield of brush along the road, I was able to get close enough for a few quick snaps before they held a caucus and decided to swim away.

    3 LOONS 3

    Yes, loons are very smart ducks and they do have ways of communicating.  They dislike humans, a trait they share with most wildlife.

    Little Tupper Lake and thousands of acres of wild forest around it used to be owned by a wealthy private family, the Whitney family, prominent in many industries including finance, horse racing, railroads and logging.  In the late 19th Century, industrialization nearly destroyed the Adirondack wilderness with wildfires caused by sparks from railroads, extensive logging and mining operations.  The “Forever Wild” act of the New York Legislature mandated that the state lands would remain, literally, forever wild, with no roads, no motors, no clearing after storms, just as nature intended.  New York State constantly adds land to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, and the state bought the Whitney tract in the late 1990’s, adding a vast wilderness area to the “Forever Wild” forest and lakes now abundant with loons and other wildlife.  I think Pope Francis would approve!

    So would these forest creatures….




    DUCKS 2

    GOLDFINCH 3Next: climate change and wilderness concerns

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    Remembering Dean Coleman

    June 26, 2015


    In the lives of college students, certain administrators and faculty members are legendary — some because of their charismatic leadership, some because of their kindness and wit, some because of their loyalty and commitment to the whole idea of true education.  Winifred E. Coleman was an administrator who embodied all of these qualities.  Throughout the decade of the 1970’s at Trinity, Winnie, as she was known to her many friends, was the Dean of Students.  Those of us who knew her first, and best, as Dean Coleman were saddened to learn of her death last week after a long illness.  We remember her with admiration and appreciation for the ways in which she influenced our lives.

    I was a Trinity sophomore when Dean Coleman arrived at Trinity.  My class, the Greens of ’74, already had a reputation for doing our best to be disruptive.  In those days, student protests and demonstrations were de rigeur — against the Vietnam War, against injustice, against anything that smacked of being older than we were, which was just about anything and anyone over the age of 30.  Winnie Coleman was not much older than that when she arrived at Trinity as our new dean, having come from Cazenovia College near her home town of Syracuse, NY.  We immediately put her to the test: we wanted the “right” to have young men visit in our rooms — called “parietals” in those very quaint days — and so we staged protests and petitions and carried on as if we were truly in the depths of oppression.   Dean Coleman exercised patience and showed firm leadership in meeting with students, hearing us out, and working with student leadership to come up with a plan to try out visitation on a limited basis.  She was no pushover, but she also believed in student self-governance.  The Honor System was a very important part of he pedagogy as dean.

    winnie 2

    Dean Coleman believed deeply in the power of a strong student government to teach students the necessary skills of leadership.  In my senior year, I became the student government president and I had the privilege of working closely with her, and also then-President Sr. Margaret Claydon.  My own development as an administrator and school leader clearly benefitted from my experience working with Dean Coleman and Sr. Margaret.

    Dean Coleman was also a notable orator — she knew how to give a great speech and worked hard to make sure that all of the formal dinners at Trinity (we had quite a few back then!) were fun and memorable.  She knew more good jokes than any of us could ever recount, and she always had us laughing, which was a good sign.  We paid attention!

    Later on, when I was in law school, Winnie hired me to be the residence director of Kerby Hall where nearly 200 students lived back then, mostly first and second year students (yes, packed into those tiny rooms!).  For three years I learned the ropes of student life administration, and we had many a grand adventure managing residence life together.  Winnie cared deeply about every single student.  I remember a time when a student was missing, but we had evidence indicating she was just hanging out in the wrong place.   In the middle of the night Winnie drove me and another administrator to a place in another town where we believed the student could be found —she was there, and we spent the rest of the night making sure she was ok and arranging for her to return to the residence hall with no recriminations, just a great deal of care and concern for her welfare.  Winnie was that kind of dean.

    After a decade caring for Trinity students, Winnie moved on to be the president of the National Council of Catholic Women, and then later, the crowning achievement of her career, she became president of Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut, known today as the University of Saint Joseph.  There is a wonderful tribute to Winnie on their website.  She was as beloved at Saint Joseph as she was at Trinity.

    Of course, no memory of Winnie Coleman can be complete without The Dubliner — yes, one of Trinity’s favorite spots at the corner of North Capitol and Massachusetts Avenues.   Winnie’s brother Danny created the Dubliner in the early 1970’s, and generations of Trinity Women can thank the Coleman family for countless fond memories and opportunities to learn all the words to all of the Irish folk songs!

    Winnie’s large immediate family of siblings and grand nieces and nephews will surely miss her very much, as will her extended family of many friends.  Her legacy lives on in the ways in which she influenced so many lives at Trinity, Cazenovia, the University of Saint Joseph and elsewhere.  As I write about her today I remember her with gratitude and deep appreciation for having learned so much from this wonderful role model.  Farewell, Winnie!

    Do you remember Dean Coleman?  Share your memories in the comments section below…

    We will have a memorial Mass for Dean Coleman on October 3.  Watch the Alumnae News for more information.


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    Mourning Becomes America

    June 18, 2015


    (photo from the website of Emanuel AME Church)

    America is fast becoming a place of endless mourning, a sorrowful procession to graveyards that seems impossible to stop save for the predictable staccato of gunfire at regular intervals along the way of our unceasing habits of grief.

    So much has been written already today about the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and yet, words fail.  Rage rises and falls back.  We have been standing, paralyzed, at this intersection of the American sins of racial hatred and gun violence for what feels like our entire national life.  We recite the dreadful litany:  Ferguson and Baltimore, Selma and Birmingham, Newtown and Aurora and Columbine, Trayvon and Michael and Tamir, the list feels endless.  We know it will happen again.  We keep acting surprised; we suffer willful amnesia.  We tolerate all the wrong things — politicians bought out by the gun lobby, misinterpretations of the Second Amendment that allow extremists to build private armories, shameful displays of racial and ethnic hatred in too many places — and get obsessive about silly things.  Rachel Dolezal does not deserve one more minute of media attention; we stuffed ourselves senseless on that creampuff while a young man in Charleston was arming himself for yet another horrifying act of murderous terrorism.  How many more Dylann Roofs are out there?  Plenty.  What are we as a nation doing about the hatred that runs riot across the landscape for all to see?  Not much.  Only mourning.  We’re getting so good at that.  We know the rituals by heart — the candles and flowers at the scene, the devastated relatives and intrusive media cameras and news anchors solemnly intoning words about the “healing process.”

    When will we have the guts to stop this madness?

    The nine martyrs in Charleston were an extraordinarily accomplished and devoted group of people, well-educated leaders of the community and families, people of faith who knew well their power to change lives.  The Reverend Clementa Pinckney was a true pillar of strength for his congregation and constituents.  He gave a remarkable extemporaneous speech at Emmanuel Church in 2013 that related the civil rights history of the church, succinctly stated its mission today and  prophetically anticipated the ultimate sacrifice the nine victims made yesterday for their devotion to justice and peace.

    In that speech (click here to see it on Post TV) Reverend Pinckney said:

    “…You can say that the African American Church, and particularly in South Carolina, really has seen as its responsibility and its ministry and its calling to be fully integrated with the lives of all of its constituents and its community.

    “We don’t see ourselves as just a place to come and worship, but as a beacon, the bearer of the culture, bearer of what makes us a people.

    “It’s not unique to us, it’s really what America is all about:  Freedom.  Equality.  And the Pursuit of Happiness.

    “That’s what Church is all about — Freedom to worship.  Freedom from sin.  Freedom to be fully what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God.

    “And sometimes you gotta make noise to do that…

    “And sometimes you gotta die to do that…

    “Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that…”

    Rest in peace, Reverend Pinckney.  You and your fellow believers and bearers of the culture and advocates for justice are in our hearts; your deaths must haunt our souls until we find the courage and strength to confront the great evil that paralyzes us, suppresses rational responses in law and policy, and leaves the nation in a perpetual state of sorrow and mourning.

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    Sr. Seton Cunneen ’65 Fellows Transform the World!

    May 28, 2015

    seton 1(Sr. Seton Cunneen, SND, Class of ’65, for whom the Cunneen Fellowships are named)

    Sr. Seton Cunneen, SND, ’65 has a huge fan club all over the world.  Trinity Alumna (now celebrating her Golden Jubilee at the 2015 Reunion!), former Campus Minister at Trinity, Director of Christian Service Activities at Gonzaga College High School for two decades, Sr. Seton has inspired thousands of young women and men to pursue lives of service in the far corners of the city, nation and world.  During her years as Campus Minister at Trinity, Sr. Seton established the first Alternative Spring Break with the annual journey to the Farmworker Ministry in Apopka Florida where Trinity students had the opportunity to learn about farmworker issues, work in the fields and discuss policy issues on immigration and the treatment of migrant workers.

    seton apopka

    (Sr. Seton with one of the first groups to go to Apopka, 1987)

    At Trinity today, Sr. Seton is well known by the name of a prestigious fellowship program that bears her name:  for two decades, the Sister Seton Cunneen Fellowship Program has made it possible for well-qualified students to spend summers working in service ministries that exemplify the commitment of Sr. Seton and the Sisters of Notre Dame to social justice.

    seton Students-298x200(Sr. Seton in 2007 with Cunneen Fellows and then-Campus Minister Barbara McCrabb.  Read the essay of Chrissy Palmer ’08, center, on “What It Means to be a Sr. Seton Cunneen Fellow”)

    Established in 1997 by the Maurice Robinson Fund with long ties to Trinity and to Sr. Seton — Maurice Robinson, the founder of the Scholastic Press, was the husband of Trinity Alumna Florence Robinson, Class of 1930, and their daughter Florence Robinson Ford is also Sr. Seton’s classmate in the Class of 1965 — the fellowship provides stipends to support the summer work of students who are chosen in a competitive process.  Many talented students have had life-changing experiences through the Cunneen Fellows program.

    The 2015 Cunneen Fellows will carry on the grand tradition of service and commitment to social justice:

    • Angalise Henry Brinkley , a nursing major, will be working for Grubbs NW Specialty Pharmacy, the oldest pharmacy in Washington, D.C. She will work specifically in two methadone clinics, where she will screen the clients’ levels of access to Hepatitis C medication through their insurance. She will provide awareness and outreach to these patients at little or no cost, procure needed referrals to agencies and assistance from D.C. Medicaid, and counsel the clients. She will learn about infectious diseases and the medications to treat them. She will represent her patients at D.C. Medicaid meetings. This internship blends her social work background, her work in medicine, and her strong drive to save lives and bring hope and meaning to those she serves.
    • Lauren Carrie Cush is a rising sophomore and a Shannon scholar business major with an emphasis on global business and international affairs (with a minor in economics) has a strong record of leadership in volunteerism beginning in high school. Her fellowship work with Hearts to Nourish Hope, will be located in her hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. This non-profit organization offers innovative programming, community collaboration, and essential services to children, young people, and families in the Metro-Atlanta area. In doing so, it empowers and inspires its participants to develop their talents and skills in building careers– learning about entrepreneurship and imbibing the culture of caring and hope, as the name of the non-profit implies. The center has inspired Ms. Cush, who states that it actively embodies the vision she has for her own ideal non-profit, in her words, “to create a space where teens and members of the community feel empowered and safe as well as inspired to enhance their own potential.”
    • Paige Telesford is a rising junior whose leadership abilities and oratory talent are well known to Trinity Washington University. Her fellowship will be with LIFT-DC, whose mission is to help community members achieve economic stability and well-being in areas of job security, safe and stable housing, government resources, and childcare and healthcare, among other needs. During her summer internship, Ms. Telesford will support day-to-day operations and community development, as well as writing analytical reports on the program and her growth within it. She will also work one-on-one with clients. She will be trained extensively in accessing resources in the District of Columbia, knowledge that will give her tools in her future career of social service.

    Congratulations to the Cunneen Fellows for 2015!


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    Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
    Phone: 202.884.9050   Email:



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