Green spaces on campus are places of refuge for wildlife and student wellness

Caring for our earth by being cognizant of the dynamic between ourselves and nature is something to prioritize as a Catholic, Jesuit school. Noting what lifestyle changes and intentional, daily ways of being on this earth, in this city, affect our environment are good thoughts to consider.

As we walk around Marquette’s campus, we see beautiful green spaces and cared for gardens, which in turn offer respites of nature in an urban setting. Time with nature increases feelings of levity and joy and decreases feelings of anger and stress.

Public health workers have identified the benefit to having green spaces in urban areas for at least the last 20 years,” said Dr. Nakia Gordon, associate professor of psychology in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. “In that work, increased green space improves physical activity and positive perception of neighborhood quality. More recently researchers have looked for the effect of green spaces on our mental well-being.”

Gordon emphasized the effects of nature on physical health. “While the mechanisms are still unknown, we do know that various measures of physiological well-being including heart rate and hormones like cortisol are improved. Being outdoors, especially in the winter months, allows us to regulate our daily biological rhythms and increase vitamins necessary to support our immune system. Beyond the science, there is just something relaxing and refreshing about being amidst the beauty of nature.”

Recently, caring for and paying attention to our natural surroundings has been prioritized as a vital way to live out the Catholic faith by the Global Jesuits. On February 19, 2019, the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., released a document with four Universal Apostolic Preferences, areas of focus for the Catholic, Jesuit Mission.

A chipmunk enjoys a spring snack amongst the budding tulips in the St. Joan of Arc Garden. Photo by Darek Ciemniewski.

One of these four focuses is Caring for Our Common home, the earth. This Universal Apostolic Preference invites us to put faith into action and to “collaborate, with Gospel depth, for the protection and renewal of God’s Creation.”

The Gratitude Garden outside St. Joan of Arc Chapel offers natural space for the birds, bees, bunnies and other wildlife, alongside growing plants.

“We have consciously selected Wisconsin native plantings that are considered attractive to pollinators,” said Kurt Young-Binter, senior project manager for Facilities Planning and Management. “These include American Linden trees; Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle shrubs; and New England Aster, Coneflower, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, and Goldenrod as perennial flowers.

“We hope that these plantings will contribute to the overall experience of the chapel, the gardens, and the chapel lawn which extends to the east,” said Young-Binter.

A Sphynx Moth enjoying a sip of nectar from a Butterfly Bush. The white Butterfly Bush plants grew only by the St. Joan of Arc Chapel.

The Gratitude Garden was established as part of the recent restoration of St. Joan of Arc Chapel.

“The Gratitude Garden was created as a foreground to the existing chapel terraces,” said Young-Binter. “The grounds of the chapel are considered by most to be almost as precious as the chapel itself, so the basic configuration was not changed.”

Dr. Chelsea Cook, assistant professor of biological sciences in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, emphasized the importance of wildlife on campus, particularly the pollinators. “Pollinators are critical for the health of our ecosystems, especially for urban settings,” said Cook. “I have seen over 10 different species of bees, like bumble bees and sweat bees, in addition to butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, flies and hummingbirds feeding from the flowers on campus.”

Bee outside the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. Photo by Darek Ciemniewski.

Because pollinators are so important, making sure they have somewhere to live and work is significant as well. “By providing these gardens and reducing pesticide use, Marquette can ensure pollinators have enough food, nesting materials and nesting locations to thrive,” said Cook. “University campuses that prioritize beautiful gardens with native plants and low pesticide use can be islands of refuge in urban areas.”

Chelsea Malacara, sustainability and energy management coordinator, emphasized the need to connect with nature. “Too often we think of nature or the environment as something separate from ourselves, separate from the immediate world around us; that we must ‘go’ find it.”

“This is especially true when we live and work in an urban setting. Yet, sit anywhere on campus, close your eyes, quiet your mind and you will hear the songs of at least a dozen different bird species or the mating call of cicadas,” said Malacara.” Put down your phone, take a walk in any direction and you will begin to notice what exists among us — over 40 native tree species, perennial flowers, birds, rabbits, bees. We already exist in nature. Taking time to notice that is what connects us to our common home and compels our duty to protect and care for it collectively.”

The Global Jesuits note that when we embrace care of creation, we are “embracing Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, of a renewed and transformed world and ecosystem where we are all brothers and sisters, responsible to each other.”

The St. Joan of Arc Chapel is believed to have been originally constructed in the early 1500s in a small village in France, Chasse near the Rhone River Valley. Eventually, the chapel was transported to the United States and was present at the estate of Marc and Lillian Rojtman. The couple generously gifted the St. Joan of Arc Chapel to Marquette in 1964. They believed their gift would be appreciated for its historical and artistic value and functionality.

Building upon its rich tradition as the heart of campus, it is appropriate and emphasized that St. Joan of Arc is a place of faith by providing students, faculty and staff a place to invest in their wellness with a visit to not only a historical gem, but also surrounded by natural space, that provides care for plantings and habitats for wildlife.

Life in the St. Joan of Arc garden. Photo by Darek Ciemniewski.

Fr. General Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits notes that, “The Preferences give a horizon, a point of reference to the whole Society of Jesus. They capture our imaginations and awaken our desires. They unite us in our mission.”

Returning to the natural and simple pleasures that God offers us is a recognition of God’s constant extended grace. And the opportunity to respond is always present in caring for creation. The global Jesuits webpage offers more ways we can care for the earth.