Mt. Olivet Cemetery Rain Garden Dedication

Pope Francis begins his encyclical on caring for our common home with a line from Saint Francis’ Canticle of Creation:  “Praise be to You, my Lord.”  This famous hymn of praise of God beautifully portrays creation in familial terms, giving thanks for “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” for our “Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs,” and for all the other elements and aspects of creation that bless our lives (Laudato Si’, 1, 11).

One line of the canticle sticks out in light of a recent Archdiocese of Washington collaboration with The Nature Conservancy: “Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure.”  Today, this partnership comes together to celebrate the dedication of the new Mt. Olivet Cemetery Rain Garden.

The dedication commemorates the completion of a first-of-its-kind green infrastructure project, started in November 2017, in which some of the cemetery’s 435,000 square feet of impervious surface was removed and replaced with rain gardens and bio-retention processes, while also carefully maintaining the sacred burial sites.  Furthering the natural and native beauty of the grounds, the rain gardens are filled with layers of soil and compost, mulch, and plants that will filter and clean some of the millions of gallons of storm water that falls on the cemetery grounds.

Most of this stormwater is absorbed into the earth, but some of it can flow into the Anacostia River watershed, making it important to clean any potential runoff. While the project is expected to alleviate a stormwater fee imposed by local government regulations, as Catholics we realize that our environmentalism is a response to a higher call, one given in the beginning when God directed us “to cultivate and keep” the land with which we have been blessed (Genesis 2:15).  We can all do our small part to obey this beautiful command.

Today’s dedication is not only a celebration of better caring for our common home, but a recognition of a collaborative partnership with others.  Pope Francis reminds us of the need for such cooperative efforts to care for our environment: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (Laudato Si’, 14).

We pray that through the success of this project and future collaborations, we may help keep our “Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure” and thus give glory to the Creator.  Also, as Pope Francis said, “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (Id., 13). We hope then that this project can become a model for others to care for the environment and to take steps to ensure that its health and beauty last for future generations.