St. Mary’s Ryken senior feels call ‘to protect God’s creation’ for future generations

 

BY RICHARD SZCZEPANOWSKI 

Published by the Catholic Standard on May 25, 2022.

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis said the faithful must “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.”

For St. Mary’s Ryken High School’s graduating senior Catherine Furtado, that realization began when she was a young student at St. Peter’s School in Waldorf where she said, “I not only learned about the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling, but also the greater importance of caring for God’s creation.”

“From a young age, I have always been in awe of the beauty of the world around us,” she said. “As I have gotten older, I have become more aware of the harm that we are inflicting on the environment, and how it is a reflection of human behavior.”

Furtado, the daughter of Maribel and Frank Furtado and a parishioner at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Waldorf, said the zeal for environmental stewardship that she discovered in her Catholic elementary school and embraced as a young child continued and expanded when she arrived at her high school.

St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland is a Xaverian Brothers-sponsored coeducational high school. It is the only Catholic high school in the three Southern Maryland counties that comprise part of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

“It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school when I got involved with Ryken’s Maryland Earth Preservation Organization (MEPO) that I was able to finally put my environmental stewardship into action,” she said. She added that “just becoming more aware of the various environmental issues throughout the world has fueled my passion for environmental conservation and sustainability.”

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Catherine Furtado, a member of the class of 2022 at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland

During her time at St. Mary's Ryken, Furtado was able to attend a Laudato Si’ workshop where she said she learned “more about the steps that the Catholic Church is taking to promote environmental conservation and sustainability.”

“Often, all that it takes to enact change is a passion. And, when you’re surrounded by other passionate and supportive people, I feel that anything can be done,” she said. At that workshop she was also able to share the environmental efforts in which she and her fellow MEPO members have been engaged because “one of the main things that I am most proud of with MEPO is the various ways that we have made an impact not only within our school community but also within the community surrounding us.” 

Furtado, who is president of St. Mary's Ryken’s MEPO group, has organized and implemented numerous programs, clean-ups and projects to raise awareness of environmental issues among her fellow students and to benefit the school campus and beyond.

“One of the regular activities that we did is pick up trash around our school parking lot, and you’d be surprised with how much we’d find,” she said. Assisted by Jonathan Smith, a math teacher at St. Mary's Ryken and the moderator of the school’s MEPO chapter, Furtado said her group “was able to address this issue with the administration and we were able to have garbage cans and recycling bins placed in our school parking lot.”

Currently, the group is hosting a book and media drive in which they are collecting used books and different forms of media and donating them to the Friends of St. Mary’s County Library.

Outside the confines of the campus, Furtado and her fellow MEPO members are striving to follow Pope Francis’s call in Laudato Si’ to show “greater concern for nature and the poor.”

To that end, the group repurposed old T-shirts and hand sewed more than 30 face masks that were donated to the homeless through the high school’s Caritas Resource Center, a community outreach sponsored by the school’s campus ministry.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes that God is “present in the whole universe and in the smallest of creatures.” Furtado introduced her school to the “Wands for Wildlife” a program established by Appalachian Wildlife Refuge that collects used and sanitized mascara wands.

Based in North Carolina, Appalachian Wildlife Refuge provides care for injured and orphaned wild animals until they are ready to return to the wild. The collected mascara wands are small and delicate yet sturdy enough to care and treat wild animals. The wands are used in a variety of ways to care and treat and clean small animals.

“I remember hearing about this through social media, and I figured that we should start our drive to help support them. So we went straight to work, making collection boxes, creating promotional flyers, and telling all of our friends and family,” she said. “We would place collection boxes in different classrooms, students would donate their mascara wands, we would clean them, and then send them to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge.”

The annual collection has netted more than 100 mascara wands that have been sent to the refuge.

The good work spearheaded by Furtado and her fellow MEPO members was recently honored with an honorable mention award by the St. Mary’s County Sustainability Commission. The commission recognizes schools, restaurants, businesses, farms and other entities for their environmental stewardship and efforts to promote conservation and sustainability.

Environmental protection is important to Furtado, she said, because “God created this Earth for us to live on, and I firmly believe that we have a clear responsibility to protect and care for it. …As a Catholic and a young person, I feel that I have an obligation to protect God’s creation for not only me but for future generations in any way that I can.”

Outside her leading and participating in organized efforts to protect the environment, Furtado said she tried to live in a way that cares for the Earth.

“I have made an effort to make informed purchases – recyclable packaging, sustainable materials, etc. – and to reduce the number of ‘impulse’ purchases that I make,” she said. “I, of course, try to reuse and recycle as much as possible by using a reusable water bottle and donating old clothes.”

In the fall, Furtado will attend the University of Maryland at College Park on a Banneker/Key full scholarship as a member of the University Honors Program where she will major in kinesiology (the study of human movement and how it impacts health and well-being). While there, she said, “I plan to join UMD’s Alternative Exchange, an environmental group that promotes sustainability … and I also plan to complete the University Honors ‘Global Crises, Sustainable Futures’ thematic cluster.” That cluster focuses on ways that groups and individuals can address global crises.

Furtado said she is grateful for the “Xaverian charisms of simplicity and zeal that have been instilled in me throughout these four years” at St. Mary’s Ryken.

“The charism of simplicity has helped with my approach to planning different club activities and drives. I used to think that to enact change, it needs to be a large-scale, elaborate plan. But in reality, all of the projects that we started have been rather simple,” she said. “Furthermore, the zeal that I’m surrounded by in Ryken’s community has given me the enthusiasm to address environmental issues and become a more active environmental steward.”

She added that her Catholic faith “has provided a lot of comfort throughout my life” because “knowing that God has a perfect plan for me helps me get through times of difficulty.”

“I found that one of my favorite ways to serve God is through service. Whether that is through environmental stewardship with MEPO, sorting through baby clothes at the Catherine Foundation (a pregnancy resource center based in Waldorf), or being a member of my parish’s youth leadership team, I firmly believe that one of the best ways to serve God is through serving others,” she said.

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