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Relationships of repair revisited

Posted on May 1, 2024, by Libby Comeaux CoL

The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.

Teihard de Chardin
Tiffany Bellfield, left, and Mariel Gardner present on land justice.
Photo by Paulette Peterson

In June 2023, those in the Loretto Community who had been working on issues related to the Nuns & Nones Land Justice Project gathered at the Motherhouse for retreat.

We had recently learned from the Good Trouble Working Group and the Loretto Roots Project about the history of land dispossession through racial violence. Before that, in our 2012-2014 conversations with the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, both LCWR and the Loretto Community passed resolutions repudiating the racial and ecological harm caused by the Doctrine of Discovery.

Our conversations with young women in their 30s — facilitators for the Land Justice Project — were gentle as well as challenging. They are like so many of our students who learned Gospel values from us.

We evoked the memory of Native Peoples who used to inhabit the lands we now call ours. And we considered those we formerly enslaved — what cultural, economic and government patterns obstructed their descendants’ ability to hold land? We began to see discrepancies in wealth and earnings in the context of dispossession from land.

Five individuals photographed in a sunny room with wooden floors, stacked wooden tables and blue fabric and metal chairs. One man in the back left corner is caught off guard, the woman to his right in the back is looking at the camera and smiling brightly, then three women in the front, two sitting, and the one to the right is standing. The two women and man sitting are wearing nametags.
From left, Cathy Mueller, Maureen O’Connell and Martha Alderson enjoy visiting at the retreat. In the background, Eric Anglada and Libby Comeaux pause in conversation.

These young people find sustenance in the covenantal community they formed when they turned to religious women for coaching. Their shared contemplative practices sustain them. Creating spaces of encounter, they prepare us to ask who else has a history on the land, and how might we center their stories and needs as we face long-term decisions?

We learned of ways that other congregations of women religious are responding. From sharing access to their land for traditional Indigenous practices, to considering donations and many steps in between, the cause of justice and peace has deep roots in land. We returned many times to Nikki Sanchez’s observation, “This history is not your fault, but it is absolutely your responsibility.”

As we met, it was 200 years after the 1823 Johnson v. McIntosh decision that used the 15th century papal bulls to justify mistreatment of Earth and dispossession of peoples from land.

We celebrated Pope Francis’ receptivity to 40 years of Indigenous communications. His recent repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery energized us. Truly, as he has shared, “We are not living in an era of change, but in a change of era.” So what is our role?

How can we create land transitions rooted in ecological and racial healing? In addition to protecting land from development, can we expand access and equity to others whose groups were systemically dispossessed? How might living into these questions help to mend and heal the broken web of relationships we inherited as mostly white people in the U.S.?

As the June retreat closed, a Loretto vowed member asked, “Will this be a fresh moment for us? What will we collectively decide to do? We must not pass up this chance!”

Another noted, “Because we are women who have spent our lives creating community for the common good, we have the capacity to share what we have without counting the cost.”

Retreat attendees gather for discussion.
Photo by Paulette Peterson

Libby Comeaux CoL

Libby became a Loretto Co-member 20 years ago and has been walking the Labyrinth ever since. Recently she became editor of Loretto Earth Network News. She wonders what a participatory Earth democracy will feel like. It's okay to dream.
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Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!