|Sr. Damien Marie Teaches Faithful Environmental Stewardship|
Sister Damien Marie Savino’s parents believed that children benefit from lots of fresh air and time outdoors. That early exposure to nature probably set the course for her career in environmental science and her vocation as a Franciscan Sister.
Through her experiences outdoors, she developed a great love of the natural world which led her to study the sciences in college and then to become a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist. Faith and science have been naturally intertwined in her life. It was this, and her deep conviction of the responsibility of the human race to care for the earth, that brought her to the University of St. Thomas in May 2007. She joined the faculty to teach environmental science and Catholic studies after a globe-trotting career in the field tracking down remote industrial waste sites.
“I never thought I would find a job where I could teach students to integrate their faith with the environmental profession, said Sr. Damien Marie, who was named chair of the Environmental Science and Studies Department in August. She spends two-thirds of her time teaching science and one-third teaching Catholic studies and theology.
Her breathless schedule keeps the 5-feet,-1-inch Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist darting from meeting to class in practiced fashion. The academic life may seem incongruent to her former field work. But though Sr. Damien Marie is no longer trekking through the jungle, she still gets her hands in the dirt with students as they plant trees, restore wetlands, champion the award-winning campus recycling program and participate in environmental service-learning trips.
Early in her career, she spent two years at United Technologies Corp., a manufacturing company that pioneered early efforts to clean up its contaminated sites. “It’s like detective work,” she said, “drilling wells, sampling, and using technologies like ground-penetrating radar to search for the ‘fingerprints’ of contaminants in groundwater or soil.”
One site she worked on was a hazardous waste site in Puerto Rico. There, she and other consultants trekked through land overgrown with lush tropical foliage that left little clue about the hazardous compounds buried there –like thousands of vials of solvents from pharmaceuticals extracted from tropical plants. Once they found the contaminants, the team proposed various technologies for cleanup of the soil and groundwater.
Still, their work was slow, tackling small areas at a time with limited long-term impact.
“I realized that technical solutions alone were not the answer to environmental problems,” said Sr. Damien Marie. “Rather, I needed to better understand the bigger ’life’ questions surrounding our proper role as humans in creation in order to make a real impact in the profession and be able to engage and guide young people in the future.”
So after working in the environmental field for 12 years, Sr. Damien Marie decided to pursue a master’s degree in theology and then a doctorate in environmental engineering at The Catholic University of America. Her doctoral research was recently published as a book entitled The Contemplative River: The Confluence Between People and Place in Ecological Restoration.
For the past two years, Sr. Damien Marie has been involved in the revamping the environmental program.
“We now have a new program on the books which retains some elements of the previous program while incorporating significant new developments. Highlights of the new program include:
- a strong base in the Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, with an emphasis on the moral implications of our relationship with the environment;
- a strong field component, with opportunities for field courses and environmental service in Houston, the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond;
- a strong foundation in science to prepare students for graduate studies or work in the energy field, environmental consulting, industry, government, NGO's, etc.
I believe that we need to bring young people outdoors, especially urban youth, in order to give them basic experiences with creation. Through this, we hope to build community and teach them to love the places where they live so they will desire to preserve them into the future.” she said
To speak with Sr. Damien Marie about pursuing a degree in Environmental Sciences & Studies e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the UST website at www.stthom.edu/environmental