Fleet Management

Fleet Management Blog

St. Joseph Sisters Embrace Call to Unity through Environmental Stewardship in New Orleans

Posted by Genevieve Morlino on Feb 23, 2021 3:48:23 PM

ssjWhat does it really mean to be one with creation? In such a difficult time as that which the world has experienced this past year, we often hear calls to be “at one” with our fellow men, to celebrate the things that unite and bring us together. The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph have a long history of promoting unity, from their origin in France to their eventual settlement in the United States in the 1800s, including New Orleans, Louisiana. The sisters have been here ever since. Their mission (derived from John 17:21: “That all may be one as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; I pray that they may be one in Us”) focuses on union with God and everyone they encounter, especially by working in “ministries that respond to spiritual, social and physical needs.” (csjoseph.org/our-mission)

New Orleans, where the Sisters have lived and worked for more than 150 years, has long been facing a pressing and difficult issue that afflicts many coastal cities: how to manage the problem of too much water. Located on the Mississippi Delta, the city is dealing with rising water levels, increased rainfall, and more extreme flooding. Since most of the city is at or below sea level, the solution thus far has been to pump the water out; unfortunately, this has not been enough to manage the water levels and it has become clear to many that a new solution is desperately needed to keep New Orleans inhabitable.

In 2005, the Sisters suddenly experienced firsthand the gravity of the city’s water problem. Their Motherhouse, located on a beautiful, 25-acre property on Mirabeau Avenue, was flooded under 8 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, which left the entire first floor of the convent in ruins. If that wasn’t obstacle enough, the following year the roof was struck by lightning; it caught fire and destroyed the third floor of the building. The Sisters were faced with a prohibitively expensive construction project to make the building functional again, so they turned to prayer to discern a solution for their property. According to Sr. Pat Bergen, a former congregational leader, “We kept vigil with that land, praying that some idea would come to us that would help the land serve the people of New Orleans, just as our Sisters had done all those years.”

One day, the solution presented itself! The Sisters were approached by New Orleans environmental architect David Waggonner who presented a wonderful idea for the future of Mirabeau. Mr. Waggonner designed a plan to transform the property into a “water garden”, which during a rainfall would hold water from the surrounding neighborhood, forming a temporary lake of nearly ten million gallons of water! The water would then be slowly released into the canals that transport it out of the city, easing pressure on the drainage infrastructure, and protecting their neighbors’ homes within a square mile of the site flooding. Water retention in the garden will be helped by the growth of vegetation that thrives in wetlands, such as cypress trees, smaller plants and even oaks. Mirabeau will one day also house educational facilities to study the issue of water management. This plan is extraordinary due to its groundbreaking nature: Mr. Waggonner’s office describes it as “the largest constructed urban wetlands in the U.S.” The project not only serves the people of New Orleans, but it also serves as a model of innovation for leaders of coastal cities across the nation.

Maribeau BlueprintsDespite having received several very lucrative offers on the property from real estate developers, the St. Joseph Sisters knew that Mirabeau’s true purpose must be in service of the New Orleans community. They chose to donate the property to the city to be used expressly for the water garden project, which is expected get underway in 2021. For the sisters, this decision flows naturally from one of the Generous Promises made by their Order: “[…] to take steps now to strengthen, heal and renew the face of Earth.” (csjoseph.org/our-mission) This healing will certainly bring about a sense of oneness between humanity and their environment. Sr. Pat expressed the sisters’ hope “it remains our hope that this project will move forward and ground can be broken soon due to the potential benefits to the City of New Orleans and its residents.” Environmental stewardship and care for the people of their communities are integral to the sisters’ ministry, and an endeavor like the Mirabeau Water Garden will play a major role in uniting communities in a joint effort to live with water, not only in New Orleans, but in many other coastal cities for generations to come!

If you would like to read more about the St. Joseph Sisters’ story and the Mirabeau Water Gardens, please visit:



Topics: Client Mission Stories

Subscribe to Email Updates