The young people of Syracuse’s Franciscan Earth Corps (FEC) are definitely not afraid to get their hands dirty.
Members of the group set to work digging, weeding and planting in the Stone Soup community garden near St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse Oct. 5, part of their first service project since the FEC chapter was re-formed this summer.
A program of the national Franciscan Action Network (FAN), FEC aims to “engage young adults in Franciscan spirituality, to develop communities of fellowship and service and to advocate for social and ecological justice,” according to the FAN website. Sister Caryn Crook, OSF, who facilitates the Syracuse FEC, said 16 FEC chapters are forming across the U.S. this fall, part of FAN’s efforts to engage more young people in the network.
“Right now, the energy of young adults and their dedication to unity, to creation, is an untapped resource,” she said. “So if we’re going to be addressing global issues associated with creation, then we need to tap into that energy, their insights, their knowledge of unity.” Though newly re-formed, FEC is not new to Syracuse. FEC was founded in Syracuse in 2003 by Riobart Breen, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order who at the time was finishing his PhD in environmental policy. He implemented the program at Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in partnership with St. Thomas More Campus Ministry, where he served as a part-time campus minister. By 2006, though, a lack of funding and Breen’s departure for a teaching position at Siena College saw the group peter out.
Relaunching FEC “made sense,” said SU alum and FEC member Stephen Terzolo, because it brings a “distinctly Franciscan character” to the university’s Catholic campus ministry program, currently overseen by Franciscan friar Father Linus DeSantis, as well as an ecological focus that may be especially appealing to SUNY ESF students. The goal, Terzolo said, is not only to build a sustainable, committed group, but also to build one that has an impact on and a voice in the community.
Jess Saville, a second-year PhD student at SUNY ESF, helped to clear a Stone Soup flower bed overgrown with mint plants. She joined FEC because she thought it would be a “great way to unite my interest in the environment with my interest in getting to know God better and in service,” she said.
As Amanda Schulz worked to remove a small tree that had taken root in a corner of the garden, she said it was the “ecological basis as well as the social justice” aspect that attracted her to FEC. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania and now a science teacher at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse, Schulz said issues such as food sustainability are important to her.
Later in the afternoon, Schulz gave a presentation on soil to about 30 children from the youth group at the nearby Brady Faith Center. FEC members also helped the children tackle tasks in the garden and create birdfeeders out of pinecones, peanut butter and birdseed. Despite some rain, the group’s first service project was a success, and the group will be meeting soon to decide what November’s service project will be, Terzolo said.
FEC Syracuse currently has about 10 members, mostly students from Syracuse University and SUNY ESF, Sister Caryn said, but anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 is welcome to join. The group meets twice per month, with one meeting dedicated to “building our spirituality, bonding as a group and learning about Francis” and one meeting spent in service in the community, Sister Caryn said. The group is also planning to hold future retreats at the Spirituality and Nature Center at Alverna Heights in Fayetteville, where Sister Caryn is the Franciscan ecology coordinator.
To learn more about Franciscan Earth Corps, contact Sister Caryn Crook, OSF, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 637-9334 and visit the “Franciscan Earth Corps Syracuse” Facebook page.