Sr. Ranger’s work a wonderful expression of the Mary’s Woods values and heritage

Caring for Creation and the Common Good

Sr. Cecilia Ranger and team honored for work to preserve Columbia River watershed

April 13, 2016

Columbia RiverFor millennia, Native Americans have fished and lived along the Columbia River’s beautiful shores. The salmon, considered a sacred fish by many of the tribal cultures in the region, shaped their culture, diets, societies and religion. However with the arrival of early European settlers, followed by the integration of Oregon and Washington into the United States after 1846, this traditional way of life was slowly upended.

In the years since, the Columbia River’s ecosystem has been reshaped by the construction of three dams, the commercialization of farmland, a rapid growth of industry, and the competing interests brought about by people who derive their livelihood from the land and water.

“Unfortunately the area’s economic and ecological conditions have suffered greatly,” said Cecilia Ranger, SNJM, who like many in the Holy Names community, has devoted much of her life to protecting the environment. “Though not necessarily due to a lack of appreciation for the earth, rather by financial need or lack of knowledge on how best to care for the land and water.”

In fact, in more recent times, economic greed and ecological elitism have prevailed. Conflicts over land and water rights have dominated the political environment in communities that share the river and its tributaries, pitting farmers, ranchers, fishermen and business owners against each other. In addition, state, federal and tribal agencies have often been at odds with each other when talking about the development and use of the some 259,000 square miles of the Columbia Watershed.

The problems are very real: from the environmental impacts of dams on salmon, to setting more stringent water quality regulations, to renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, getting stakeholders to look at the watershed as a common heritage and resource shared by the community has been a challenge.

In 1997, hoping to find a creative, spiritually-driven solution, Bishop William Skylstad, Diocese of Spokane, formed an international steering committee representing U.S. and Canadian watershed dioceses and Catholic colleges and universities. The committee invited people from all walks of life to participate in a series of meetings, including members of the watershed’s industry, agriculture, fishing, education and native peoples.

“We wanted to seek the opinions and perspectives from the diverse populations in the area,” said Sr. Ranger, who served on the steering committee. “We had hoped to identify some of the regional conflicts and barriers that prevented the water and land from being used in an ethical way.”

Motivating Sr. Ranger during this process was the idea that water was a human right. “People can’t survive without water,” she added. “Neither can plants or animals. It thus becomes the social responsibility of all of us to share the common good of the land and seek ways to work together in solving the watershed’s problems.”

The committee’s work resulted in the Columbia River Pastoral Letter, a 28-page document published in 2001 that called for “environmental justice among people of good will.” It was signed by the Catholic Bishops of the watershed, and for the last fifteen years has served as a catalyst for further discussion toward the resolution of the complex issues of the Columbia River watershed.

“We at Mary’s Woods are very pleased with the leadership and vision that our colleague, Sister Cecilia Ranger, has provided to underscore the moral imperative of ensuring a sustainable approach and future for the Columbia River basin, Mary’s Woods CEO Marvin Kaiser said. “This is a wonderful expression of the Mary’s Woods values and heritage.”

While the work is far from over, Bishop Skylstad, Sr. Ranger and members of the Steering Committee were recently honored in Spokane, Washington, for advancing ethics for the Columbia River.

“Today we see problems with water quality everywhere,” said Sr. Ranger, “From our own backyard on the Columbia River, to the water contamination issues in Michigan, and across the globe to places like India where disease spreads in the Ganga River and to Africa where young women walk for miles each day just to collect drinking water for their families.”

Sister Ranger hopes communities everywhere will care for God’s earth by providing for the common good of all.