On a bright morning in late September, about 100 Bellarmine University students lined up on the school’s campus to receive free houseplants.
As they selected their plants, the students were directed to repot them, an exercise designed to help them connect to the soil and to nature in general, said Franciscan Father John Pozhathuparambil.
“They’re starting a relationship with this plant and slowly they’ll form a relationship with other plants and the environment and this will lead them to care for our common home,” said Father Pozhathuparambil, who, along with Franciscan Father George Munjanattu, serves as a campus minister at Bellarmine.
The giveaway Sept. 27 was part of a two-week celebration planned by Bellarmine Campus Ministry in observance of the Sept. 1 to Oct. 4 Season of Creation. The events honored St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast is Oct. 4, and highlighted Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”
As the students waited for plants, Father Pozhathuparambil handed out cards containing information about St. Francis and an excerpt from Laudato Si’.
Father Pozhathuparambil invited students and faculty members from the school’s department of environmental studies to the giveaway to share plant-care tips. And he hopes that by caring for these plants, students will grow in respect for trees and plants.
That’s why he encouraged them to name their plants, too. By naming the plant, it will become part of a family as pets do, he said.
“We need to respect them,” he said. “It’s a co-existence, we’re not just the master. We’re brothers and sisters …. It’s not only loving people but loving nature.”
Father Pozhathuparambil noted that it’s important to teach the younger generation about care for creation because they will be the leaders who can bring about environmental change and later pass that charge on to their children.
“The previous generation has done a lot of damage (to the environment). This generation is more aware of that and I hope they will take responsibility,” he said.
Among the students who waited for a plant — in what Father Pozhathuparambil joked was like a “Black Friday” line — were Lian McKernan and Mikayla Pitmon.
McKernan picked out a Croton Petra plant, which she named Patrick. She said the plant giveaway was a good way to help college students “learn how to care for another being.”
“It’s not human, but it’s beautiful and special in its own way,” she said while admiring the plant whose leaves were turning red and orange.
She added that “plants give back to the world” with their beauty and in their ability to clean the air. “Plants are soothing. It’s wonderful to watch them grow.”
Pitmon picked out a similar plant, which she named Barnaby.
The event was a “good reminder to care for our environment and how we interact with it,” she said. “It’s a good way to bring people together to reflect on that. The plant will be a reminder of how we’re taking care of our Earth and not to take it for granted.”
The celebration also included an animal blessing; a walking pilgrimage where participants learned about the trees growing on the campus and reflected on caring for the environment; a camping retreat at Mount St. Francis in Mount St. Francis, Ind.; and an observance of the Transitus of St. Francis, a commemoration of the end of the saint’s earthly life and his transition to eternal life.