Sisters of Loretto sign historic conservation agreement

Beggartick flowers can be seen on the Motherhouse Farm. (Photo Special to The Record by Susan Classen)

The Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Ky., signed an agreement Jan. 18 with the Bluegrass Land Conservancy that will conserve more than 650 acres of the congregation’s property.

The land, known as the Motherhouse Farm, surrounds the Motherhouse just north of Loretto, Ky., and includes farmland, streams, forests and grasslands. The space is “known for its natural beauty and historic significance,” said a joint press release from the Loretto Community and the Bluegrass Land Conservancy.

The conservation easement will “maintain the Motherhouse Farm’s open and scenic beauty and agricultural uses; protect the property from new residential and commercial structures that would substantially interfere with its scenic, open rural character, woodlands, watersheds, streams and farmland; and protect the congregation’s working farmland in perpetuity,” the release said.

The Sisters of Loretto have been stewards of the 788-acre Motherhouse property since 1824, when the founding sisters moved to Nerinx from St. Charles, Ky. The acreage includes woods, lakes, cropland, pasture land, native grasses and wildflowers. The farm has two full-time farmers and produces beef products to sell, according to the community’s website.

In 2012, 75 acres of the land were enrolled in the national Conservation Reserve Program. The community planted hardwoods, pollinator habitats and native grasses on the property.

Loretto President Sister Barbara Nicholas said, “The Loretto Community has long been committed to caring for Earth.”

A freshly mown path can be seen cutting across one of the fields on the Motherhouse Farm. (Photo Special to The Record by Susan Classen)

“Pope Francis reminds us in (his encyclical) ‘Laudato Si’ ’ that we as humans are not separate from nature but are part of nature,” she said. “It is our responsibility to protect our sacred Motherhouse lands; doing so ensures that these waters, forests and grasslands will be protected into perpetuity, providing cleaner water and air for all.”

The Loretto Community said it has been working on conservation for four decades. Three goals have guided conservation efforts at the Motherhouse: to protect undisturbed spaces, to regenerate degraded spaces and to mitigate and reduce carbon emissions.

Agricultural land is disappearing across the country, making way for development, the Loretto Community said in the release.

As that happens, “Biodiversity is decreasing, waterways are being contaminated, and wildlife corridors are being broken up,” said Loretto Co-member Jessie Rathburn, who serves as the Loretto Community’s Earth education and advocacy coordinator. “The Loretto Community not only values ecological health and regeneration, but understands that we have a role to play in bringing about healing to this larger system. Protecting our Motherhouse farmland not only ensures an agricultural future for these lands, but contributes to healthy soils, forests and watersheds, and provides habitat for many species.”

The Bluegrass Land Conservancy enters into voluntary, legal conservation agreements with landowners. According to the release, the agreements are tailored to the landowner’s objectives to conserve the land for agricultural and other open-space activities, ensuring that the land’s resources are protected for future generations.

“The Loretto Community has paved the way for religious groups in Kentucky, and perhaps nationwide, to protect these significant agricultural and religious resources,” said Ashley Greathouse, director of conservation for the conservancy. “We have learned so much about the Sisters’ culture of conservation and sustainability during this process and we look forward to a long relationship with the Sisters as we steward the Loretto Motherhouse Farm in perpetuity.”

Yellow coneflowers can be seen on the Motherhouse Farm. The Loretto Community recently signed an agreement with the Bluegrass Land Conservancy that will conserve more than 650 acres of the congregation’s property. (Photo Special to The Record by Susan Classen)

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