The Merrimack River, a 117-mile river in the northeastern part of the USA.

The below story was adapted from the December Laudato Si’ Resource. The spiritual resource is produced monthly for Laudato Si’ Animators, Laudato Si’ Circles, and everyday Catholics to use and help them grow closer to our Creator.

You can find the entire resource, as well as past editions, here.

By Julia Steed Mawson
Laudato Si’ Animator (New Hampshire, USA)

Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’ that ecological conversion should be on a personal and community level, and it must be ongoing. So too is my story.

I was gifted with wonderful parents, an incredible education at Notre Dame Academy, and a childhood growing up on a lake in New Hampshire.

My youth was spent exploring the lake, immersing myself in water, ice, snow, rain, the colors of fall, and the heat of summer. Further, for 12 years, I also saw the beautiful Merrimack River, traveling by it every day to school. My first conversion was underway.

After graduation, I went to Lowell Technological Institute and studied biology. In 1972, I participated in an ecological study of the Merrimack River. I was going to be on the river for the first time, and my second phase of conversion began.

I remember putting my boat in the river. I was excited to finally be on that great body of water, expecting the familiar smells and the color of clean water.

Instead, I was assaulted by the brown color and foul odor. I knew it was highly polluted. Experiencing it was sobering.

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I received my love of the natural world from my childhood lake, but from the Merrimack River I received my passion. I became an environmental educator, working for the University of New Hampshire.

My “classroom” was our rocky coast, marshes, and the Merrimack River watershed, where I taught basic ecological concepts, including human impact and human action.

Then the rubber came to meet my personal road and the third conversion took place. In 2014, a high pressure, fracked gas export pipeline was proposed, impacting rural towns, my property, and land less than 1,000 feet from the lake.

It was frightening to be facing a powerful company and an often incomprehensible federal process.

But the consequences of having a dangerous, unnecessary pipeline made it critical to act. The learning curve was steep, and I often felt pushed past my comfort zone.

The work was hard, but I came to see the connections between the products that I use, fossil fuels, and the face of those harmed by environmental injustice and moral loss. One of my friends said it best, “I will never see the world as I did before.”

I feel my fourth conversion coming on… I have become a Laudato Si’ Animator.