“We are all in the transition. It is the transition from our industrialized economic society to a more integral human-earth society.”
Sister Jaculyn Hanrahan
Sister Jaculyn Hanrahan is Director of the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center, which she co-founded with Susan Hedge. The center raises people’s awareness about the current issues that impact Central Appalachia’s ecology and the entire planet.
The inspiration for this work is three fold:
- The three Appalachian Pastorals: This Land is Home to Me (1975); At Home in the Web of Life (1995); The Telling Takes Us Home (2015) give voice to the realities of people, place and economy. These Pastorals proclaim the importance of the region’s environmental mission.
- Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s second encyclical on the protection of Creation.
- New cosmology: theological sensibility to recent scientific discoveries and of ancient wisdom.
The Center creates relationships with faith-based communities seeking to understand and preserve the biological diversity of Central Appalachia.
Work is performed in partnership with national and international, local and regional organizations, which understand how the Appalachian’s environmental stability affects their communities.
In 1982, Sister Jaculyn was sent to Southwest Virginia to teach English at Hurley High School. There she learned the importance of grass roots movements. Indeed, she saw first hand the local community struggle with frequent floods and against attempts to develop landfills.
Miners’ and people’s right to health
With a law degree obtained from University of Virginia in 1996, Sister Jaculyn worked, until 2005, at a civil law firm which aided low-income coal workers living in areas exploited by mining companies. In order to be able to oppose economic decisions regarding coal extraction, Sister Jaculyn understood the necessity of forming partnerships.
From 2005, she served as director of the Appalachian Office of Justice and Peace (under the direction of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond). In that capacity, she continued to work with non-profit organizations, local government agencies and Catholic activists against various local issues such as the increase of coal production, coal power plans, “clean coal” technology, mountaintop removal coal mining, fracking for underground gas extraction and the illegal marketing practices leading to the addiction of the drug Oxycontin™. This last issue has had as much impact on the region’s families and economy as mountaintop removal coal mining has had on the region’s landscape.
Legacy from partnerships
In late 2009, the Appalachian Office closed. Turning her attention to the increasing number of complex Pneumoconiosis cases among coal miners, Sister Jaculyn worked with attorneys of the Federal Black Lung Claims Department.
During this time, Sister Jaculyn and Susan Hedge set out to pursue the environmental work begun by the Appalachian Office of Justice and Peace. They understood the importance of the emerging partnerships with local, regional, national and international groups, not-for-profits and the small “circles of hope” within a global context. From these partnerships was born the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center.