Cuvilly Arts and Earth Center: “Sacred Ground”

Apr 3, 2023 | News & Events

By Sr. Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN

Cuvilly Arts and Earth Center (CAEC) is one of many creation-centered treasures to be found on the LAND of our Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ipswich, MA. It is sacred ground. Our sister, Patricia Rolinger, SNDdeN, foundress of this Center, states its purpose: “…to have children fall in love with creation so when they grow up they will preserve what they love.” Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si’: Care for Our Common Home, and St. Julie Billiart’s spirit and mission come alive on this property through communion with nature. On this land, named Cuvilly, for Julie’s village birthplace, her never-ending challenge resounds in our time: “Teach the children what they need to know for life.”

In 1984, this captivating Center opened on the premises of a former dairy farm, with the renovated barn that serves currently as a pre-school and kindergarten. The Center includes also a reconstructed 19th century barn, housing a variety of animals, several acres with fields, pastures, woodlands, a pond, gardens and a play yard. Solar panels for generating photovoltaic energy and a wind turbine on the hills supply electricity to the center and some to the town!

Today, when an understanding of ecological issues is critical for the survival of our planet, children especially are able to experience themselves as an integral part of the natural world. At Cuvilly, teachers delight in using the 15-acre campus to provide a variety of learning experiences: gardening, hiking, pond exploration, farm chores and more that stimulate the natural curiosity and creativity of these little children. The guiding principle of Cuvilly is: “All life is sacred and the diversity of life is essential for the well-being of the planet.”

Cuvilly also challenges the wider adult community, by teaching and promoting landscaping for Biodiversity. We are facing now a global crisis because we are damaging the natural world so profoundly that many of its natural systems are on the verge of breaking down. This year, the Center will “dig in” by removing areas of grass and creating habitats that support plants, animals, insects and other pollinators natural to the area.

The Center’s most recent mission is the Cuvilly Ecological Justice Consortium (CEJC), an inclusive gathering of persons and organizations working together to create a movement for ecological justice. CEJC seeks to create “an inclusive, equitable local community space where people deeply
reconnect to the earth and grow in their understanding that all species are interconnected and interdependent. Through community building and educational programs for all ages, CEJC teaches and models ecological sustainability, honoring the land and all its inhabitants.”

“Ah! Ha!” Moment

By Sr. Patricia Rolinger, SNDdeN

Shortly after we opened Cuvilly, I had the opportunity to go to the Topsfield Fair where I observed a mother hen caring for her chicks. I was reminded of the reference in Matthew 23, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” It was then that I decided we should have chickens at Cuvilly to provide a firsthand experience for our students. We organized a big yard sale to raise money to put up a shed for a chicken coop and went about outfitting it with everything chickens would need. Once our state-of-the art coop was finished, we went to a local hatchery to purchase some chickens and a rooster. In talking with the owner, I told him that I could hardly wait for my hens to hatch out new chicks. He looked at me and said: “Oh, that will never happen. We breed that instinct out of them.” What a shock! How is it possible to breed the basic instinct of survival out of a species?! I bought the chickens and rooster anyway determined to prove wrong the chicken farmer.

However, as predicted, the hens laid many eggs but never hatched them out. They also decided that the coop we built was not what they wanted and the hens began to explore the campus, finding for themselves the most suitable habitat – often times in trees. Ten years later and many chickens later (none of which were born here) an amazing event took place. While working around the farm, I heard a sound that I had never heard before – a very distinctive “Peep. Peep” – and out from underneath the chicken coop emerged a mother hen and her chicks! It was at that moment that I realized the instinct to bring new life into the world was not bred out of the chickens but was merely latent. Given the proper environment, the latent instincts are awakened. And that is the mission of Cuvilly!

Every human being is an integral part of the earth community and knows, instinctively, how to live in harmony with it. However, we have developed a culture that has forced these instincts to become latent. Given the proper environment, our instincts will be reawakened. Cuvilly Arts and Earth Center seeks to create this environment.