Year Joined MKLM: 2008
Country: El Salvador
City: Monte San Juan
Focus: Sustainable Development, Pastoral Care
Project(s): Agricultural assistance, environmental awareness and pastoral accompaniment
People Served: Monte San Juan parishioners
Project Goal(s): Accompany, advise and work with parish members to promote sustainable agricultural production, environmental awareness, lay leadership and a deepening of faith
Peg works in the rural community of Monte San Juan, where the parish is focused on helping people live out their own baptismal call to mission. This includes continual formation and involvement of lay people in liturgical, prophetic and social ministries, and Peg takes an active role especially in the social ministry area. In particular, she works within the agricultural ministry and the environmental ministry. The agricultural group learns about sustainable agriculture techniques and their implementation to promote food sovereignty and food security, critical issues for people who live on marginal land with limited resources.
Peg relates: “It is so rewarding to hear members of our group tell others about their successes. For example: One woman pointed out all the changes her family has made, just to the small lot around their home. Before she joined the ag ministry, they just tossed garbage over the bank, let the chickens run everywhere and had a bunch of weeds growing over most of the steep yard. But now the trash is collected, chickens are fenced in, there are two fish ponds, worm production (for fish and chicken feed and fertilizer production), and terraced vegetables on all the slopes of the yard! Most importantly, she is proud to say that now her family eats healthier because they consume what they themselves produce organically.”
Peg’s environmental ministry aims to increase awareness of environmental issues and to seek ways to respond to them. This includes an annual collection of empty pesticide containers, promoting recycling of bottles and cans, encouraging reforestation, and getting the message out that the planet is in danger. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Sí, On Care for Our Common Home has been an invaluable tool and a continuing source of inspiration and direction. Peg and other ministry members often speak for a few minutes before Sunday Masses to read parts of the encyclical and explain it in everyday terms. They also conduct training sessions and workshops on solid waste disposal, biodiversity, pesticide safety, water conservation, and more.
The parish has made a great effort to cut down use of Styrofoam cups and plates at community events. Now there are dishwashing crews assigned to big parish dinners instead of using disposable ware, and some of the church committees in the 12 villages of the parish have purchased plastic cups and plates and loan them out to families for big events as well as using them at their chapels. Peg was very encouraged when the leader of one village stated that they no longer wanted to buy “garbage” (referring to the foam cups) to serve refreshments; instead they are going to plant the trees from which gourds traditionally used for drinking are made, so they’ll have a continuous supply of natural containers!
Before going to El Salvador in 2012, Peg served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in East Timor, then in Cambodia, doing similar work promoting sustainable agriculture and accompanying parish lay leaders and youth groups. Years before that, when Peg was living in Honduras, a priest there once invited her to join him in pastoral work in his parish and Peg asked, “But what will I do there?” He responded, “Don’t worry about what you will DO. Just come and BE with us! Your faithful presence here in this remote place will be witness enough.” Peg took the opportunity then, and continues working and walking with farm families in their daily lives. She has found that “accompaniment” is as rewarding for her as it is inspirational to those with whom she serves.
Peg grew up in rural New York State and spent the last few years before joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners back on the family farm caring for her elderly parents. She was active in the Sacred Heart Parish in Stamford, N.Y., as well as in the Albany Diocese – in music ministry, pastoral planning and the promotion of small faith-sharing groups. A horticulturist, she has degrees from Cornell and Texas A&M.
Peg served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, worked as the Farm Project Director for the Ft. McDowell Indian community and lived on their reservation in Arizona. She taught at El Zamorano (Pan-American Agricultural School) in Honduras, served as pastoral assistant in a rural parish in Honduras, and worked for the New York State Migrant Education Program.