The Ministries » The Great Work
Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) is one of the prophets of our time who wrote about the human relationship with the Earth and the universe with unrivalled perception, intelligence and grace. Through a series of books and essays, Berry articulated a new Earth-based spirituality that integrates the evolutionary perspectives of science with wisdom drawn from sacred traditions. His work stands as a major contribution to the development of an emerging ecological civilization in which the human fully recognizes and integrates with the Earth community.
Sister Kathleen had the privilege of being a student and mentee of Father Berry’s and has committed her ministry to transmitting the wisdom and challenge of this exceptional thinker, geologian, and ecological visionary. We hope that some of the resources offered by Schola Ministries will serve the great awakening to which we are being summoned for the life of the Earth, and The Great Work of being re-born as a New Creation.
Please click on the icons below.
In the summer of 2007 I made a pilgrimage to seek a blessing. It was a journey that had its beginnings decades before when as a first semester graduate student at Fordham University in the mid 1970s, I unwittingly found myself in class with the teacher who was to become more than a mentor to me, but a true master. I had no idea at the time who Father Thomas Berry was that first day in the Keating Hall Religious Studies wing in the Bronx – I just knew I wanted to learn about the “Great Mother.” I sensed immediately on entering the room that I had wandered into a community of scholars awaiting the arrival of their esteemed teacher – there was an expectancy and also a tremendous cordiality and hospitality even to a new-comer like me. I remember in particular the graciousness of an exceptionally intelligent and elegant young woman, Mary Evelyn Tucker who broke through my shyness and made me feel welcome among a cohort of what seemed to be the brightest and the best. I had no idea how and why I was really there.
At last Dr. Berry arrived. At the time I had no way of knowing that this apparently frail and humble man was the transformer and illuminator he would disclose himself to be over the weeks and then semesters and years to come, as I majored in “Thomas Berry,” whatever the course on offer – Native American Spirituality, The Sacred City, The Religions of India. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was sitting before him laboring to comprehend the depth and scope of the worlds he was excavating and exploring for us, trying to decipher his unique argot, trying to understand. He was teaching us the languages of wisdom spelled out in a myriad of inspired tongues, and he himself stood within these multiple worlds as an adept, at once a translator and interpreter, engaging us in conversations of meaning that were themselves revelatory. I felt as if I had been dropped into an accelerated class in sacred studies, indeed, a class that had for its term project a nooetic evolution that was the academic equivalent to enlightenment. Every class – regardless of the syllabus – had this one comprehensive assignment: the awakening of one’s sense of deep planetary purpose, one’s cosmic vocation. And the medium of such a potent message: Father Berry’s gentleness, his lovely courtesy, his ferocious intention, his self-effacing charm.
At the end of my Master’s studies, I asked Father Thomas to mentor my thesis on the Shakers. By then I realized who he was; by then I knew his greatness. Still shy and somewhat awed in his presence, I nevertheless made my way to the Riverdale Center for Religious Research on the Hudson for his guidance. In time that thesis would become my first book thanks to him. I lamented his retirement from Fordham as I began my doctoral studies, but I took every tutorial opportunity with him I could find, attending his lectures and presentations in the New York area until he moved to North Carolina.
I transformed his lecture notes into my own for my high-school and then college students, setting all my teaching within the context of the New Story and the Great Work. I wrote songs that echoed in lyrics what resonated in my own awareness because of his transformative teaching. With what felt like the subtle unfolding of a larger purpose I became friends with Father Thomas’ exceptional students Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Brown, when they joined the faculty at Iona College and brought to it the riches of their scholastic work with Thomas Berry, and, from a distance, with John Grim, and Miriam Therese McGillis whose Genesis Farm became a kind of first-fruits of his vision. And there were others; and their numbers grew.
As my ecological awareness and commitments deepened, my own academic and creative work became my service to the Great Work, always and ever with Father Thomas as my guide, and the exceptional band of disciples he had trained my inspiration and allies. Graciously he agreed to write the forward to my volume of Thomas Merton’s Writings on Nature. The more I read of his growing corpus of published writings the more I felt called to take up The Great Work in earnest, as the context and content of my own teaching and writing life. Responding to a call to become a GreenFaith Fellow, I promised as my fellowship project to bring to my mission communities and commitments the vision of Father Thomas Berry and the challenge of The Great Work.
For this reason in the midst of my training with GreenFaith to become a religious environmental leader, I desired to see again, for the last time, this mentor, this master who had changed my life and directed the course of its deepest commitments. When another GreenFaith Fellow and I arrived at WellSpring in North Carolina in the summer of 2007, Father Thomas was more than ready for us – two full days tutorials on his latest work! What a privilege to be able to sit in his presence again and hear such sonorous wisdom sounding from so frail a form. He was transitioning even then, knowingly, intentionally. His Great Work was ending, as ours was intensifying. He was leaving an extraordinary legacy – not just a patrimony of vision spelled out in his literary works; not just a band of students willing to carry it forward. He was – like so many great sages before him – leaving “a school” of wisdom that would grow over the years and decades to come as his teaching would find its way to larger and larger audiences, be taken up in a variety of arenas, play itself out in a multitude of theaters, work its influence explicitly and subtly in a range of worlds, on new generations waiting to be awakened and empowered as we had.
So to his great surprise and embarrassment I knelt down before him my hand in his, my eyes on his, and said: “Father Thomas, I have come for your blessing that I might be faithful to The Great Work, and grateful for your mentorship.” With a shy smile and an unwillingness to disappoint – he raised his right hand over me, made the sign of the cross – the sign of the four directions of this expanding universe – and said: “I bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Then like a bishop, confirming – (ordaining?) – he gently touched my cheek. And I said: Amen.
Kathleen Deignan, CND
June 1, 2009
|Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) wrote about the human relationship with the Earth and the universe with unrivalled perception, intelligence and grace. Through a series of books and essays, Berry articulated a new Earth-based spirituality that integrates the evolutionary perspectives of science with wisdom drawn from sacred traditions. His work stands as a major contribution to the development of an emerging ecological civilization in which the human fully recognizes and integrates with the Earth community.
Professor Deignan had the privilege of being a student and mentee of Father Berry’s and this semester will provide a context to honor this exceptional thinker, geologian, and ecological visionary whose recent passing in June 2009 invites tribute. Therefore the course will afford opportunities for visits with his students and collaborators in the Great Work. An exciting and engaging course looking for excited and engaged students.
Tribute to Father Thomas Berry
The Berry Series: Exploring the Vision and Challenge of Thomas Berry with Dr. Daniel Martin
Daniel Martin is Founder and President of Cross River Connections (CRC), a training and consulting project for personal, organizational and social change and of International Communities for the Renewal of the Earth (ICRE), which convenes creative conversations around issues of our time, fostering an ecological spirituality as the basis for a creative and sustainable society. A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dr. Martin was educated in Ireland, Italy, and the U.S.A. His doctoral work was directed by Thomas Berry with whom he facilitated the first “Berry Series” of dialogues between Thomas Berry and representatives of various academic and professional disciplines. A religious consultant to the UN Environment Program, he designed and directed the Environmental Sabbath Programme and was a founded member of SoundWaters and The Whidbey Institute.
Session I: “The New Story and the Ecological Age”
Session II: “Finding a Way Forward”
The Berry Forum: Opening to The Great Work of Our Time – An Earth Day Convocation
Join us for an intensive inquiry into the challenges of this new moment of Earth history whose crises summon us to undertake The Great Work of our time – a comprehensive reinvention of not just the way human life is conducted on this planet, but of human life itself. Inspired and informed by the thought of Father Thomas Berry, we will examine the great themes of his legacy: The New Story that has changed our understanding of the universe and the human, The Ecozoic Age toward which we labor in hope, and the Great Work that will usher it in.
Our facilitators for the afternoon are Dr. Daniel Martin, Dr. Brian Brown, Dr. Kevin Cawley, CFC and Dr. Kathleen Deignan, CND – all students of the work of geologian and ecological prophet, Thomas Berry. Please join us for this important conversation.
The End Zone, La Penta Student Union
“The Great Work Project: Resources for Transforming the Ecological Vision and Practice of the Catholic Community”
“The Great Work” of our time, according to the late geologian, Passionist Father Thomas Berry, is to transform the human / earth relationship from one of destruction to a mutually beneficial rapport that derives from the human person’s true and right relation to the natural world – what Thomas Merton calls a recovery of “paradise consciousness.”
As a new GreenFaith Fellow, Sister Kathleen hopes to serve the conversation in and conversion of the Catholic community by the offerings of The Great Work Project which aim to retrieve a sense of deep incarnation, and its corollary – a spirituality that informs an ecological consciousness, conscience, and practice.
As a student of Thomas Berry at Fordham University and under his mentorship, Sister Kathleen has been inspired to keep alive the work of this exceptional visionary and transmit his teaching. Using her several skill-sets as Catholic theologian, teacher, writer, spiritual animator, composer, and performance artist, Deignan has developed multi-faceted, multi-media, morphing modules to inform a variety of creative platforms that are at once informational, educational, inspirational, and transformational.
These performative offerings present the teachings of Thomas Berry – and also Thomas Merton – as they increasingly inform a Christian catechesis for just and mindful living on planet Earth in the 21st Century, and as they challenge, inspire and give direction to the conversion of habits toward simplicity of life, earth reverence, and environmental justice. By these creative programs Deignan hopes to serve the great labor which Father Thomas Berry calls “The Great Work” of our time: to re-invent the human / earth relationship.
This multifaceted project is underway on a number of levels and will continue for the duration of the Fellowship term and beyond.
Spring / Summer 08: research and development of Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry’s ecological teaching and the presentation of it in several formats:
- “Thomas Merton’s Eco-Monasticism” – Presentation to the American Benedictine Academy, Yankton SD
- “Thomas Merton’s Eco-Monasticism” – Publication of article in the Bulletin of ABA and on ABA website
- “The Vocation of the Teacher in the Ecological Age” – Day long retreat for faculty and administrators of Laurelton Hall HS, CT
- “Loving the Paradise Mystery: Thomas Merton, Contemplative Ecologist” – Submission of invited article to Cross Currents
- Thomas Merton: Ecological Prophet – Day long retreat to the Thomas Merton Community of Palo Alto, CA
- Thomas Merton’s Spiritual Vision – Retreat at St Joseph’s Spirituality Center, Brentwood, Long Island, NY
- Merton’s Notes on the Inner Experience – Contemplative seminar for spiritual directors, Mariandale Spiritual Center
- “Desecrated Sanctuary: Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry in Dialogue on Healing the Earth, Healing the Human” – Three day retreat/program for the Appalachian Diocese of Richmond, VA
- Retreat day for the Priests of the Redemptorist Community, NY: Thomas Merton’s Natural Contemplation
- Release of new CD “The Great Giving”
- Work on new CD sampler of songs based on poetry of Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry
- Develop new web-site for Schola Ministries to host “The Great Work Project”
- “Masters of Soul and Cosmos: Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry in Dialogue” two-day program at the Sophia Center in San Diego, CA
- Thomas Merton’s Spiritual Legacy (with an accent on his ecological vision) Spring semester course at Iona College for 30 undergraduates
- Research and development on a new book Remembering Paradise: A Book of Hours (on-going to completion)
- Continue research and development for new CD of creation songs
- Publication of “Loving the Paradise Mystery: Thomas Merton, Contemplative Ecologist” Cross Currents
- Thomas Merton’s Spiritual Legacy (accent on eco-spirituality) Three week course at St Mary’s Adult Education Center, Pompton Lakes, NJ
- Keynote and day of reflection for Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Immaculate Conception on Paradise Mind
- Carmelite Forum – The Spiritual Legacy of Thomas Merton (accent on eco-spirituality) at St. Anastasia Parish, NJ
- Iona Spirituality Institute program on ecological spirituality and transformation hosting Community of Interbeing Lay Monastic Jeanne Anselmo Tuesday, February 24, 2009 for the Iona College community
- Thomas Merton’s Spiritual Legacy (accent on eco-spirituality), St. Ignatius Retreat Center at Inisfada, Long Island, NY
- Iona Spirituality Institute program on ecological justice and transformation hosting poet Drew Dellinger “Planetize the Movement” Tuesday, March 24, 2009 for the Iona College community
- Thomas Merton Forum (accent on eco-spirituality), Diocese of Brooklyn (250 participants) Thursday, April 29, 2009
- Publication of New CD: Thomas Merton: An Audio Book of Hours (creation prayers) for Schola Ministries and for iPhone
- Inaugurate the Irish Chapter of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland Program on Merton as Ecological Prophet
- “Desecrated Sanctuary: Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry in Dialogue on Healing the Earth, Healing the Human” – 90 minute session for the International Thomas Merton Society General Meeting at Nazareth College, Rochester, NY
- ‘Ecology at the Heart of Faith: The CND Charism in the Ecological Age’ – Annual week-long retreat for the Congregation of Notre Dame , RI
- Release of CD Sampler of Merton / Berry songs for ITMS Meeting
- Recovering Paradise: The Vocation of the Contemplative Artist in the Ecological Age – Keynote Address and day long retreat to the Dominican Artists Institute, Convent Station, NY July 15-16, 2009
- Remembering Paradise: A Book of Hours (Sorin Books) – Preparation of manuscript for publication
- Work on new CD of Creation Songs
- Development of new academic course for Iona College Department of Religious Studies: RST 320 Spiritual Masters Series: Thomas Berry – The New Story and the Great Work
- Submission of “Desecrated Sanctuary”- article for Thomas Merton Annual
- The Courage to Teach in the Ecological Age: Faculty In-Service Day Notre Dame Academy Staten Island
- Begin work on DVD Series – Recovering the Paradise Mind: The Wisdom of Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry
Winter or Spring 2010:
- Release of new CD of Creation Songs: A Garden Once Again
- Teach new RST course: Spiritual Master: Thomas Berry – The New Story and The Great Work Iona College (30 students)
- Iona Spirituality Institute sponsorship of Faculty Seminar: “The Catholic College in the Ecological Age” (based on a paper delivered at Iona College by Father Thomas Berry)
- Begin draft of new book: Thomas Berry: A Book of Days (Sorin Books)
- Inauguration of The Berry Series at Iona Spirituality Institute
- Sophia Institute, Oakland, California “The Gospel of Thomas: Good New for the Great Work” and follow up retreat: Making the Great Work Personal
2010 – 2011:
- Work on possible new books: Remembering Paradise: A Book of Hours and Desecrated Sanctuary: Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry in Dialogue on Healing the Earth, Healing the Human
- Hosting through the Iona Spirituality Institute the first Bi-Annual GreenFaith Fellows Conference at Iona College
- It is my hope that “The Great Work Project” will afford an expanded understanding and appreciation for Catholic teaching regarding creation and creation care
- Engender a deeper awareness of the sacred dimensions of the natural world rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation and Catholic theology and catechesis, and a consequent conversion of life-habits that are more sustainable and reverent
- Awaken a commitment to work for the healing and protection of the natural world
- Develop consciousness of and support for vulnerable human communities hardest hit by ecological degradation
- Broaden the audience / reader’s sense of the Catholic social and ecological justice teaching that flows from that faith vision
- Introduce a wider audience to the ecological teachings of Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry
Retreats, Programs, Courses, Lectures on the Legacy of Thomas Berry
- Thomas Berry and The Great Work
- Thomas Berry and Thomas Merton in Conversation on Healing the Earth
Resources on The Great Work and Thomas Berry will be added very shortly. Thank you for your patience.