Year Joined MKLM: 2008
Country: El Salvador
Town: Monte San Juan
Ministry: Monte San Juan Parish – Sustainable agriculture, environmental advocacy and awareness, and pastoral accompaniment
Ministry Area: Sustainable development, pastoral care
Goals of Ministry: To accompany, advise and work with parish members to promote sustainable agricultural production, environmental awareness, lay leadership and a deepening of faith
Peg’s work to promote the care for creation and develop sustainable means of production directly encourages a more nonviolent approach to our environment, recognizing that each of us is connected not only to all of the other human beings on the planet but to all the other creatures as well. Developing sustainable agricultural production systems translates into assuring that the least among us, the most vulnerable and the marginalized are included and given preference in plans and projects.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, food security has been an increasingly important issue for Salvadoran families, especially those with lower incomes. Prices have continued to rise and food has become less affordable, making home production of healthy products all the more important.
In addition, the world climate crisis continues to worsen, with its effects of higher temperatures, more catastrophic storms and erratic weather patterns causing failed crops and destruction of homes, fields and infrastructure. Efforts to mitigate these effects and practices to improve resilience to climate change as well as promoting greater understanding of how our behavior affects climate change all contribute to improving the situation in at least one community in rural El Salvador.
As the worldwide church strives to become more synodal, efforts in the Monte San Juan Parish to “walk together” and truly listen to and learn from each other attempt to build up the local faith community and make it one that goes out to serve those on the peripheries.
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 the collection of empty pesticide containers, promoting recycling of bottles and cans, and encouraging reforestation and water conservation. Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Sí’, on Care for Our Common Home.” has been an invaluable tool and a continuing source of inspiration and direction. The members of the parish ministry have been the major force behind coordinating the efforts by different local and national government and community residents and water users to develop a watershed management plan for one of the rivers in the community. They also conduct training sessions and workshops to promote environmental awareness.
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, New York, 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.