ESSEX— Combining religion and science may seem like trying to mix oil with water, but for Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, it makes perfect sense.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) and the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy (GVC) have joined forces to better protect the Chesapeake Bay and it’s tributaries with a series of projects— the latest being the micorbioretention gardens in OLMC’s parking lot.

Taking up four parking spots, OLMC’s microbioretention gardens are specially engineered to keep storm water runoff from entering waterways and instead infiltrate water back into the ground.

“When it rains and it comes across hard surfaces, that is stormwater runoff and it picks up motor oil, trash, excess nutrients and it goes to either the nearest storm drain or body of water and it’s not treated and it pollutes our local waterways,” Amy Young, GVC Communications Manager said while standing near one of the gardens.

Young went on to say the microbioretention gardens are made up of native plants and that the soil in the gardens was excavated to a greater depth to encourage water to filter into the ground instead of getting washed away.

In addition to these new microbioretention gardens, GVC has also worked with OLMC to create Baywise rain gardens and landscapes. Like the microbioretention gardens, the rain gardens will help reduce stormwater runoff to nearby Hopkins Creek and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

These rain gardens, which are packed with native flowers that attract pollinators, have allowed OLMC to become Baywise certified—meaning OLMC has met the criteria set up in the University of Maryland’s Baywise program (like planting native plants and establishing a landscape that reduces stormwater runoff).

Having these Baywise gardens is one of the ways Doug DeMeo, Pastoral Associate at OLMC, said the church and school are being stewards of the Earth and faith.

“It’s a shame that there are lingering perceptions that faith and science are separate when really they are two sides of the same coin,” DeMeo said.

“The idea of stewardship has been a part of our biblical history for thousands of years. It’s a very important part of our faith to not only be good care takers but to have a sense of justice and environmental justice and economic justice and social justice are really so tightly wound.”

Rita Kurek, who is a Baywise steward for GVC and the previous school board president at OLMC, said she also believes that her faith calls on her to be a caretakers for the Earth.

“We believe in God and we believe God created the Earth so we are supposed to be steward of that Earth. Pope Farncis said that those who have taken most advantage of the Earth are the ones who should be giving back,” Kurek said. “The United States has utilized so much of the energy on this planet and we should be taking the lead.”

As a member of GVC’s steering committee, Kurek helps GVC apply for grants and finds businesses or organizations that want to implement large Baywise practices like the garden in OLMC’s parking lot.

Kurek, along with other GVC members and employees, were able to secure the funding for the gardens and received grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Fish and Wild Life Federation.

Other projects that Kurek and OLMC are working on in collaboration with GVC is a prayer labyrinth. The labyrinth was designed by GVC and will transform the barren ground that is currently between OLMC’s elementary school and the rectory into a place where teachers and students can sit together and learn outside.

“It will have seating all around and tables for the kids to go out there about the environment and just do outdoor learning. Parishioners can use it for prayer also,” Kurek said.

Thanks to GVC and generous donors like Kurek, OLMC has joined a large group made up of homeowners, businesses, and religious institutions to improve water quality in Middle River, White Marsh, Perry Hall and other communities. GVC offers free rain garden workshops where people who are interested in growing a rain garden can help install rain gardens at people’s homes and places of work. The next rain garden workshop is Saturday, October 10 and people can sign up to participate by going to GVC’s volunteer sign up page on their website.

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