A New Eden Grows In Brentwood

Jul 17, 2022

Sisters Of St Joseph Lindsay Morris 192

By Meghan Harlow| July 1, 2022 | Photos by Lindsay Morris
This article appears in Summer 2022: Issue No. 32 of Edible Long Island

How the partnership between the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Peconic Land Trust has transformed 212 acres in Brentwood—one of Long Island’s most notorious ‘food deserts’—into a land, literally, of milk, honey and a sustainable model for all.

A nun pulls up to a farmstand in an electric, six-passenger golf cart. This is not the start of a joke, but an everyday occurrence on the Sisters of St. Joseph campus in Brentwood.

It certainly wasn’t always. Back in 2015, the nun who now holds the keys to that aforementioned golf cart, Sister Karen Burke, found herself busier than ever. A sister in the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, as well as a tenured professor at Western Connecticut State University with a doctoral degree in Instructional Leadership, S. Karen was thriving professionally, with her work in education opening up opportunities for her to travel all around the world.

“Beautiful things were happening in my life,” says S. Karen. “I was teaching at various universities, traveling all over the place and having all of these great experiences, but my passion was shifting, and I was becoming more and more interested in, and passionate about, the earth.”

Karen was not the only one. There are, in total, 325 sisters of St. Joseph between the congregation’s main campus in Brentwood, and smaller satellite sites in Queens and Puerto Rico, and they all share a commitment to continuing what they see as the true mission of Jesus Christ: to, in their own words, “promote justice, live lives of non-violence and respond to the needs of our time.” So it was not surprising, but still historic, when the sisters congregated in 2015 and made the pivotal decision to affirm a Land Ethic Statement—a document that reads as equal parts pledge and plan, outlining their intentions to fulfill the full scope of their charism, to love God and neighbor without distinction, by being the most conscientious and actively affirming stewards of the sacred land in their care.

They certainly had a lot of land to care for. The Sisters of St. Joseph campus in Brentwood is 212 acres in all, a sprawling space as breathtakingly beautiful as it is altogether unlikely. Brentwood is one of the most densely populated and developed communities on Long Island; enter the sisters’ campus and it feels as though you’ve stumbled upon an entirely different world—a quiet oasis that recalls both a different age and continent. At the heart of it stands the motherhouse, home to over 100 sisters and, currently, refugee families from Ukraine and Afghanistan; the sisters’ Sacred Heart Chapel; Eastern Suffolk BOCES and other educational spaces, such as a universal pre-school; and the Maria Regina Residence, a highly esteemed nursing home.

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