Ross Profesor, Six Alums Highlighted in New Documentary
It’s one thing to know your master’s project has made a real difference in the world. It’s another thing altogether to see it on the big screen, and find out the effect may have reached the heavens too.
Six U-M alumni, including three from Michigan Ross, play a role in the documentary “Saving Grace, Saving Place,” which centers on the Holy Cross Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley (also known as Trappists).
Former Erb Institute fellows Kathryn Buckner MBA/MS ’11, Charlotte Coultrap-Bagg, MBA/MS ’11, and Alexander Linkow, MBA/MS ’11, worked with School of Natural Resources and Environment colleagues Jessica Neafsey, Craig Cammarata, and Christopher Stratman on an exhaustive 2010 environmental report with specific recommendations and ideas for sustainable business ventures.
That report, their master’s project, is the blueprint for Holy Cross’ ongoing sustainability efforts. As the documentary shows, the monks have adopted many of the recommendations and continue to work on more.
“Their report is the basis for our ongoing stewardship,” says Fr. James Orthmann, one of the Holy Cross monks. “The sustainability study from the University of Michigan remains the backbone and motivation of our commitment, fueled by our faith vision.”
In 2007 Holy Cross abbey — faced with shrinking membership and management of 1,200 acres — decided to work on a strategic plan. They wanted to be better stewards of the land in particular, and ensure the abbey — which included a farm, livestock, and a bakery business run by the monks — was environmentally responsible.
A former monk at Holy Cross knew of U-M’s Erb Institute through his sister and contact was made through Professor Andy Hoffman.
It became a master’s project that students could participate in, and Buckner immediately wanted in.
“It was absolutely the only one I wanted to work on,” she said. “I was drawn to the idea of working with this particular group of monks who were curious about sustainability and driven by spiritual reasons.”
The students went through the entirety of the property, studying land use, energy use, waste practices, best uses of buildings, finances — and made recommendations. The students make their first appearance in the documentary at 20:33 — presenting their report to the monks — and Hoffman is first interviewed at 20:40, making other appearances throughout.
The monks adopted several of the students’ ideas, including a green burial cemetery, land use improvements, organic farming, soil conservation, water practices, recycling, and fighting invasive species.
“They took the student recommendations and rather quickly turned them into action,” says Hoffman. “And there’s more to come. Sustainability is always a goal, never an end point.”
Neafsey, MLA ’10, says that seeing their work lead to real change, especially in an unconventional setting, was very gratifying.
“It’s a strange feeling putting your heart and soul into a project and then you think, ‘What does this even mean? Will it do anything?’ So I was pleased when we heard about them starting the ball rolling quickly,” she says.
Buckner, who has kept in touch with Fr. Orthmann over the years and returned to the monastery two years ago, was happy to see the documentary because “this place really does touch my heart.”
“It’s nice to see that kind of interest in this place and that project,” she says. “It is rather unusual for a master’s project.”