He died 783 years ago. But St. Francis of Assisi probably had a big smile in heaven yesterday for the ecology work that 13-year-old Rachel Perzynski began in Sylvania months ago with a bunch of worms.
Not any worms, mind you.
A special variety called Eisenia fetida that compost food scraps five times as efficiently as ordinary night crawlers, according to Jamie Kochensparger, an education specialist for the Lucas Soil & Water Conservation District.
Forty-two plastic storage bins, each containing about 100 of those type of worms, were part of yesterday's "Blessing of the Animals" ceremony that the Sylvania Franciscan Academy had at Lourdes College. About 200 people attended it.
Worms help the environment by breaking down food scraps into compost, thereby saving on landfill space, Ms. Kochensparger said.
They are worthy of being blessed because - like dogs, cats, and other animals that offer us companionship - they make a contribution to our well-being, Deacon Tom Sheehan said.
To better understand how worms wiggled their way into the hearts of people involved with the blessing, you'll need to set your mind back about a year.
Rachel, then a seventh grader at the academy, needed a science project. She came up with one that focused on the ability of worms to speed along the natural cycle of composting.
It didn't end there. After Ms. Kochensparger visited her school,
Rachel was inspired to show how composting can be done indoors by almost anyone, even people of limited means, by placing worms inside containers and covering the scraps with shredded newspaper.
The shredded newspaper keeps fruit flies at bay. The portability of the setup prevents messy backyard piles and the possibility of being held in violation of a city's nuisance ordinance. The system allows people to compost in their basements, utility rooms, or other parts of their homes.
Rachel's work won a top honor from the annual "eco-sensitivity" competition at the University of Toledo in March. The contest was sponsored by a group which calls itself SAVE (Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment).
Rachel's project also has been supported by a BP grant for composting.
"I really wanted to do something that helps our environment," Rachel said. "This worm project seems like a good one to expand on."
Sister Rosine Sobczak, a SAVE representative, said she was impressed by Rachel's "passion for worms and composting."
Sister Sobczak, an associate professor of biology at Lourdes and director of the college's life laboratory, said she had never heard of worms being included in a Blessing of the Animals ceremony, but said she "liked the idea."
Rachel said her father, Tony Perzynski, told her worms deserve to be blessed like other animals.
"I thought it was a little strange at first, but it made sense because worms are part of the world," Rachel said. "Worms are animals that need respect."
Respect for living creatures was the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the first Roman Catholic saints credited for having an intense love of nature and for appreciating God-given natural resources. He also was a saint devoted to children and animals.
St. Francis of Assisi lived from 1182 to 1226, according to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. His writings have inspired countless followers of his work to become better environmental stewards, including nuns in northwest Ohio convents.
"Francis taught us everything around us is goodness," Deacon Sheehan said.
The Perzynski family has been raising scrap-munching worms inside their house for a year now, giving away their surplus to other would-be composters as their collection of worms multiplies.
"I was always grossed out by worms, but now I think they're cute," mused Rachel's mother, Susan Perzynski.
Rachel and other students prepared 60-some containers of worms. About two-thirds were claimed after being blessed. The rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call the school at 419-885-3273 for information, Mrs. Perzynski said.
For more information about worms, go to www.
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