It is nearly impossible to walk the grounds of the University of Saint Mary without encountering a squirrel burying nuts, foraging, eating, chattering with other squirrels, scampering across a sidewalk or road, or simply sunning itself. Two species of tree squirrels inhabit the grounds: the eastern gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The eastern gray squirrel is the smaller of the species, identifiable by its white belly. The fox squirrel is larger than the eastern gray squirrel and has a reddish-brown coat. Both squirrels are native to eastern Kansas, and so we should not be surprised that they make occasional appearances in the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth community chronicles.
Consider this chronicle entry by Sister Mary Anacleta Flynn on October 23, 1924:
First frost. Lovers of chestnuts said dolefully, “They are all gone!” Sisters, girls, and squirrels were rivals in gathering the nuts each morning. Fortune favored the squirrels at all times; the sisters and girls alternately. When Fr. Hauber [the academy priest] was extra pious, fortune favored the sisters and they had the first pick after the squirrels; but when Mother Mary Berchmans [the Mother General] was pious, fortune smiled on the girls. Sister Mary Genevieve [Buckley] says it is no wonder our forefathers got along without cooking, and Sister Mary de Chantal [Gleason] nods approvingly and decides to gather some leaves.Remarkably, Sister Mary Anacleta seems not to have begrudged the squirrels their most favored status. Was her graciousness towards them born in the recognition that the squirrels were here first, and neither chestnut trees nor Catholic sisters nor academy girls inhabited Kansas one hundred years prior? Did the friendly competition among sisters, girls, and squirrels reveal to her some of the many similarities between our species? Or perhaps she, like me, simply could not imagine this beautiful campus without the enlivening presence of our squirrelly neighbors, even though we sometimes wish the squirrels might comport themselves differently.
In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of ecosystems and the interconnectedness of all forms of life. “Because all creatures are connected,” he exhorts, “each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”  In the spirit of Pope Francis and Sister Mary Anacleta, I challenge you this month to reframe an animal “pest” as a beloved part of your ecosystem, even – or especially – when fortune favors that animal in the harvesting of your favorite fall treats.
 Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Chronicle, Vol. 4, 825-826. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Archives, Leavenworth, Kansas.
 For a contemporary reflection on the similarities between squirrels and humans, see Avi Steinberg, “Letter of Recommendation: Squirrels.” New York Times Magazine. April 17, 2016. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-squirrels.html
 Pope Francis. Laudato Si. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html