In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, On the Care of Our Common Home, Pope Francis expresses, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, at the same time protecting nature.”
A key component of the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is to “care for all creation,” a message which was reaffirmed with their 2015 Chapter Direction: “Called from the beginning of our foundation as Sisters of Charity to address the needs of our world, we move intentionally and creatively toward the vulnerabilities of our Earth and our sisters and brothers.”
This Spring, in recognition of Earth Day, SC Ministry Foundation invited three Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters CJ Willie, Marge Kloos, and Barbara Busch to share how they are fulfilling the call to environmental stewardship. Staff from 20 nonprofit organizations joined in the conversation to learn how to adopt “green” practices, reduce energy costs, and inspire their community to do the same.
The Legacy of the Solar Nun
Sister CJ spoke from her varied experiences as the program director for EarthConnection, a member of environmental committees for both the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph University, and a board member for Ohio Interfaith Power and Light (OhIPL). Sister Paula Gonzalez, SC co-founded Ohio Interfaith Power & Light in 2007 as the statewide affiliate of the national organization. Before her passing in July 2016, Sister Paula had spent 45 years of her life advocating for renewable energy, earning her the recognition as the “solar nun.” Sister CJ shared how OhIPL is continuing Sister Paula’s mission by partnering with energy assessment experts to help faith-based nonprofits obtain low-cost energy audits and implementation plans to reduce energy costs. She included information about financing options that are available to support energy conservation projects, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding mechanism.
Moving “Off the Grid”
As the co-founder and executive director of Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), Sister Barbara discussed how WIN is providing energy-efficient home renovations, and developing plans to utilize solar and geothermal energy in newly-constructed affordable homes. For many years, Working in Neighborhoods has been providing energy-efficient renovations for low-income homeowners, which includes Energy Star rated furnaces, water heaters and appliances, insulation and replacement windows, as well environmental remediation to manage issues with lead or asbestos. In addition, WIN builds new homes with the same principals of energy efficiency and sustainability. WIN’s latest project will create a “Net-Zero” Urban Village in South Cumminsville, one of Cincinnati’s oldest, predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Within a targeted area, WIN will build 25 net-zero or near net-zero energy usage homes using energy efficient design and green energy technology such as geothermal and/or solar. WIN’s goal is to move low-income residents out of costly, inefficient and often unhealthy rental properties into affordable, sustainable homeownership. Within the same targeted area, 25 current homeowners will receive weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades. Sister Barb shared, “We think we can help those in poverty… we’re not going to increase their money, but we can increase their ability to use their money differently.”
Living the Mission
Sister Marge’s background in environmental studies and global travel experiences have prepared her for the responsibility of coordinating environmental initiatives on the Sisters of Charity properties, through her role as an executive councilor with the Sisters of Charity Leadership Council. She shared how Pope Francis’ call to “integral ecology” led the Sisters to consider “what we were doing with our own properties to protect our ‘non-human neighbors’.” Sister Marge shared that when we utilize any energy, we “have to look at the ecological cost as well as the economic cost. As long as I can remember, Sister Paula has been encouraging us to do this.” She described how the Sisters of Charity are on the leading edge of the renewable energy efforts in the Greater Cincinnati area through geothermal, solar, and other energy-efficient initiatives in order to transform their properties into “ecological models of sustainability.” One example Sister Marge cited was their effort to switch 10,500 lightbulbs in the Motherhouse to LED lighting. This has resulted in an estimated cost savings of $62,000 a year. Beyond the Motherhouse, the Sisters have installed geothermal HVAC technology for two of the Sister’s residences and solar technology for six of the residences. The combined impact of these renewable energy solutions is anticipated to reduce carbon emissions at the equivalent of 120,000 miles driven by a passenger vehicle in one year, or 54,000 pounds of coal burned each year.
A recording of the “Faithfully Green” panel presentation as well as additional resources are available at: www.scministryfdn.org/programs/faithfully-green.
Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati statement on Care for the Earth:
Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation.