Climate crisis subject of May conference at St. Therese, Little Flower Parish
Members of the Social Justice Commission at St. Therese, Little Flower Parish in South Bend see climate change as the most pressing issue of our time.
“There’s no time to lose,” said Bill Odell, a commission member who also volunteers as coordinator of the parish’s Whatsoever You Do Outreach Ministry. “If we don’t move swiftly, we have everything to lose.”
To help Catholics address the issue, St. Therese, Little Flower will host a two-part conference on climate change on the Zoom videoconferencing platform. From 7 to 8:15 p.m. May 13, Philip J. Sakimoto, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Program for Academic Excellence and a former NASA official with expertise in climate science, will speak on “Why Catholics must act on climate change Now!” Then, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. May 27, Sakimoto will serve as moderator for a panel discussion on what Catholics can do now to address the climate crisis. Panelists will be Father Emmanuel Katongole, professor of peace studies and theology at Notre Dame and founder of the Bethany Land Institute in his homeland of Uganda; Paz Artaza-Regan, national coordinator of Creation Care Teams for the Catholic Climate Covenant organization; and Sister Damien Marie Savino, FSE, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and dean of sciences and sustainability at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
People throughout the diocese are invited to take part in the conference. Live participation is limited to 100. Registration is free and required for each session by going to the St. Therese, Little Flower website, littleflowerchurch.org. Under the “Serve with Us” link, click on “Social Justice Commission.” Recordings of each conference session will be available later on the parish website.
Each year, the parish organizes a way to recognize the anniversary of Pope Francis’ release of “Laudato Si,’” his May 24, 2015, encyclical on “Care for our Common Home.”
Along with the climate change conference, this year the parish will use its bulletin and website to publish one commandment each week for 10 weeks from the book “The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si,’” Odell said.
St. Therese, Little Flower has a long history of concern for social justice issues, he noted.
Members realize there are many serious problems in today’s world, such as racism, economic injustice, poverty and war. According to Odell, people have time to solve those troubles, if they have the will to do so. That time isn’t available for the problem of climate change. Evidence now indicates that the problems caused by climate change will happen sooner than expected originally, and some will be irreversible. However, there’s still time to avoid the worst consequences.
Social Justice Commission members believe action must be taken now to protect the Earth. “This is a God-given gift to us,” Odell added. “What does it say about God if we don’t care for this gift He has given us?”
Efforts around diocese focus on care for creation
Pope Francis stressed the need to care for each other and for God’s creation in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si.’” People around the world also are reminded to care for the world each April 22 on Earth Day.
A number of parishes, schools and groups in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are already engaged in caring for our common home.
Using the sun
Encouraged by the Pope’s words in “Laudato Si’,” St. Anthony de Padua Parish in South Bend applied for and received a $24,000 grant from the nonprofit group Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light to install solar power in fall 2015 and become more energy efficient, said Andrew Turba, a 20-year parish member who recently became its director of facilities and maintenance.
The 40 solar panels on the gym roof, which were installed at virtually no cost to the congregation, generate about 10.4 kilowatts of electricity per year, about the same annual usage as a family of four, Turba said.
A login allows people to monitor the panels’ electrical production, which has been useful for the parish and for student learning at the school. The parish also replaced all old fluorescent lighting in the school with LED lights in 2016. With rebates available from its electrical utility, it cost the parish only about $1,200.
With rebates, “You most likely can switch an entire school (to LED lights) for a couple thousand dollars,” he noted.
St. Anthony replaced all lights in the church with LED bulbs in 2017 and did the same with all gym and outdoor lights in 2020, Turba added.
The parish now realizes energy savings of about $1,200 per year from the solar panels and about $13,800 a year from installing LED lights in all its buildings, he said.
The parish also installed high-efficiency boilers to replace decades-old units in the church, school and gym and put insulation in the school, gym and rectory.
“Sometimes we fail to look beyond what obviously needs repaired and assess how efficient our spaces are operating,” said Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp, who became St. Anthony’s pastor in June 2020. “It is very common that a lot of our schools and churches are not insulated as well as they should. This generates higher heating costs.
“Also, making the change to all-LED bulbs can be a large project that doesn’t seem urgent but the energy savings are worth it!,” Father Muhlenkamp said. “I am grateful as a priest that the Lord has always provided me with parishioners who have stepped up and helped me with these challenges.”
Inspired in ministry
After the release of “Laudato Si’,” parishioner Phil Sakimoto of St. Pius X Parish in Granger gave a four-part lecture series on the encyclical, parish member Delaina Wilkin recalled. The presentations led to the founding of the parish’s Creation Care Team, which raises awareness about caring for the world God created.
Before the pandemic, the team organized events such as an Earth Day Fair, planting of about 200 trees on the St. Pius grounds and an LED lightbulb education display where team members assisted people with ordering LED lightbulbs, Wilkin said. The team also implemented more-intensive waste recycling at the annual parish picnic.
Creation Care Team members participated in planning for the solar panel array that now powers the parish rectory, said Chuck Bueter, one of the team’s leaders.
“We were hopeful that installation would fuel more interest in the parish,” he said.
Some people contacted him about installing solar panels at their home or business, but not as many as hoped, he added.
The parish has been shifting to use of energy-saving LED lights in its buildings. Creation Care Team members also have met with their area’s elected officials to express concern about care of the environment.
Bueter said reading “Laudato Si’” inspires him in his faith. Each paragraph in the encyclical is like a prayer in itself, he said.
Joining the Creation Care Team also strengthened Wilkin’s beliefs.
“For me, my faith is very much connected into our world and the gifts we have been given,” said Wilkin, who joined the Catholic Church about five years ago.
In the future, she and Bueter hope the Creation Care Team can make the rectory solar array’s electrical production data available to St. Pius X School for possible use in classroom lessons. The team also will explore ways to improve recycling at St. Pius X School and how to reduce the parish’s carbon footprint — the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted by fossil fuel use.
Since the release of the Earth Charter in 2000, members of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ religious order have approached care for the Earth more intentionally, said Sister Joetta Huelsmann, PHJC, the order’s provincial. The Pope’s release of “Laudato Si’” in 2015 strengthened their efforts at what is now The Center at Donaldson, just west of Plymouth, and at convents the sisters have elsewhere in Indiana and in Chicago.
The Center at Donaldson includes five ministries: Ancilla Domini College, Catherine Kasper Life Center, Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center, MoonTree Studios, and Ancilla Beef and Grain Farm.
Actions taken to care for creation include adding a fen, or marshy area, on the 1,100-acre campus; installation of solar panel arrays, geothermal heating and electric car charging stations; purchase of hybrid and electric cars; farming several fields organically; cooperative composting; and developing sustainable agricultural ecosystems.
“Caring for creation does impact one’s faith life,” Sister Joetta said. “Creation was the first Scripture that God gave us. If one is aware of all of creation around them, it leads them to God and His generous gift to us, that God asked us to care for.”
The reality of God is revealed through creation in Romans 1:20, said Geoffrey Williams, the center’s executive director of ecological services.
“Jesus used imagery of nature in His teachings,” Williams added. “He spent His final moments in prayer in a garden. From the moment of our creation (Genesis) and all through the Bible, we are called to be stewards of the Earth.”
Separate projects have saved small plots of land containing woods and wildflowers on the south side of Fort Wayne.
St. Therese Parish bought a half-acre of wooded land next to the parish in 2017. To protect wildflowers growing there, parish member Betsy Yankowiak worked with Eagle Scout candidate Charles Stein in fall 2019 to install a trail around the outer edge of the lot. With help from extended family and a few parishioners, Stein cleaned up the property, cleared out invasive brush and built the mulched trail. For his effort, he earned an Eagle Scout Award.
About 3 miles away, Bishop Luers High School acquired about an acre of undeveloped land adjoining its campus, principal James Huth said. School officials have discussed installing either a rosary walk or Stations of the Cross walk on the land while also making sure not to disturb any sensitive plants.
They hope an Eagle Scout candidate or school service group will take on the project in collaboration with the school’s pastoral minister, Huth said.
He also envisions science classes using the land for laboratory work. Theology classes also can visit the area for prayer after installation of the rosary walk or Stations of the Cross walk.
Luers students also have combined service and care for the environment.
Green, healthy leaves of bibb and romaine lettuces, basil, arugula, kale and rainbow chard stretch out from their spots in the tower garden in biology teacher Heather Briggs’ class. The futuristic-looking device features grow lights hanging on arms from its top. Water in the base circulates periodically up to the plants, which grow in a sponge material rather than in soil.
Luers received the tower garden about a month ago through a grant from Parkview Health’s Youth Well-Being program. Sophomores Genevieve Cicchiello, 16, Bea Burton, 16, and Ariana Barzola Delgado, 17, took responsibility for raising the plants. They hope to donate produce from the tower garden to a food pantry, Cicchiello said.
All three young women take steps at home to protect the environment, such as composting, growing gardens, reducing water use or buying food grown locally to minimize the impact of transporting it here. They also are interested in starting an environmental club next year at Luers.
So many people are destroying the Earth and not caring for what God gave us, Burton said.
“The Earth is a beautiful gift,” Cicchiello added. “We think we should take care of it for the many generations that come after us.”
Luers also has helped the Little River Wetlands Project in Fort Wayne with preparing native plant seeds for germination and planting in its nature preserves and the community.
This year, several of the school’s Sodalitas student service groups separated native plant seeds from chaff in two different rounds, Briggs said. Students cleaned a combined total of nearly 34,000 wild senna seeds and nearly 1.2 million blue vervain seeds, which saved LRWP nearly $200 in seed costs.
“Luers actually played an important role for us this year,” said Yankowiak, LRWP’s director of preserves and programs. Students provided 140 hours of volunteer labor, which would be valued at about $3,800 at the federal volunteer rate.
The nonprofit normally invites out school groups and other volunteers to separate wildflower seeds from flower heads, Yankowiak said. That didn’t happen with the pandemic, but Luers’ Sodalitas groups filled the void.
LRWP sends the seeds to area schools with greenhouses, where students grow seedlings that can be planted in LRWP preserves or in the community.
Members of SECO, the Social and Ecological Concerns Organization at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, work “to create awareness and inspire action surrounding the environmental and social issues within our community,” said senior Tessa Berente, the group’s president.
About 10 students participate regularly, but many more help with SECO events. Those events include a Conscientious Christmas Cafe each December where SECO members sell fair-trade products. Members also have joined in climate marches in South Bend and have hosted climate “think tanks” with speakers at their school, she said.
Many activities had to be put on hold because of the pandemic, Berente noted. Members hope to resume them next school year and to create a bigger focus on recycling in the school cafeteria.
“SECO influences my faith through allowing me to see the love and reflection of Christ in every person as I work with fair-trade vendors and learn artisans’ stories,” she said. “Many artisans create these products just to get by, but do so with so much joy I can’t help but see God’s light in them.
“Also, I have had the opportunity to truly appreciate the beauty that God has put into His creation: the Earth. In our work with climate protection and environmental awareness, I am continuously put on a path toward glorifying God and His amazing work.”
As a community-service project, middle school students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Fort Wayne have helped for the past few years with sorting seeds into packets for distribution to students participating in the annual citywide School Children’s Flower and Vegetable Association show organized by the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department.
This year, the parks department wasn’t allowing volunteers to come on-site because of the novel coronavirus, so a staff member asked if St. Elizabeth students could count seeds into packets at their school, said Sarah Steffan, a parent volunteer who coordinates St. Elizabeth’s participation in the annual plant show.
The parks department provided the seeds and packages to put them in, Steffan said. One day in late March, fourth- and fifth-grade students took time during their science classes to count seeds by type and put 10 or 20 seeds into each package, she said. They counted a combined total of nearly 35,000 gourd, zinnia, beet and pumpkin seeds.
“Everything we touch is part of God’s creation,” Steffan said. The seeds grow into food we eat or into flowers we can give to another person.
“I made it very clear we are helping our community,” she added. Students were excited the seeds they packaged would go to students at other Fort Wayne schools.
St. Elizabeth school students and their families also are volunteering during Fort Wayne’s Great American Cleanup on May 1. Volunteers go out citywide that day to collect trash from roadsides, parks, trails and riverbanks.
St. Elizabeth’s volunteers will clean up the school grounds and parish campus, principal Lois Widner said.
The “Ecumenical and Interreligious Guidebook: Care for Our Common Home” offers theological and practical resources to take action on care for creation. It was prepared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, and Catholic Climate Covenant.
To view the guidebook, go to creation.cadeio.org/ecumenical-and-interreligious-guidebook-care-for-our-common-home/.
How to help
Here are everyday things to do to care for God’s creation:
— Use as many natural elements on your land as possible, rather than chemicals.
— Walk or bicycle more to avoid polluting the air by driving a vehicle.
— Grow your own fruits and vegetables.
— Live locally by shopping locally and at local farmers markets.
— Conserve water, using only what is needed.
— Compost food scraps to reduce waste and create a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers.
Information provided by Sister Joetta Huelsmann, PHJC, provincial of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and Geoffrey Williams, executive director of ecological services at The Center at Donaldson.
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