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Stewards of our Shared Home

June 28, 2024
By Dusty Krikau

This article also appeared in the Quarter Two issue of “The New Business Review;" a publication of The Business News distributed throughout Northeastern Wisconsin.

In 2017, Pope Francis wrote a letter entitled Laudato Si.’ He addressed the letter to “every person living on this planet.” The 40,000 words were focused on three themes: anthropocentrism, interconnectedness, and interdependence. The document challenges us to recognize how human behavior is connected to all life on the planet and necessarily impacts it and is impacted by it. In the years leading up to and since the publication of Laudato Si’, Catholic people around the world have created a movement focused on shifting their sense of “dominion” over all things to “stewardship” of all things. This subtle shift from a sense of ownership to a sense of caregiving has created a new motivation when making decisions and inspired a movement to act vigorously on seven goals during seven years. 

The words “Laudato Si’” come from the “Canticle of the Sun” by St. Francis of Assisi. They translate to “Praise be to You.” The lyrics were written in the 1220s and are a joyful exclamation of appreciation for the creation of Brother Sun, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Sister Mother Earth, and Sister Bodily Death. This relationship of seeing all of creation as our siblings helps to reinforce the dynamic of caregiving and mutual respect for all living things. 

Catholics are not alone in setting goals to bring balance back to our give-and-take with nature. In many ways, the goals of the Laudato Si’ Movement are a mirror of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015. In early 2024, Islamic eco-theologians and practitioners from around the world launched “Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth” during the UN Environment Assembly. Similarly, the Hindu global movement for Mother Earth is called Bhumi Global and EcoSikh is the response from the Sikh community to the threats of climate change. Faith groups around the world recognize that caring for our common home is one of many forms of reverence for their creator. Any of the materials created by these groups may be an ideal “fit” for a business or organization to use as a framework when determining goals and strategies to join the efforts to halt the negative impacts of climate change and support sustainable growth for their business. 

In the paragraphs below, I highlight the goals of the Laudato Si’ Movement and how the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, based in Fond du Lac, has taken action on them. 

Goal 1

"The Response to the Cry of Earth is a call to protect our common home for the wellbeing of all, as we equitably address the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and ecological sustainability.”
The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA) owns 237 acres of land in Fond du Lac County. The property has a long-standing history with the congregation. Father Caspar Rehrl, the earliest founder of the Congregation, once said, "Oh, how I wish that the Sisters of St. Agnes might someday live on this beautiful land watered by springs."  That land eventually became CSA’s St. Joseph Springs Farm, which provided food for the sisters and the residents of St. Agnes hospital. Then, in 2002, the congregation fulfilled Father Rehrl’s vision and opened their motherhouse on the land. In 2022, the congregation protected the land in perpetuity by signing a conservation easement with Glacial Lakes Conservancy. 

When sustainability comes to mind, this goal is the one that is most commonly considered, but sustainable life requires more than just a healthy ecosystem.

Goal 2

"The Response to the Cry of the Poor is a call to promote eco-justice, aware that we are called to defend human life from conception to death, and all forms of life on Earth.”
Low-income communities are the most impacted by the negative impacts of climate change, so taking action to bring everyone to an equal footing is part of caring for all life on the planet. In local ways, the sisters and their partners in ministry work by running community gardening programs, teaching classes on moving from poverty to stability, and volunteering with local shelters, St. Vincent de Paul stores and programs, and other organizations helping families in transition. In 2021, the congregation provided financial support for opening a new shelter for the unhoused. Then, in 2023, the sisters helped to fund the community’s new warming shelter. On a larger scale, the congregation works with a UN agency, UNANIMA International, to support initiatives that stop human trafficking and bring women and children out of extreme poverty.

Goal 3

"Ecological Economics acknowledges that the economy is a sub-system of human society, which itself is embedded within the biosphere–our common home.”
For many years, CSA was a member of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment (SGI). SGI is a coalition of faith and values-driven institutional investors who view the management of their investments as a powerful catalyst for social change. Many similar organizations exist to focus investments in socially responsible enterprises. When making choices about banking and insurance companies, organizations can advocate for Earth by choosing companies with ecological economics in mind.  

Supporting community solar programs is another way to invest in an ecologically focused economy. The congregation has an 880-panel solar array on their property, which generates 50% of the energy needed for the buildings. In 2020, when Alliant Energy announced the launch of its first community solar project in Fond du Lac, CSA supported the endeavor by purchasing 538 blocks of the solar garden. That investment helped ensure the project had good foundational funding and also supplied the remaining 50% of the power needed to make the CSA property 100% solar-powered.

Goal 4

"The Adoption of Sustainable Lifestyles is grounded in the idea of sufficiency and promoting sobriety in the use of resources and energy.”
This goal is another topic that quickly comes to mind when considering how to mitigate climate change. As an organization, CSA recycles batteries, paper, plastic, glass, and plastic bags. Paper shredding is only done when necessary, since most shredded materials are not recyclable. While there is hope for increasing the scale of organizational composting, it is currently only feasible to do so on a very small scale based on the lack of infrastructure in the immediate area. 

While these actions are common across many organizations, CSA has also recently implemented purchasing and practice guidelines for the main buildings that prioritize sustainable products and actions, such as purchasing only non-toxic cleaners and bamboo toilet tissue and practices such as mulching leaves in place or simply leaving them alone if the site allows. Sisters are actively replacing single-use plastics in their households with more eco-friendly alternatives such as shampoo bars, laundry detergent sheets, toothpaste tabs, and beeswax food wrap.

Goal 5

"Ecological Education is about re-thinking and re-designing curricular and institutional reform in the spirit of integral ecology in order to foster ecological awareness and transformative action.”
With 237 acres of land, CSA has a great opportunity to welcome visitors to learn about the variety of ecosystems on the property. The land includes a portion of the Niagara escarpment, wetlands, mesic forest, prairie, farmlands, three freshwater streams, and a solar array. Private tours are available year-round for groups of all ages and sizes. CSA partners with other local groups to offer birding hikes and pollinator educational walks. Annually, the public is also welcomed to the Earth Day Fair in April to explore and learn from exhibitors and presenters and take advantage of expert naturalists who are on site for the day. Movie screenings and discussions are also held on the property to invite further exploration of the Laudato Si’ goals and actions.

Goal 6

"Ecological Spirituality springs from a profound ecological conversion and helps us to ‘discover God in all things’, both in the beauty of creation and in the sighs of the sick and the groans of the afflicted, aware that the life of the spirit is not dissociated from worldly realities.”
Whether it is referred to as earthing, ecotherapy, or nature bathing, ecological spirituality is part of the current zeitgeist. It is easy to lose sight of personal health, when focusing on planetary health. Looking inward to explore a deeper connection with the world has been shown in numerous studies to improve human health. To facilitate ecological spirituality, the congregation welcomes visitors to register for a visitor badge and utilize the property for reflection and prayer. A grass labyrinth on-site provides a ready space for walking meditation, and individuals are welcome to reserve a single-occupancy hermitage to make a spiritual retreat surrounded by nature. 

Goal 7

'Community Resilience and Empowerment envisage a synodal journey of community engagement and participatory action at various levels.” 
Sisters of St. Agnes have a built-in community for themselves, but also welcome partners. Associates of the congregation are men and women who have made a formal commitment to walk in solidarity with the congregation. Many others are informal partners in ministry and mission. The congregation welcomes others to join in the work of Laudato Si’, but also supports the initiatives of their community partners through participation, financial support, and promotion. 

As the Laudato Si’ Movement launched its seven-year initiative in 2021, community empowerment was at the forefront of the discussion.  It recognized seven sectors: individuals and families, parishes and dioceses, educational institutions, healthcare and healing centers, the economic sector, organizations and groups, and religious orders. To provide support, the Laudato Si’ Action Platform was launched. The Platform website provides guides and templates for mapping action baths, self-assessment tools, and connections to others working toward the Laudato Si’ Goals. In 2023, as a way inspiring hope and celebrating the work of individuals and groups in each of the sector, Catholic Climate Covenant recognized U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions. The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes was among the 10 winners in that inaugural year and was recognized as “an inspiration to individuals and organizations alike, showcasing the power of sustainable practices.”

CSA continues to generate new ideas to advance the goals of Laudato Si’ and inspire others to do the same. Whether businesses are interested in approaching sustainable practices from a faith-based lens or from an economic lens, the Laudato Si’ goals provide a practical framework to address the socio-ecological crisis.