By Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., President, AJCU

It’s not just that the Pope is a Jesuit. After all, the call to human stewardship of the earth is as ancient as the Garden of Eden. But, when the Pope IS a Jesuit, there is a certain enthusiasm and affinity of understanding that flow from the common bond of all – be they lay or Jesuit — who have made the Spiritual Exercises. Look at the beginning and the end of the Exercises. In the “First Principle and Foundation,” we learn that all of Creation is to be utilized only insofar as it helps us get to God. In the “Contemplatio ad Amorem,” we see God not just at work in His creation, but also conserving it and expressing Himself in the life and beauty of the natural world.

The call of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’ (Latin for “Praise Be to You”), continues a theme of recent Popes. But the peculiar suasiveness of the document for men and women schooled in the Ignatian tradition comes from the very way of thinking that one learns by making the Exercises.

Just read the articles in this issue of Connections and you’ll see what I mean. Faculty, staff, students and alumni at school after Jesuit school feel compelled to express in their initiatives the vision made so compelling by Francis in Laudato Si’. These articles are only a few examples.

The Laudato Si’ response goes beyond the on-campus initiatives described in these articles. AJCU and a number of Jesuit colleges and universities recently endorsed an amicus curiae brief from the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change backing the attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise its legal obligations to require lowered carbon emissions from old electric power plants. We salute Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who are, respectively, Chair and Ranking Minority of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for introducing their proposed legislation, S. 2012, which would give $20,000 grants to charitable entities (including schools) to help with insulating old buildings, replacing inefficient windows, and converting heating and cooling units so that these facilities will be less damaging to the planet. In many cases, this means the charity could lower its carbon footprint without needing to divert so much of the money it raises for the poor, and schools wouldn’t be tempted to lower financial aid in order to make facilities more green. This legislation responds to the words of Francis in Laudato Si’ when he speaks of “encouraging the…repair of buildings aimed at reducing their energy consumption and levels of pollution” (Laudato Si’, para. 180.).

If you go very deep into St. Ignatius Loyola’s worldview, you realize that God made a good but imperfect world, then left it to His human creatures to take it the next step along its way to completeness. This is Ignatius, this is Teilhard, this is Francis. In greening God’s world, just as in looking out for humans on society’s margins, we become God’s Co-creators. It’s in making a better world that we find our holiness. That’s the vocation common to all who are Jesuit educated.

By Cynthia A. Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

Can Congress finish appropriations this year?
The Senate has moved forward to mark up two bills: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Energy and Commerce. Both are scheduled for consideration on the Senate Floor this week. The Senate is moving forward to finish two appropriations bills per week, if possible, in light of the Budget Committee’s accepting the previous 302(b) subcommittee allocations from last year’s budget agreement. The goal is to finish all twelve appropriations bills before the July 15th Senate recess. The Senate Labor, H&HS and Education Committee received a $161.9 billion allocation for FY17, a cut from FY16 funding.

The House, on the other hand, remains in a conundrum because the conservative House budget bill still lacks enough votes to take it to the Floor. The House is waiting to consider appropriations bills because of a budget rule that allows such consideration only after May 15th, when there is no budget agreement in place. But a few House appropriations subcommittees are still moving forward by marking up such bills as Military Construction. 

The Labor, H&HS and Education bill is usually considered near the end of the process because of potential riders and more controversial amendments. Thus far, the plan is for the Senate to mark up the Labor, H&HS and Education bill in June. AJCU will continue to work on saving and increasing Federal student aid for all students across the country. Most likely, there will be a Continuing Resolution (CR) in September as Congress will have to adjourn in the fall for the presidential election later this year.

Can Pell grant surplus funding be saved?
The Pell grant program is estimated to have a surplus of $7.8 billion through FY17 appropriations. This is a substantial amount of funding that is difficult to protect. Ideally, the surplus funding for Pell grants should be saved until a few years from now when demographic changes are expected to bring about more Pell-eligible students.

In 2006, the Pell grant scoring rule was established to protect the Pell grant maximum award from being shortchanged. For example, in order to increase the Pell grant maximum award or keep the same level, the cost of that program must be provided in real appropriations dollars, or the Pell grant maximum amount will be cut. This rule was established after appropriators used additional Pell dollars or shortchanged Pell grant funding to meet demands for other programs.

We fear that the Labor, H&HS and Education appropriators may very well cut out some funding from the Pell grant surplus to accommodate more NIH funding, for example. The higher education community sent a letter to Appropriations Chairs and Ranking Members on the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate, concerning opposition to using the Pell surplus funding for other programs. Nineteen higher education associations, including AJCU, signed this letter initiated by the American Council on Education (ACE). AJCU will continue to work on saving this precious funding for needy students in the future.

HEA mini-reauthorization this summer
According to Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (HELP) staff, there is an ongoing effort to produce a smaller bipartisan Higher Education Act (HEA) bill before the July 15th recess. The focus of this bill is on two issues: regulatory reform and FAFSA form simplification. Approximately thirty regulations, listed in the 2015 ACE document on regulatory reform, “Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities,” will be proposed for regulatory eliminations. Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has been particularly interested in minimizing the FAFSA financial aid form in order to help more students apply for Federal student aid. Senate aides have indicated that more than two questions on the FAFSA form will be added beyond the proposed post card-size form. AJCU wants to make sure that there will be sufficient questions for financial aid administrators to award need-based institutional aid to students, and is closely monitoring this issue.

Office of Communications and Marketing, Creighton University

Barbara Dilly, Ph.D. (foreground), a professor in the Department of Cultural and Social Studies at Creighton University, is dedicated to community gardening. Root Down, one of two Bluejay Community Garden projects, is not only environmentally f…
Barbara Dilly, Ph.D. (foreground), a professor in the Department of Cultural and Social Studies at Creighton University, is dedicated to community gardening. Root Down, one of two Bluejay Community Garden projects, is not only environmentally friendly, but connects Creighton to the community and refugees to each other and to their new home (Photo by Creighton University)


For more than ten years, Richard Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and director of Creighton University’s M.A. in Theology program, has reviewed climate reports every day. As editor of God, Creation, and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis (winner of a 2011 Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada book award in the faith and science category), he has been sounding the bell that climate change is happening — and a profound social change is needed.

Now he’s got company — the sort Catholic theologians like to keep. Last year, Pope Francis released Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment. Named after the hymn on creation by the pope’s guiding namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the 38,000-plus-word encyclical covers climate change, biodiversity, water, societal breakdown, population growth and much more. Following a turn begun with Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris, it is addressed to the whole world.

“What the pope brings to the public debate, which I think is a game-changer, is ethics,” Miller says. “Ethics does not require scientific certitude. It requires credible evidence. Here’s a pope who’s the head of 1.2 billion Catholics. That’s a big deal.”

It’s already become a big deal at Creighton, which has offered a degree program in environmental science for more than 20 years, one of the first Catholic universities to do so. The program boasts several hundred graduates. More recently, it has launched a degree program in sustainability. And on-campus sustainability efforts are a University priority, led by prominent faculty and administrators.

John O’Keefe, professor of theology and the A.F. Jacobson Chair in Communication, has written extensively on the environment and the Catholic Church. In 2013, he edited a special issue of the Journal of Religion & Society that featured papers given at a Creighton conference titled “The Greening of the Papacy” – referring to a trend that began in the 1960s with Pope Paul VI. While Pope Francis goes to great lengths to show that Laudato Si’ builds upon the work of his predecessors — Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI – this document offers a more direct appeal for action.

“[With] this one, it feels like everyone has to read [to the encyclical] and respond to it,” O’Keefe says. “That to me says he (the pope) was intentionally taking great risks.”

John Schalles, biology professor and co-founder and former director of Creighton’s Environmental Science Program, uses data from satellites and the International Space Station to investigate changes in coastal ecosystems.

“In many ways,” he says, Laudato Si’ offers “a macroscopic view of our planet that is so important right now. We can see, literally before our eyes, these changes.” He points to 28 years of satellite data examining the Georgia salt marshes that he and a graduate student have been studying at Sapelo Island.

Barbara Dilly, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Cultural and Social Studies, is helping make change possible through community gardens, including one coordinated with the Refugee Empowerment Center in Omaha, Neb. There, refugees from several areas in Asia grow vegetables during the summer.

But it’s not just sustainability being planted. Community gardens help give people “meaning to their labors” and help them “be who they are,” says Dilly. It also connects them to each other, to the surrounding community and beyond.

For Jay Leighter, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and director of Creighton’s Sustainability Studies Program, the encyclical is not only a warning siren – but a message of hope.

While the pope emphatically states in Laudato Si’ that “our common home is falling into serious disrepair,” he also encourages positive change. “Hope,” he writes, “would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems.”

By Makenna Sellers, Class of 2017 Sustainability Coordinator, Gonzaga University

Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh at an event in 2014 when Gonzaga became the first Jesuit university in the United States to commit to the “Real Food Challenge,” a pledge that 25 percent of food served on campus would be sourced from ecologically s…
Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh at an event in 2014 when Gonzaga became the first Jesuit university in the United States to commit to the “Real Food Challenge,” a pledge that 25 percent of food served on campus would be sourced from ecologically sound, fair, humane and local- and community-based providers by 2020 (Photo by Gonzaga University)


Gonzaga University has long been committed to responsible environmental stewardship through a host of sustainability initiatives, including faculty and student research projects, a plan for climate neutrality by 2050, creative partnerships and more. This institutional commitment responds to calls by the Vatican, the Society of Jesus, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and others for mission-based sustainability consistent with Gonzaga’s Catholic and Jesuit identity.  

The 2015 publication of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, the first encyclical focused on humanity’s relationship to and responsibilities toward the natural world, provided an opportunity to build on this strong foundation. It sparked a yearlong reflective and celebratory response of deep academic engagement around Catholic social teaching, bringing together Gonzaga faculty, staff and students, and the local community in a multidisciplinary exploration of its groundbreaking messages. 

Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, Gonzaga has hosted a variety of events aimed at making the content of the encyclical approachable and engaging to a wide audience. Gonzaga’s programming efforts were led by Rev. Jim Voiss, S.J., Rector of the University’s Jesuit Community and Assistant Vice President for Mission; Brian Henning, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Sustainability Across the Curriculum; and Jim Simon, Director of Sustainability.

An open invitation to engage with the text was met with enthusiasm. Multiple encyclical reading groups comprised of faculty and staff met regularly throughout the fall term. Each group studied the encyclical in its own way, focused on the interests and outlooks of its members. Rev. Tim Clancy, S.J., Director of the University’s Honors Program and Associate Professor of Philosophy, led one of the reading groups. 

“As a Catholic, Jesuit university, it is our mission to critically engage the Pope’s prophetic vision and to discern with our students how to apply its teachings both inside and outside of the classroom as well as in our own institutional efforts at becoming an ever ‘greener’ campus,” says Fr. Clancy. 

The 2015 publication of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si' provided an opportunity for Gonzaga to build on its long commitment to responsible environmental stewardship as part of its Jesuit and Catholic identity (Photo by Gonzaga University)
The 2015 publication of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ provided an opportunity for Gonzaga to build on its long commitment to responsible environmental stewardship as part of its Jesuit and Catholic identity (Photo by Gonzaga University)


Reading groups were one piece of the multifaceted approach that the Gonzaga community took in its engagement with the encyclical.

Drawing on direct and nuanced encyclical topics such as wealth and poverty, consumption and reduction, religious and media rhetoric, as well as the moral responsibility for environmental care, 18 panelists participated in meaningful discussions with an estimated 200 community members at four separate public presentations.

Laudato Si’ panel discussions provided faculty opportunities to publicly respond to the encyclical from their own unique disciplinary expertise. Professors of economics, leadership studies, communication, philosophy, religious studies, Native American studies, political science, environmental studies, law, finance, and business ethics participated in this multidisciplinary presentation of ideas. While such widespread collaboration on a single topic remains uncommon at many higher education institutions, Gonzaga is committed to a learning culture where interdisciplinary discussion is the rule rather than the exception. What better way to develop Catholic social thought across disciplines than to conduct collaborative conversations about our common home?  

This distinctive approach engaged participants and audiences alike. 

Carolyn Cunningham, assistant professor of communication and leadership studies, participated in an encyclical response panel titled “Rhetorical Strategies and the Politics of Religious Discourse.” 

“Hearing from colleagues who work in different fields really brought fresh perspectives to the table,” Cunningham says. “This is a testimony to what Gonzaga stands for.”

To expand their reach and impact, each interdisciplinary discussion panel was simulcast and subsequently posted as a streaming webcast on Gonzaga’s sustainability website. Putter Tiatragul, a senior biology major, found the panel discussions especially valuable, particularly from his non-Catholic faith tradition background. 

“The encyclical discussions helped to build my environmental outlook because the content applies to everyone. I’m glad Gonzaga took the initiative to facilitate this conversation because it will hopefully provoke collective action that answers the Pope’s call,” Tiatragul says. 

In addition, the religious studies department’s annual Flannery Lecture focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical when John F. Haught, distinguished research professor in Georgetown University’s theology department, presented “Science, Theology and Pope Francis’ Ecological Vision.” 

Beyond the context of academic discourse, University Ministry and the Office of Sustainability also worked in tandem to design outreach programming focused on the content of Laudato Si’. “I Am Climate Change,” one of the engagement initiatives spearheaded by student interns, sought to guide students to think intentionally about their personal climate impact and ways to mitigate their carbon footprint. 

Similarly, a documentary film series arranged by the Office of Sustainability involved both the student body and the Spokane community. Powerful documentary films such as “Chasing Ice,” “Seeds of Time” and “Bikes vs. Cars” helped underscore for the Gonzaga community important topics, including care for the planet and wasteful consumption. This avenue of engagement with Laudato Si’ created an inclusive niche for new audience members, exposing them to topics of the encyclical in multidimensional ways.

Given the ecological themes of climate change and environmental justice, the many dimensions of encyclical engagement provided the perfect platform for the Gonzaga community to collectively affirm its commitment to sustainability. 

“The encyclical is more than a document, it is an action plan,” says Kevin Henrickson, chair of the environmental studies program and the Graue Chair of Economics. “One of the notable achievements of this university is its ability to translate Catholic social teaching into observable actions. Applying this to sustainability is the next step in our development as an environmentally cognizant campus.” 

Gonzaga’s holistic approach to the encyclical paired the values and strengths of a liberal arts institution with religious and environmental recognition. Gonzaga’s engagement in Laudato Si’ has produced a powerfully rich learning experience for all, advancing thinking of faculty, staff, students, and the local community through Jesuit, Catholic and ecological lenses. The impact of this endeavor will inform future academic engagement on mission-centered topics addressing the intersection of faith and action in the best traditions of Ignatian pedagogy.

By Evangeline Politis, Communication Specialist, Loyola University Chicago

Students at a poster session during Loyola University Chicago's 2016 Climate Change Conference (Photo by Mark Beane)
Students at a poster session during Loyola University Chicago’s 2016 Climate Change Conference (Photo by Mark Beane)


Last spring, Pope Francis’s landmark encyclical, Laudato Si’, called for immediate action to confront environmental degradation and climate change. Loyola University Chicago responded quickly by hosting “Caring for Our Common Home: Conversations on Ecology and Justice.” The daylong event in September 2015 gathered faculty scholars from across departments and disciplines to speak on topics including ecology, globalization, global health, and the current role and future of sustainability at Loyola.

“The intersection of our Jesuit heritage and sustainability is lived out through continued faculty research and practices across our campuses, but we don’t often gather to discuss it,” says Michael Murphy, Ph.D., director of Loyola’s Catholic Studies Program. “This event [was an] opportunity to converse about what we are doing as a community locally and globally, what action can still be taken, and how we can encourage one another to be better stewards of our common home.”

This continues to be Loyola’s objective. The University—named the fourth greenest college in America by the Sierra Club—aims not only to educate its own community members, but also the many constituencies outside of its Chicago campuses.

Last month, Loyola hosted its third annual conference on climate change. This year’s event, “Global Climate Change: Economic Challenges and Solutions,” explored the principles, policies, and actions needed to combat global climate change, particularly in the context of the current economic system.

“Pope Francis’s encyclical talks about global economic disparities and that first-world nations are driving climate change, which is, in turn, disproportionately affecting people in developing countries,” says Nancy Tuchman, Ph.D., founding director of Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES), which co-hosted the conference. “This year’s conference addressed that by examining economic systems, one of the main climate change drivers, and possible solutions.”

Author and activist Naomi Klein highlighted this in her keynote address on how free trade, capitalism, and the North American Free Trade Agreement have accelerated greenhouse gas emissions. Pope Francis recruited Klein to speak at a high-level conference on the environment at the Vatican in 2015, and her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, pins much of the climate crisis on capitalism.

Loyola’s three-day conference drew more than 600 attendees including representatives from 15 Jesuit colleges and universities.

Tuchman says, “We see this as a great opportunity for the Jesuit colleges and universities to come together every year and talk about how we continue to advance sustainability on our campuses, to share resources and best practices, and to leverage our curricula.”

Taking eco-education online
Loyola has partnered with the International Jesuit Ecology Project to push eco-education past the grassy quads of the Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Together, they launched Healing Earth, a free digital environmental science textbook. Available online, the book is intended for fourth-year secondary-school students, first-year university students, adult learners, and independent learners around the globe. 

The text was originally a response to Healing a Broken World, a document assembled by a group of Jesuits and lay people describing the rationale behind establishing the Task Force on Jesuit Mission and Ecology and proposing a set of practical recommendations. 

“One of the recommendations [in Healing a Broken World] was to leverage the worldwide network of Jesuit institutions to deliver an education to people at the margins—making it accessible, examining the environmental issues, and giving solutions,” says Tuchman. And so, Healing Earth was conceived—an idea of Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., secretary for higher education for the Society of Jesus and Loyola chancellor.

Laudato Si’, released while the text was being written, greatly influenced the final product. Quotes from the encyclical are infused throughout the book and are highlighted particularly in the ethics chapters.

More than 90 scholars from Jesuit institutions across the world contributed to the project, which is mirrored in its global approach to environmental issues. More than 60 professors, teachers, and adult educators from nine countries have used or are planning to use Healing Earth in their curricula. The text will continue to morph with the dynamic nature of environmental science, including updated resource links and video content. 

Addressing food deserts
The spotlight turns closer to home for initiatives in Loyola’s future that respond to the Pope’s call for action. Released last summer, Loyola’s Plan 2020: Building a More Just, Humane, and Sustainable World outlines several tactics through which the University will continue to promote environmental sustainability. 

“Plan 2020 is rooted in our commitment to leverage the resources of our university to address complex societal problems,” says John P. Pelissero, Ph.D., Loyola’s interim president. “A central component of our strategic efforts over the next five years is to enhance interdisciplinary education and research on climate change and its ecological impact. New programs in our Institute of Environmental Sustainability, and the enthusiasm of our students for making meaningful progress on these important initiatives, will advance Loyola as a national leader on environmental sustainability.”

Tasked with that goal, the Institute is currently building an analytical laboratory for environmental testing. The lab will let scientists analyze water and soil samples from neighborhoods with legacies of old industry and potential toxic waste. 

This initiative will focus its research on areas in Chicago’s Large Lots program, where city residents can apply to buy vacant lots for just $1. These plots are located in so-called “food deserts,” which lack grocery stores and other healthy food options. In an effort to resolve that issue, the city is encouraging residents to grow their own food in these empty lots.

Once the lot soil testing is completed, the Institute will work to remediate the soil with fast-growing grasses. Students in the conservation and restoration ecology program will work to detoxify the soil and water, and others in the food systems and sustainable agriculture program will ultimately research the appropriate crops to be cultivated. 

Another facet of the program will be community outreach. The Institute will work with Loyola’s Center for Urban Research and Learning to educate community members about which foods they can grow safely and how to maintain their crops. 

A social justice approach
Slated to launch in summer 2017, the Theology of Healing Earth in Action (THEA) Institute will also work to enrich the community surrounding Loyola with environmental education. The week-long program will encourage Chicago high school students to engage with Ignatian spirituality and Catholic theology in an effort to create socially just, environmentally conscious community leaders.

Funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., the program will bring a diverse group of approximately 75 students to Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus and focus on eco-theology and caring for creation. The multidisciplinary curriculum will be led by Loyola theology and environmental science faculty members.

“This institute presents a unique opportunity for our local high school students to examine their faith and how they can use it to impact our community,” says Lisa Reiter, Ph.D., director of Campus Ministry and the THEA Institute. “It is our hope that these students walk away from campus with an understanding of how issues of sustainability and the environment are interconnected with social justice and Catholic social teachings—and ultimately put those teachings into action.”

By Joe DiGiovanni, Senior Communication Specialist, Marquette University

Marquette University President Dr. Michael R. Lovell at the April 14th dedication of Bublr Bikes on campus (Photo by Jesse Lee, Marquette University)
Marquette University President Dr. Michael R. Lovell at the April 14th dedication of Bublr Bikes on campus (Photo by Jesse Lee, Marquette University)


There’s a plethora of innovative new ideas being generated at Marquette University, and many of them revolve around sustainability or include important sustainability efforts. These include water research, helping to restore neighborhoods to greatness, new environmental majors, and beautifully renovated green buildings.

Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, focused attention on the environment and has been a priority at Marquette’s urban campus just west of downtown Milwaukee.

“The pope’s encyclical has reinforced for us the importance of sustainability, but I think it’s been at the front of our hearts and minds because of the context in which we live here in this urban environment,” says Lora Strigens, chief planner and architect at Marquette.

Sustainability is woven into nearly all the major initiatives under way at Marquette. Consider:

Water research
In January, Marquette researchers moved into the Global Water Center, a 98,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood housing water-centric research facilities for universities, existing water-related companies and accelerator space for new, emerging water technology companies.

“This building positions Milwaukee to be one of the international leaders in water technology and development,” says Marquette President Dr. Michael R. Lovell. “Our faculty and students are going to benefit immensely: the talents at our university are going to [help solve] the world’s water problems.”

Marquette researchers are focused on a wide range of water issues, some conducting research on campus and others at the water center just two miles away. Dr. Brooke Mayer, an assistant professor in Marquette’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, has a new $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant to research the possibility of recycling phosphorus from polluted water.

And Dr. Patrick McNamara, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and colleagues Dr. Daniel Zitomer, director of Marquette’s Water Quality Center, and Krassimira Hristova, assistant professor of biology, are studying the dangers of an antimicrobial agent that is commonly found in hard soaps and is linked to antibiotic resistance. 

Sustainability coordinator
Marquette’s first sustainability coordinator will begin this summer. Strigens says, “It’s a broadly defined role, but this person will harness our sustainability efforts on campus and bring them together while looking at physical improvements we can make relative to water efficiency and energy efficiency, and things we can do to reduce waste on campus.”

Marquette’s sustainability coordinator will be involved in utility and energy consumption audits so the University can make targeted physical improvements and set standards on campus. The coordinator will also have an outreach role, working with administrators, students, faculty and staff on incorporating sustainability into coursework and other student works.

In fall 2016, Marquette will have a new Environmental Studies interdisciplinary major, providing students with a comprehensive and in-depth education on the study of the ecology of natural ecosystems and the processes by which humans influence, exploit, evaluate, value, mitigate and restore the environment.

There are other ways that non-science students can also learn about the environment. Dr. Jame Schaefer, associate professor of theology, helped develop Healing Earth, the new online, interactive text that addresses six major environmental science problems from spiritual and ethical perspectives.

Dr. James T. Anderson, associate professor of biological sciences, will use the text to teach a course to non-science majors this fall. Schaefer says, “His students will have an opportunity to explore the loss of biodiversity, natural resource exhaustion, a transition to sustainable energy, the quality and availability of food and water, and global climate change and view these problems from spiritual and ethical perspectives. This interdisciplinary approach coheres impressively with Pope Francis’s encyclical.”

Revitalizing neighborhoods
An area known as Milwaukee’s Near West Side includes Marquette, which is one of five anchor institutions that formed Near West Side Partners Inc., a non-profit organization to revitalize the area. A $5 million campaign (that has already raised $2 million) was announced this month to create new opportunities for investment in economic development efforts.

“Milwaukee’s Near West Side has tremendous assets that rival any other part of the city – including more than 200 employers, nearly 40,000 residents, major health care, educational and non-profit institutions, attractive restaurants and entertainment venues,” says Lovell. 

Campus Master Plan
Marquette is in the midst of developing a plan to integrate academic, physical and financial priorities, and serve as a road map for Marquette’s capital projects for the next decade. Every building and all spaces on campus are being studied.

The university is conducting a facilities condition index to evaluate and track the efficiency, operations and effectiveness of all buildings.

“We are identifying those buildings that will never be improved to the level we want them to be through continued investment versus creating new buildings that are highly efficient in their use of space, energy and water use,” Strigens says. “Sustainability is woven into all parts of the plan. It will provide us guidance relative to sustainable practices throughout our campus both for our facilities and our physical environment.”

The planners are identifying areas to possibly build demonstration gardens for storm water management, and ways to visibly show sustainability on campus through green and open spaces.

In addition, renovated buildings like the historic Sensenbrenner Hall and Marquette Hall have both recently received LEED certification, a nationally-accepted organization for design, operation and construction of high performance green buildings.

Other efforts
Earlier this month, the University brought Bublr Bikes, a bike sharing company, to campus, and has increased the number of shared cars for staff. In addition, Marquette’s recent Mission Week focused on environmental efforts in light of Laudato Si’.

By Clint J. Springer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, Saint Joseph’s University

Clint J. Springer, Ph.D. (Photo by Saint Joseph's University)
Clint J. Springer, Ph.D. (Photo by Saint Joseph’s University)


On June 18, 2015, with the official release of his papacy’s first encyclical, Laudato Si’, His Holiness Pope Francis solidified the Catholic Church’s social teaching on the environment and clarified the way that humans should interact with the Earth, their only home. 

Human-induced climate change is one of the most pressing challenges that society has ever faced. As early as 30 years from now, rising carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel consumption could reach levels that will significantly alter climate conditions and impact crop production in the United States and across the world. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that the effects of climate change will impair the ability of natural and agricultural ecosystems to provide the services that are necessary to sustain healthy lives for the global community. As a professor whose scholarly work examines the scientific consequences of global climate change and as a person who wants to see a vibrant future for generations to come on our planet, I believe the papal document has the ability to motivate large swaths of people to act toward solving the problems that stem from climate change and environmental degradation. It is my hope that this encyclical will be a call to action for the world’s more than one billion Catholics and all people of good will to make the changes needed to create an environment that will sustain current and future generations, in both the developing and developed world.

The most important contribution of Laudato Si’ is the pope’s framing of the situation — not as a scientific, economic or political debate, but as an issue of social justice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines social justice as “… the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due …” With this definition in mind, the subject of the encyclical is undoubtedly a major social justice concern. 

His Holiness, in his call to action, reflects and affirms scholars of the natural sciences, humanities and business who say that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods” (Laudato Si’, No. 25). My students and I have found through our research that human-induced climate change can have profound effects on the timing of plant life development and that these changes can alter the function of both natural and agricultural ecosystems over time. Pope Francis goes so far as to state that climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day”* and that its greatest impact will likely be felt by the world’s poor. 

Springer’s research examines how climate change will affect the physiology and development of plants like the important biofuel species, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), shown here.(Photo by Saint Joseph’s University)
Springer’s research examines how climate change will affect the physiology and development of plants like the important biofuel species, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), shown here.(Photo by Saint Joseph’s University)


The Holy Father elevates “care for creation,” a key theme of Catholic teaching regarding social justice issues, by providing a historical context through the Church’s papal, conciliar and episcopal statements on the environment. As populations grow and resource use increases, we must be especially mindful of the consequences on the environment and its ability to provide clean air, clean water, food and shelter for all of humanity. Never before has environmental degradation threatened our livelihoods and those of future generations as it does today. Therefore, it is extremely timely that Pope Francis now advances these issues to the forefront of the minds of the planet’s more than one billion Catholics.

The encyclical also brings a fresh perspective to Church teaching on the relationship between humans and their natural surroundings, explicitly illustrating that the environment, especially the climate system, is a common good — in fact, “the commons,” where the life of every member of the global community takes place.

Interestingly, the encyclical does not change Church teachings but hones them into a modern-day action plan to better manage the Earth’s resources, while considering the most vulnerable among us, the poor. This sentiment echoes that decreed by the 35th Congregation of the Society of Jesus, whereby the Jesuits declared that all members and partners engaged in the same mission, particularly Jesuit colleges and universities, should promote studies and practices that focus on the causes of poverty and the question of the environment’s improvement.

In the end, His Holiness exhorts the wealthy of the world to do more to ensure environmental sustainability for both themselves and the poor. Pope Francis masterfully accomplishes this by using the example of St. Francis of Assisi, the inspiration for his papal name and the encyclical title. St. Francis was a conscientious consumer of the Earth’s resources and saw the splendor of creation in each of its beings. By weaving a Franciscan view of the natural world throughout the document, the Holy Father provides another example of his goal to return the Church to its mission of ministering to the poor and marginalized and, in this instance, advancing the cause of the environment for those who most depend on it.

That’s a goal worthy of the papacy and all of us.

*Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic: November 26, 2015 (

By David DeCosse and Deborah Lohse, Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University President Rev. Michael E. Engh, S.J., Cardinal Peter Turkson & Bishop Patrick J. McGrath at Cardinal Turkson's kickoff event for last fall's conference on the environmental teachings of Pope Francis (Photo by Joa…
Santa Clara University President Rev. Michael E. Engh, S.J., Cardinal Peter Turkson & Bishop Patrick J. McGrath at Cardinal Turkson’s kickoff event for last fall’s conference on the environmental teachings of Pope Francis (Photo by Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University)


From the moment it was issued last year, Laudato Si’ has served as a sort of charter document for elevating and moving Santa Clara University forward across all disciplines in our commitment to climate justice. It continues to be a great unifying document for our University: offering a wisdom to us that this commitment must be truly inclusive of every unit at the University, in the same way that Pope Francis’ call for an integrated ecology speaks not just to those engaged in sustainability, but to each and every human inhabitant of our common home.

In his 2009 inaugural address, Santa Clara University President Rev. Michael E. Engh, S.J. made a strong case for the values at the core of the future Laudato Si’, when he said that he wanted Santa Clara to be a center for environmental justice:

He remarked, “In our ethical reflection we consider the needs of our world. We see with increasing clarity the fragility of our planet: the depletion of the soil, the destruction of its forests, and the pollution of air and water….And we might ask ourselves: Who hears the voice of the needy and listens to their concerns about exploited lands and economies? Who is the voice for the defense of the assaulted world? Who trains the leaders we need to understand the intricacies of biodiversity and who are also equipped to discern the ethical dimensions of their decisions? Who, indeed?”

Naturally, Pope Francis’ teaching document on those very questions has sparked swift enthusiasm and planning on campus over the last year:

Cardinal Peter Turkson giving a keynote speech on Nov. 3, 2015 at Santa Clara's Mission Church (Photo by Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University)
Cardinal Peter Turkson giving a keynote speech on Nov. 3, 2015 at Santa Clara’s Mission Church (Photo by Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University)


This summer, from June 15 – 17, the Center for Professional Development in the University’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology will offer a three-day workshop featuring “TedTalk”-style lectures for Catholic high school teachers who want a more formal understanding of how to incorporate Laudato Si’ into their teaching.

In addition, a new seminar class, created by Santa Clara’s three Environmental Ethics Fellows, explored Laudato Si’ from economic, environmental and ethical perspectives, and featured several guest speakers.

A repository of the many events and resources focused on Laudato Si’ at Santa Clara can be found at

David DeCosse is director of campus ethics programs at Santa Clara’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Deborah Lohse is the University’s assistant director of media relations.