On the Sunday between Earth Day and the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, the Dominican Sisters of Hope summoned local college students to a day of environmental education and advocacy at The Center at Mariandale. More than 50 people representing St. John’s University in Queens, Iona College in New Rochelle, the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement, the Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit, and other environmental activists for a talk by theologian and environmental ethicist Dr. Erin Lothes and conversation about what we can do as individuals and institutions of to address the climate emergency.
Mariandale Executive Director Carl Procario-Foley, Ph.D. set the stage calling upon the spirit of St. Catherine of Siena as an example of a someone who “refused to be silent” in the face of the issues of her day and encouraging the students to follow her example in the face of climate emergency. “The environmental crisis demands engaged and informed voices,” he said.
Mariandale’s Environmental Specialist Sr. Bette Ann Jaster, OP led the assembly in an experiential activity, inviting everyone outdoors to open their senses and engage with nature.
Sr. Catherine Walsh, OP followed with a talk on the life of St. Catherine, highlighting her “single-minded focus on truth” as well as her persistence, determination, and “willingness to live the consequences” of speaking truth to power. She encouraged the students to build community and “not be stopped by failures,” encouraging each one of them to use their own unique gifts for the planet. “We need every one of you,” she said.
In her keynote address, Lothes spoke about the interconnectedness of the issues of climate change, violence, and global poverty and introduced students to Laudato Si’, encouraging participation in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. She suggested practical actions such as purchasing renewable energy, eating less meat, taking public transportation and biking, advocating for climate-friendly governmental policies, and talking about climate change with others in order to build a movement for change across social and political divides.
“I strongly urge all students to go home and start a fossil fuel divestment club at your college,” she said, framing divestment from fossil fuels as a “sacramental action” and “gift of love.” She addressed the issue of how to maintain hope in the face of frightening realities, emphasizing the importance of gratitude and joy. “God’s permanent identity is creator of the world,” she said, “and creation is continuing to unfold.”
Melissa Olivar, a graduate student in Environmental Sustainability at St. John’s said the summit had inspired her to participate in advocacy initiatives such as the Earth Bill Network. She’s also considering starting a community garden with students from her former high school. “I’d like to talk with the principal about what I can do with the students there,” she said.
In addition to offering a path for action, she said the program made her aware of Catholic social teaching and its connection to the environmental movement. “I’m Catholic, but I’d never been exposed to those ideas,” she said.
Iona junior Lauren Hurson said that the summit had fulfilled her hopes of “being with other people who care about the environment and finding out ways to act as an individual and with my college in the future. ”Plans are already in the works for next year’s summit scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 2023, when Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF will offer the keynote address. If you know college students who would be interested in participating, contact Procario-Foley at email@example.com.