Living Laudato Si'
Science and religion are often seen as opposing forces. But in 2015, Pope Francis created a union between the two in unprecedented ways, sparking new dialogue and understanding among scientists and people of faith. Nowhere is this more evident than in his messages about climate change.
When climate-related natural disasters occur, none of us are immune — but those who are economically disadvantaged suffer the most. They’re least equipped to respond to droughts or escape widespread famine. The poor are less able to flee to safety or establish new lives in more secure regions when violent conflicts erupt as temperature rises and plants wilt.
Faced with this situation, Pope Francis — who trained as a chemical technician before entering the priesthood — responded with Laudato Si’, the Catholic Church’s first-ever encyclical dedicated entirely to the environment. Its opening lines are taken from Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
St. Kate's faculty and alumnae share their reflections on this dialogue that intersects faith, science and hope.
Sarah Compton ’05, MAED’07
TEACHER, AUSTIN CAREER EDUCATION CENTER, CHICAGO
Teaching science at a charter school for non-traditional high school students on the west side of Chicago has allowed this alumna to gain insights into the everyday reality of a population living with the challenges of poverty and violence. “They have incredibly difficult personal lives, and their lives are filled with stress,” she says.
As Compton seeks ways to illustrate the importance of conservation and environmental protection to her students, she finds inspiration in the science-friendly approach illustrated in Pope Francis’ encyclical and in his wider-ranging public speeches. “What I appreciate about this pope is that he has a scientific background, but he focuses on the humanity of the issue,” she says. “He’s spoken out about how climate change inordinately affects economically disadvantaged populations.”
In Compton’s classroom, she looks for examples from her students’ everyday lives to illustrate environmental lessons. “We’ve taken up issues like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which has a population similar to theirs,” she says. “When Chicago instituted an initiative that required shoppers to pay for plastic bags, the students were irritated, so we talked about the pros and cons.”
Responding to her students’ lack of access to green space, Compton provides camping opportunities twice each year for students, along with other outdoor experiences. “We took a group of students on an overnight camping trip in the Cook County Forest Preserve, made possible in part through access to the Preserve’s Gear Library, which allowed them to borrow equipment like tents and sleeping bags,” she says. “It was a great opportunity for community building. Some of my students even handed me their phones and said, ‘Please take this; I want to enjoy this experience as much as I can.’”
DIRECTOR, MYSER INITIATIVE ON CATHOLIC IDENTITY
“Our tripartite mission in Catholic, liberal arts and women’s education demands that we work toward creating a healthier planet,” says Barrett, who helps the University’s faculty and staff infuse the Catholic identity in their day-to-day work. “Caring for our earth through our actions on campus, and in our homes and our communities is an expression of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet’s mission to ‘love God and the dear neighbor without distinction.’”
Barrett finds applicable meaning in the encyclical’s urging to “take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that ‘less is more.’” In these words, she realizes an important choice: “We can either contribute to the throwaway culture or turn toward a lifestyle of moderation and the ability to be happy with less.”
She says: “I find resonance in the encyclical’s call for ‘a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess.’”
Katie Campbell ’02
ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNALIST, EARTHFIX
When an inspiring St. Kate’s professor helped her find deeper meaning in a familiar story, Campbell began the journey that launched a 15-year journalism career covering the environment beat.
“I had an Old Testament theology class with Chris Franke,” she recalls. “We spent a lot of time on the creation story and the idea that we humans have ‘dominion,’ which many interpret as ‘control.’” In fact, the way it was originally written meant something more like ‘sharing the responsibility to care for.’” Campbell notes that the encyclical draws attention to that misinterpretation: “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
Campbell is managing editor for video and a seven-time Emmy-award winning producer/photographer at KCTS 9, the public television station in Seattle, Washington. She reports for EarthFix, an environmental journalism collaboration of public media stations in the Pacific Northwest.
“In my job, I read a lot about climate change to understand its impact and what can be done to deal with it,” she explains. “So often, religion and science have been at odds. I never felt that way because of my St. Kate’s education, which made it possible to see the complexity and understand there are a lot of ways these things are in alignment. You don’t have to have one without the other. You can have faith and science at the same time.”
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AND CHAIR, THEOLOGY DEPARTMENT
Encyclicals have traditionally been written to a Catholiconly audience, but Laudato Si’ opens a wide embrace to every person living on the planet, not just Catholics or even Christians. “It’s exciting that this message is intended for the rest of the world,” Colleen Carpenter says. “Pope Francis wants to talk to everyone.” And not only is he talking, he’s also listening, Carpenter says, as evidenced by wide-ranging citations, including one from a Sufi mystic. “This shows a willingness to embrace knowledge, wisdom and religious insight from well beyond the church.”
The St. Kate’s community has evidenced a strong interest in what Carpenter terms “ecotheology,” the intersection of theology with ecology and environmental issues. “I recently taught a class called ‘Women, Earth, Creator Spirit.’ The class filled up, and many of the students weren’t necessarily interested in theology, but wanted to understand how faith can intersect with the problems of our age.”
Catholicism’s traditional concern for social justice is at the foundation of the care for our common home, she says. Because environmental upheaval has a deeper impact on the crops, houses and land of those who have less to begin with, the poor are more likely to suffer the first and most lasting effects of climate change. “Pope Francis says that if we talk about caring for the Earth, we’re also talking about caring for the poor,” Carpenter explains. “Our abuse of the Earth most hurts the poorest among us. So, if you’re serious about social justice, you also need to care for the Earth.”
Appreciating the beauty of our natural world is often a key first step in creating a desire to preserve and protect it, Carpenter notes. When teaching a class on “Catholic Traditions,” she asks students to go around the campus and look for things of beauty — flowers, trees, duck pond and works of art. “One of the hallmarks of the Catholic tradition is an attention to sacramentality and the ways we meet God in all the things of the world. When we’re here on campus, we’re surrounded by beauty and goodness and can connect with the Divine One who created the world.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Pope Francis’ encyclical was released with a medieval Italian title, rather than a formal Latin one. Laudato Si’, from a famous St. Francis of Assisi prayer, means “praise be to you.”
Read the papal letter at stkate.edu/laudato-si.
“You can have faith and science at the same time.”
— Katie Campbell ’02, journalist Earthfix
“I find resonance in the encyclical’s call for ‘a return to that simplicity...”
— Kate Barrett, St. Kate’s professor