Five years ago this week, Pope Francis released his first major encyclical called Laudato Si' (a letter a bishop writes instructing his followers on how to approach major issues). Instead of taking on an abstract theological issue, he addressed “the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest [people]."
The Pope instructed Catholics worldwide to abandon fossil fuels, and for governments and businesses to make environmental decisions that center marginalized communities. The School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee is leading the local charge to implement the Pope’s mandate.
Sister Judeen Schulte is cofounder of the CARE (Creating Action to Reverence the Earth) Committee. She says their environmental work dates back to 2007, before the Laudato Si'. "The history has long been because our Franciscan heritage is devoted to creating care for the earth," she explains.
Once Pope Francis released his mandate, the sisters dove further into their work. Their largest project so far has been installing more than 1,000 solar panels on their Sacred Heart building. At one point, this was the largest solar array in the Milwaukee area but has since been taken over by the Oak Creek Ikea.
Sister Deborah Fumagalli says, "We're really trying to walk the talk when it comes to saving resources."
As Laudato Si' turns five, Sister Kathleen Braun hopes this can be "a year of action". She's inspired by young activists like Greta Thunberg and notes that "the youth are interested, this is their future."
Another project the sisters have created is the Sister Water Beer Garden, which debuted last summer. They had three events last summer and raised $16,000. In the spirit of Laudato Si', the money raised was used to fund clean water projects like wells and urban water purification in locations in India and Latin America where the sisters minister.