Mount Saint Mary’s has joined hundreds of other Catholic colleges and universities worldwide in creating action plans to better care for the planet and each other. The plan is inspired by Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.” Its message calls on all to pursue sustainability as a way to lift up both the earth and all who live on it, especially those most affected by damage to the environment.
From “Laudato Si”: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Sister Darlene Kawulok, CSJ, D Min, sees “Laudato Si” this way: “The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have a long history of seeking unity with all of creation,” she says. “One of the aspects of our charism is ‘All Are One.’ All. There are no insiders or outsiders. Pope Francis’ encyclical invites us into communio with all of God’s created reality.”
MSMU response to “Laudato Si”
The Mount is taking the challenge head-on. This spring, the University will begin a self-assessment that will lead to community-wide reflections that will examine MSMU’s values and aspirations in response to “Laudato Si.”
Such aspirations are mirrored in Goal 2 of the Mount’s current strategic plan: “Support environmentally friendly practices and protocols at the University and actively work to reduce its environmental footprint,” with the objective to, among other things, “help develop a community of environmentally conscious individuals.”
“We see this [participation in Laudato Si] as part of our mission as a Catholic university. It really is a moral imperative to engage in this work. It certainly will build on our commitment to sustainability and social justice but it will help us be more intentional in our commitment.” --Ann McElaney-Johnson, PhD, president, Mount Saint Mary's University
“If we are successful, our action plan will impact most aspects of life on campus, from our curriculum to student life,” President McElaney-Johnson says. “This will help us adopt a mindset that is focused on care of creation in ways that will organically change the way we work, live and interact.”
Sister Kawulok says that’s precisely what she sees as the beauty of “Laudato Si.” “It invites humanity to embrace their place within all of God’s creation. It encourages us not to compartmentalize our lives into silos but to integrate and weave every thread of our lives into the lace of the created world. If this happens, then we no longer stop and think about it. Concepts like the common good, collegiality, sustainability, responsibility, care for the weak and the poor no longer are concepts. They are our lives. We breathe and live social justice.”
Environmental studies major and more
Already, many efforts underway will help Mount Saint Mary’s uphold its commitment to “Laudato Si” and continue to strengthen the University’s connected commitment to both sustainability and social justice. Chief among them is the creation of a new environmental studies major — set to launch in fall 2022 — that is cross-disciplinary and flexible in design.
“What that means,” says Jones, “is that students can get the science they need but they’ll also have access to courses that provide them with a path to environmental law. Or they can work with our journalism and new media program if they want to make documentaries. Storytelling, policy, law and the core of ‘Laudato Si’ are all centered in this new major.”
Other sustainability actions on the horizon include:
- Rebuilding and replanting the Chalon Garden, which was destroyed in the 2019 Getty Fire
- More on-campus composting, a greater reduction of food waste and more efficient food sharing with those in need
- New Campus Ministry opportunities to address integral ecology, environmental racism and humanity’s sacred trust to care for creation
- Adding to the 13 campus buildings that already have solar panels
- Adding to MSMU’s 50 electric vehicle charging stations
Increasing air quality, decreasing health risks
In the fall of 2021, an interdisciplinary research team of MSMU professors and students equipped a small Los Angeles County community with low-cost, portable air sensors. The goal of the project was twofold: to map hyperlocal patterns of air quality so residents could better understand the health risks present in their community, and to equip residents to advocate for changes that would improve the health of their city and themselves.
The Mount’s research team chose the South Coast city of Cudahy based on its history of environmental damage, often caused by major industries in the area. MSMU researchers included students and faculty from a range of disciplines, including biology, chemistry and political science, as well as from the University’s Center for Global Initiatives and the Mount Makerspace.
“Our students really drove this work,” says project lead Adriane Jones, PhD, an associate professor of biology. “Students are hungry to connect their research to help in the real world. Climate change, environmental justice, economic justice. Those are things we hear our students say they’re passionate about. There’s an urgency among this generation to focus on these topics.”
Learn more about Laudato Si and the Mount’s response:
- MSMU Spiritual Life: Caring for the Planet
- University Pathways: Laudato Si
- Laudato Si Action Platform