SJCS Ecological Stewardship Committee: Considering the Birds of the Air

by Mark Matlock

When the Holy Father writes, we read it at St. Joseph’s. That’s been the case with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now, Pope Francis.

So when Pope Francis issued his Encyclical Laudato Si’, urging all mankind to take better care of this precious planet, SJCS sprang into action.

First, headmaster Keith Kiser used Francis’ wise words as an inspiration for this school year’s theme based upon the image of St. Francis feeding the birds painted by the artist Giotto. That image is loosely based on Matthew 6:26 “Consider the birds of the air.” He then formed an Ecological Stewardship Committee to come up with a plan to help answer the call issued by the Pope.

It was Francis’ words that inspired Mr. Kiser. Those words “touched me deeply and made me think of my own tendency in my busyness to rush simply to get things done. I also thought about how hard I work to buy something that I think I want which, in the end, doesn’t make me any happier.” There also is the “race to nowhere” mentality that sweeps up so many of us.

The Pope is “asking us to live in a more considered way instead of giving in to every impulsive desire the market puts in front of us,” Mr. Kiser said. The people who have learned the secret to true happiness have “learned to enjoy the things that truly make life rich: good friendship, learning, the arts, service to others and prayer.”

After the theme was in place, Mr. Kiser formed the Ecological Stewardship Committee. Its purpose, according to the proposed charter, is to educate and create an “awareness in the St. Joseph’s Catholic School community about the natural and supernatural value of developing more responsible ecological habits among members of the school community.”

Middle School Science teacher Lisa Shapiro, the Chairperson of the committee, said discussions are under way to craft the best plan to put Francis’ call into action. Pope Francis “emphasizes how ‘everything is interconnected’ and implore us to ‘question certain models of development, production and consumption.’”

All thoughts and ideas are, at this point, just that. But one idea is to contact an organization called GreenSteps that would come into the school and help develop a plan.

“Personally,” said Mrs. Shapiro, “I have started an Environmental Club where we meet every Thursday to learn about composting, animal care of the classroom critters, and ways in which we can encourage recycling in our school.” Mrs. Shapiro said the club has created and placed posters around the school and have permission to start a community garden.

All of this points back to the humanity within us of which Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’. “Care for the environment is not an ‘optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience’ but is rather ‘essential to a life of virtue,’” the proposed charter states. “The Pope is calling, and we with him, ‘for an ecological conversion, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.’”

The committee is made up of faculty and staff members. Its responsibilities include:

  1. Proposing ways to combat extreme consumerism, which is at the root of much of the abuse of the environment, by cultivating a greater appreciation for fraternal encounters, service to others, contact with nature, music and art, prayer and the development of one’s gifts.
  1. Looking for ways the school can conserve resources and materials, reduce waste and change habits in order to be more ecologically and fiscally responsible with the school’s resources.
  1. Suggesting changes to the curriculum that would improve students’ understanding of how human choices and actions impact the environment for good or ill.
  1. Reviewing state, local and national environmental programs in order to make recommendations to the school leadership regarding St. Joseph’s participation.

And the committee has an idea about desired outcomes of their work:

  1. The school uses less consumables and energy.
  1. The students waste less food and take better care of their belongings (less items in the lost and found).
  1. Teachers, students, and parents demonstrate a greater consciousness and awareness as to the impact of their daily choices on the environment.
  1. More teachers routinely raise environmental issues that connect to their respective academic disciplines.
  1. Students have a greater awareness of educational programs and careers they could pursue in order to foster more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.
  1. An increasing number of graduates select college majors because of a stated desire to effect positive changes in society.
  1. Overall student and faculty well-being improves.

As with all that we do at St. Joseph’s, this raised consciousness all points back to a higher purpose. The committee has said its hope is to “help bring ecological stewardship more to the forefront of the school’s mission to form the hearts, minds and souls of our students in the likeness of Christ.”