St. Thomas Aquinas Embraces Creation Care
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and School have been engaged in caring for creation for quite a while. The school was recognized as a US Department of Education Green Ribbon School in 2014 based on the three pillars of reducing our environmental impact, health and wellness of students and staff, and environmental education across the curriculum. Similarly, the parish Creation Care Ministry has been active since 2007 raising awareness of environmental issues and helping parishioners to lower their own environmental impact.
But since Pope Francis released his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home”, creation care at St. Thomas is becoming part of the parish culture.
Caring for creation has a spiritual foundation; it has been part of Catholic social teaching for decades. Parishioners learned more about the faith perspective of creation care through several Laudato Si’ study groups. Students in the school created a Laudato Si’ wall hanging representing its core messages. Pope Francis encourages us to live lives of Christian simplicity. The Lent 4.2 program in the spring of 2017 gave suggestions for how to reduce our environmental impact by asking us to examine the everyday choices we make. Speakers from organizations such as Bread for the World, Sierra Club, and Hoosier Environmental Council helped us see how these issues affect our communities and called us to take action to support our neighbors.
In 2015, Pope Francis also asked Catholics to join with other Christians in prayer annually on September 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. September 1 marks the beginning of the Season of Creation, which lasts until the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. The Season of Creation at STA has been celebrated with prayer services in both the parish and the school. The 2017 prayer service was an ecumenical service with our neighbors, Fairview Presbyterian and Common Ground Christian Churches. People were asked to #LiveLaudatoSi by committing to take concrete actions in their lives. They wrote their pledges on leaves that were added to the tree display in the church narthex.
St. Thomas Aquinas is working to reduce its carbon footprint on the STA campus. In late fall, 2016, almost 700 fluorescent tubes were replaced with more energy efficient LED bulbs. A plan is in place to change all the remaining lights to LEDs and to install motion sensors so that spaces are lit only when occupied. The parish has also started on the path toward becoming an Energy Star Congregation through a capital campaign that will replace aging HVAC equipment with energy efficient models, repair the roof, and seal air leaks. Once more immediate needs have been met, the parish would like to install solar panels to further reduce our carbon footprint. A solar analysis of the campus shows that we have several excellent potential sites for installing solar panels.
STA is well known in the local community for our annual parish festival, Sausagefest. This year’s festival also demonstrated the parish commitment to caring for creation. The food containers were switched from expanded polystyrene to plant based containers and the recycling was increased to include as much as possible. Cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, plastic cups, glass wine bottles – even the plastic table coverings, plastic wrap on cases of water and the bags for ice were recycled, leading to a 50% increase by volume in the amount of recycling at the 2017 festival.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis says, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience”. (paragraph 217) St. Thomas Aquinas is responding to that call to action.