There are 800 solar panels on the motherhouse grounds of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes. (Submitted photo)

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, Fond du Lac, and the St. Catherine of Alexandria/St. Joan of Arc cluster parish, Nashotah, were among the winners at the first U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions Awards. The recipients were announced July 27 at the conclusion of the 2023 Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church Conference.

The 10 categories recognize Catholic individuals, families, schools, businesses, dioceses, and other institutions across the United States who have made outstanding achievements in environmental sustainability and stewardship.

Nominations were submitted by Catholic Climate Covenant supporters, partners, laypeople, religious and the public. A volunteer Catholic Climate Covenant committee selected the winners based on a series of criteria including fidelity to the goals of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, faith-focused work toward sustainability, level of difficulty and scope, the level of commitment required by the work and its influence on local, regional and national efforts.

Catholic Climate Covenant awarded the winners with a hand-painted St. Francis statue, as well as gifts of fruit trees planted in their honor by overseas farmers to help feed families, through its partner, Catholic Relief Services.

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes won in the religious order category. The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes has a longstanding commitment to conservation and care for the creation, which has intensified since the publication of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” A tangible reflection of their dedication is the 880-panel solar installation on the motherhouse grounds. This installation generates 50 percent of their energy needs and significantly reduces their carbon footprint. Educational tours are available for school groups as well as a self-guided tour for individuals in order to share knowledge and inspiration. The sisters’ recent investment in an off-site, 538-solar-panel “block” through the Alliant Energy community solar project demonstrates their continued commitment to sustainable practices.

“This award reassures us that we are on the right path, and we hope that by being recognized in such a public way, our work will reach new audiences who will be inspired to do more for Earth,” Sr. Peg Spindler said in her acceptance speech. “Our own work has been inspired by Pope Francis, by CSA sisters and associates, and by our Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator and other staff. Beyond human inspiration sources, we are constantly inspired by the beauty and vitality of the entire web of life, of existence.”

St. Catherine of Alexandria/St. Joan of Arc Cluster Parish won in the parish category.

The Nashotah parish cluster has shown a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable practices, led by their Creation Keepers, a dynamic six-member group established in 2016 as a direct response to Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si’” encyclical. The mission of the committee is to increase environmental awareness, invite parishioners to responsible individual and family environmental stewardship, and promote parish-wide environmentally friendly activities.

Creation Keepers has galvanized the parishes and the students of St. Joan of Arc Elementary School to pursue the goals outlined in “Laudato Si’.” Their efforts have yielded a range of eco-friendly initiatives, from replacing Styrofoam with biodegradable containers, to embracing fair trade coffee; using environmental church bulletins, a website with environmental actions, an environmental Lenten calendar, school programs, activities and lessons. They have also introduced recycling containers for unused worship materials, parish bulletins and school papers, ensuring that waste is minimized, and resources are conserved.

The group has taken significant strides in expanding the Garden of Eatin’, an organic garden tended by parishioners and students. This flourishing garden provides fresh produce to local food pantries and serves as a symbol of the parish’s commitment to sustainable agriculture. In 2022, the Garden of Eatin’ yielded 500 pounds of food for those in need.