Loyola wins U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions Award for Internal, External Climate Protection

The Catholic Climate Covenant announced July 27 Loyola won the first U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions Award in the university category.

The Catholic Climate Covenant announced July 27 Loyola won the first U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions Award in the university category, a prize which honors Catholic organizations and individuals who show initiative in protecting the environment.

The physical award — a hand-painted, wooden statuette of St. Francis of Assisi — sat in the office of Dr. Michael Schuck, professor of theology and environmental sustainability. 

Schuck, who has been heavily involved with Loyola’s environmental programs, said factors such as internal sustainability efforts and the promotion of environmental efforts in the community and around the world brought the climate covenant to Loyola. 

“We have this incredible infrastructure here that supports sustainability,” Schuck said. “We also have a lot of external activities that we promote globally that are sourced here.” 

Alejandra Rodriguez, a third-year environmental policy major, said she really appreciates Loyola’s efforts towards solar power and geothermal energy. She said the university’s focus on sustainability helped her decide to attend the school. 

“There were not a lot of universities that had environmental departments,” Rodriguez said. “A big part of why I went to Loyola was its greenhouse and its environmental sustainability school and everything like that.”

Despite these efforts, Rodriguez said she thinks there is room for improvement within the university. 

“Obviously there is always always more to do, especially in regards to food waste in the dining hall and stuff like that, and single use plastics,” Rodriguez said. “I think in comparison to a lot of other universities, our institution is pretty good with trying to be sustainable.”

Third-year public health major Aidan McDougal said he feels the effects of the environment overlapping with his major in unique ways. 

“It overlaps a lot with environmental schools of thought because really a big part of public health is the environment itself,” McDougal said. “To keep people healthy you have to keep the environment healthy.”

Overall, Rodriguez said the university’s sustainability efforts have earned it the Laudato Si’ award, as they deserve to be rewarded for the good work they have done. 

Schuck said one of the university’s global efforts includes the distribution of a free, online textbook called “Healing Earth,” which was written by Loyola and International Jesuit Ecology. The textbook, initially released in October, was created to further educate Jesuit institutions on the environmental crisis, according to Loyola’s website

Loyola has also been advocating for schools to sign the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, committing them to seven years of sustainability improvement, according to Schuck. Loyola is one of the steering groups listed on the Loyola Si’ Action platform’s website.

Elena Gaona, the communications director for the Catholic Climate Covenant, said she had a similar idea of Loyola’s environmental ministry. She added she has paid attention to Loyola’s on-campus efforts as well as the university’s role in the global community. 

“What really made Loyola stand out is not only the great work the university did within itself, but what the school is doing to be a leader, inspiring and creating pathways for schools nationally and around the world to be more sustainable,” Gaona said.

Evelyn Johnson, a first-year environmental studies major, said she was very impressed by the sustainability efforts on campus when she was first touring the school. 

“I live in Oklahoma, and there is not a whole lot of sustainable infrastructure there,” Johnson said. “Coming to Loyola, I was really impressed with all the stuff going on.” 

Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus has a number of sustainability features which make the campus more environmentally friendly, including permeable pavement, use of sustainable products, and the collection of vegetable oil, according to Schuck.

Although the award was handed out for the first time in 2023, the climate covenant and Loyola have been working collaboratively to protect the environment for years through the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, according to Gaona. 

Pope Francis wrote the Laudato Si’ encyclical letter in 2015, a document calling Catholics to come together and protect the planet, according to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform website.

The letter’s title is derived from a quote by St. Francis from “Canticle of the Creature,” a phrase translated from Italian as “praise be to you,” according to the Laudato Si’ Movement website.

In St. Francis’ work, he connects praising the Lord to caring for creation, a sentiment Pope Francis and The Vatican wanted to echo with the letter and the 7-year action platform, according to the Laudato Si’ Movement website.

A variety of Catholic organizations have been reinvigorated to protect our common home by Pope Francis’ announcement of the initiative, according to the climate covenant. 

“It feels like the Catholic Climate Covenant has been working in partnership with Loyola for years,” Gaona said. “I think it was a known factor that Loyola is a leader in environmental leadership and sustainability practices within the higher ed sphere.”

This article is by Lilli Malone and Noah Reese-Clauson

Featured photo by Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff