In the fall semester of 2016, Holy Cross College, Saint Mary’s College, and the University of Notre Dame launched a collaborative, tri-campus course on integral ecology and sustainability. The course, which grants students liberal arts and science credits, provides a framework of knowledge of sustainability efforts both locally and nationally. In the spirit of the mission of all three institutions, it also focuses on discourse about the role of the Catholic Church in environmental concerns, spearheaded by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, On Care For Our Common Home.
“In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis underscores ecological education and cooperation as key elements in addressing the social and environmental crisis that humanity faces at this moment in history,” explains Shawn Storer, professor of theology at Holy Cross College and one of the primary professors for the class. “The Holy Father says, ‘A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.’ The students in this class have set out on this path of renewal and are striving to take the initial steps in meeting the great challenge.”
Now in its second year, the integral ecology and sustainability course continues to be notable for being the only one of its kind, joining students from all three campuses to convene and interact in an academic forum. Students explore the Holy Cross Charism and Catholic Social Doctrine, and how these can shape and illumine their imaginations. Ultimately, the goal is for students to discern how to live sustainably and put into practice what they encounter in the Church’s wisdom and vision in their local places and communities.
The course was taught and facilitated by professors from all three campuses: Rachel Novick, Ph.D., and Margaret Pfeil, Ph.D., from the University of Notre Dame; John Slattery and Chris Cobb, Ph.D., from Saint Mary’s College; and Shawn Storer, M.Div., and Stephanie Storer, M.S.Envr.Eng., from Holy Cross College. The combined academic and practical knowledge of these interdisciplinary professors provides students with a multi-dimensional perspective on relevant and dynamic issues. Through a combination of readings on theology, agriculture, economics, and philosophy, and concise lessons in environmental science and case studies of about what other college campuses are doing in relation to these same themes, the course aims to teach students how to integrate empirical thinking and problem-solving with a spiritual understanding of God’s creation.
“This class is about solidarity with the one human family and with all of creation,” says Rachel Novick, assistant professor of the practice in biological sciences and director of Notre Dame’s minor in sustainability. “To develop in each of us a greater capacity for solidarity, I believe it is important to step outside the boundaries we create for ourselves, including our campuses. I hope that the bridges that we build will contribute to a greater sense of community among the three campuses and the pursuit of joint sustainability initiatives.”
The location of the class varied from week to week. Students took part in landscape ecology tours on each campus and in the Bowman Creek area of South Bend. Other course units explored the topics of food and energy with visits to an urban rain garden, tree farms, the Storer family’s urban homestead, campus dining halls, and campus facilities engineers.
In the classroom, discussion periods were typically structured around a world café model, allowing smaller groups of four to six students to engage in discussion and share their ideas about a given topic. The final project, also a group endeavor, required students to apply their thoughts and principles to practical, real-world concerns, such as planning campus agricultural projects, starting a student food-cooperative, developing tri-campus sustainability club, sourcing locally and responsibly raised pastured meat for the campuses, or integrating lessons in conservation into campus student orientations.
Holy Cross students were also able earn their science lab credit through field trips to threatened wildlife habitats across northern Indiana and southern Michigan, led by associate biology professor Br. Lawrence Unfried, C.S.C.
The tri-campus integral ecology course and the collaboration that brought it about exemplifies the Holy Cross mission to educate its students’ hearts and minds. Students learn not only how to care for “our common home,” but why it is imperative for the Church to be at the forefront in doing so. “It has been a gift to witness the students in this class consider our local and campus communities, society, and their own personal lives in light of this crisis, challenge, and call,” says Shawn Storer. “What many of these students aspire to do and what they want to call the Holy Cross institutions of higher learning to do is really quite striking and hopeful.”
To learn more about Laudato Si’, the text at the core of this class, visit http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.
To read the Holy Cross Joint Statement on Climate Change, visit http://www.cscsisters.org/aboutus/media/releases/Documents/ClimateChangeStatement.pdf