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May 15, 2002  420 Words

Jesuit Scientist Al Fritsch Serves Appalachia Through His Solar Ministry

CINCINNATI—Sixty-nine year-old Jesuit Al Fritsch may not seem like the typical scientist. His headquarters, located in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, hardly seems a standard control center for scientific research. But in this Appalachian region, Father Al Fritsch, along with the Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest (ASPI), has been researching environmental solutions for the last 25 years. His mission? To teach those around him and across the country to value the earth.

The life and career of Al Fritsch are featured in the June issue of St. Anthony Messenger. In the article, Assistant Managing Editor Carol Ann Morrow writes of Al Fritsch’s mission of empowerment and determination to serve Appalachia’s residents. After May 27, the article will also be posted at::

Born on a farm in Maysville, Kentucky, Al gained an appreciation for nature early on. He received his doctorate in chemistry and was immersed in his theological studies when the environmental movement in the United States took shape. Father Al belongs to the Chicago province of the Society of Jesus.

In 1971, Father Al helped to found the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in Washington, D.C., which tackled a wide range of environmental causes. But Al’s primary focus soon turned to energy issues. He relocated to an area that can more directly benefit from his studies in renewable energy. Rockcastle County, Kentucky, became home to ASPI in 1977.

Almost from the start, solar energy became a priority at ASPI. The months-old Kentucky Million Solar Roofs Initiative, which is housed at ASPI, is federally funded. Staffers also harness solar power for food dryers, water heaters, solar photovoltaic electrical applications and solar greenhouses.

Research into ginseng, which grows all over Appalachia, is another of ASPI’s endeavors. In 1999, the group began the Appalachian Ginseng Foundation (AGF). Known for its therapeutic uses, wild ginseng can sell for $400 a pound. AGF is working to protect, produce and market ginseng for the betterment of Appalachia’s economy. Al hopes that someday the valuable root will replace tobacco as a cash crop.

Soon, Father Al, who is also a published writer, will be turning over ASPI’s leadership to colleague Ben Perry. But it’s doubtful he will slow down any time soon. Friend and solar conservation colleague Joshua Bills says Father Al “is amazing! His personal energy is inexhaustible!”


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