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Lighting Up An Austin Parish View Comments

Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda


Consistently ranked among the country’s most environmentally conscious cities, Austin has spent decades educating its citizens on being good energy stewards. By 2020, this gateway to the Texas Hill Country aims to be carbon neutral, powering itself solely on clean energy.

The parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena in southwest Austin joined this effort in August 2010 by using a very generous estate gift to develop solar energy.

“Everyone can talk,” notes Father Patrick Coakley, pastor. “What is important is that we begin to do
something!”

Setting an Example

Solar Electricity Handbook, 2010 Edition (Greenstream, 2010), by Michael Boxwell. This simple, practical guide to solar energy assumes no previous knowledge.

Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2zjdtxrisc for a U.S. Department of Energy one-minute, animated video showing how solar cells convert sunlight into electricity.

With an average of 300 sunny days a year, central Texas is a good bet for solar energy. St. Catherine’s is the first parish in the diocese to install solar panels. This makes it the largest Catholic installation in Texas—and only one of 10 churches nationwide—to initiate a green project of this magnitude.

The $100,000 project, named after its benefactor, the late Charles Kolodzey, is expected to cut the parish’s energy costs by a third.

Its 126 smoked-glass solar panels (32.67 kilowatts) have been placed on carports that cover a handicapped parking area and have an expected life of 20-25 years. The panels supply light at night and shade during the hot Texas days—and provide enough energy for the parish’s administrative offices.

According to Austin-based Meridian Solar, the designing company, the project will offset 32 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year—the equivalent of planting 2,500 trees. “The power we’re generating already would power four domestic homes,” says the pastor, a native of Cork, Ireland. The panels are expected to save the parish $8,000 annually in energy costs. “It’s going very well! We are very pleased.”

Caring for Mother Earth

This is not St. Catherine of Siena’s first effort at being environmentally conscious. For several years the parish’s Earth Care Ministry has educated the parish’s 3,800 families, challenging everyone to be environmental stewards in all areas of their lives, such as conserving water, keeping a low-carbon diet and promoting eating from local food sources.

In addition to expanding its solar structure in the future, the parish hopes to develop rainwater collection and use Xeriscape™ (waterconservation landscaping) throughout its 8.8-acre campus.

“We are trying to reduce our carbon footprint one step at a time. We all need to take personal responsibility for caring for our environment,” notes Missionary of the Sacred Heart Father Coakley.

“This has changed the mind-set of the parish. It’s always in our vocabulary, no matter what ministry we are discussing. It’s changed the way we think about what we do.”


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Hildegard of Bingen: 
		<p>Abbess, artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian--where to begin describing this remarkable woman?</p>
		<p>Born into a noble family, she was instructed for ten years by the holy woman Blessed Jutta. When Hildegard was 18, she became a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of St. Disibodenberg. Ordered by her confessor to write down the visions that she'd received since the age of three, Hildegard took ten years to write her <em>Scivias</em> (<em>Know the Ways</em>). Pope Eugene III read it and in 1147 encouraged her to continue writing. Her <em>Book of the Merits of Life</em> and <em>Book of Divine Works</em> followed. She wrote over 300 letters to people who sought her advice; she also composed short works on medicine and physiology, and sought advice from contemporaries such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux.</p>
		<p>Hildegard's visions caused her to see humans as "living sparks" of God's love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. Sin destroyed the original harmony of creation; Christ's redeeming death and resurrection opened up new possibilities. Virtuous living reduces the estrangement from God and others that sin causes. </p>
		<p>Like all mystics, she saw the harmony of God's creation and the place of women and men in that. This unity was not apparent to many of her contemporaries. </p>
		<p>Hildegard was no stranger to controversy. The monks near her original foundation protested vigorously when she moved her monastery to Bingen, overlooking the Rhine River. She confronted Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for supporting at least three antipopes. Hildegard challenged the Cathars, who rejected the Catholic Church claiming to follow a more pure Christianity.</p>
		<p>Between 1152 and 1162, Hildegard often preached in the Rhineland. Her monastery was placed under interdict because she had permitted the burial of a young man who had been excommunicated. She insisted that he had been reconciled with the Church and had received its sacraments before dying. Hildegard protested bitterly when the local bishop forbade the celebration of or reception of the Eucharist at the Bingen monastery, a sanction that was lifted only a few months before her death. </p>
		<p>In 2012, Hildegard was canonized and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI.</p>
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