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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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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog Evil will always exist, and it will enter our lives unexpectedly and without consent. But how deeply that darkness will touch us is up to us; our will is our own. The dark affects our bodies but not necessarily our souls. Our lives can be taken. But they can also be given.

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