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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

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 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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Catherine of Alexandria: According to the <i>Legend of St. Catherine</i>, this young woman converted to Christianity after receiving a vision. At the age of 18, she debated 50 pagan philosophers. Amazed at her wisdom and debating skills, they became Christians—as did about 200 soldiers and members of the emperor’s family. All of them were martyred. 
<p>Sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel, Catherine touched the wheel and it shattered. She was beheaded. Centuries later, angels are said to have carried the body of St. Catherine to a monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. </p><p>Devotion to her spread as a result of the Crusades. She was invoked as the patroness of students, teachers, librarians and lawyers. Catherine is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, venerated especially in Germany and Hungary.</p> American Catholic Blog We exist because God is infinitely beautiful, infinitely good, and overflowing with a love that seeks to share itself. When he made us and placed us in this glittering created world, it was an act of pure generosity.

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