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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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Catherine of Siena: The value Catherine makes central in her short life and which sounds clearly and consistently through her experience is complete surrender to Christ. What is most impressive about her is that she learns to view her surrender to her Lord as a goal to be reached through time. 
<p>She was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa and grew up as an intelligent, cheerful and intensely religious person. Catherine disappointed her mother by cutting off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation. </p><p>She entered the Dominican Third Order at 18 and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and austerity. Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious. An active public apostolate grew out of her contemplative life. Her letters, mostly for spiritual instruction and encouragement of her followers, began to take more and more note of public affairs. Opposition and slander resulted from her mixing fearlessly with the world and speaking with the candor and authority of one completely committed to Christ. She was cleared of all charges at the Dominican General Chapter of 1374. </p><p>Her public influence reached great heights because of her evident holiness, her membership in the Dominican Third Order, and the deep impression she made on the pope. She worked tirelessly for the crusade against the Turks and for peace between Florence and the pope </p><p>In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. She died surrounded by her "children" and was canonized in 1461. </p><p>Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. In 1939, she and Francis of Assisi were declared co-patrons of Italy. Paul VI named her and Teresa of Avila doctors of the Church in 1970. Her spiritual testament is found in <i>The Dialogue</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The gates of hell cannot withstand the power of heaven. Gates of sin melt in the presence of saving grace; gates of death fall in the presence of eternal life; gates of falsehood collapse in the presence of living truth; gates of violence are flattened in the presence of divine love. These are the tools with which Christ has equipped his Church.

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