Renewing the Campus: Sustainability and the Catholic University

by Laura Midkiff

Renewing the Campus

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Renewing the Campus, a national conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame in mid-October, was the first symposium dedicated to enhancing understanding, activism and cooperation among Catholic universities in the area of sustainability.

The conference—which included faculty, administrators and students from 45 universities across the country—was structured to encompass many approaches to environmental issues, including those of theologians, scientists, sustainability practitioners, student activists and clergy.

The aim was to address the theological and ethical implications of climate change as viewed through the lens of Catholic social teaching—with a focus on the opportunities for Catholic universities to assume a leadership role on this issue within both the academic and Catholic communities.

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., in his greeting to the conference participants, wrote that “sustainability has emerged in the context of public debate surrounding a host of issues from global climate change to dwindling natural resources to international energy security, but there is a dimension that has been all too often overlooked—a human dimension.”

Father Jenkins added that Pope Benedict XVI observed in his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate, “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”

“We were blessed to be able to host this and provide a context for faculty, administrators and students from all these universities to come together as a community," said Rachel Novick, education and outreach coordinator for the Office of Sustainability. "What a lot of people said about the weekend was that they felt we were becoming closer, getting to know one another and forming bonds that can help us all to become more sustainable going forward.”

Novick indicated that the goal wasn’t just to hold a conference, but to build community—adding that what she hopes to do is to help participants remain connected to one another and to share resources.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that this conference placed a human face on the environmental crisis," said Colleen Kelly, a Notre Dame student who works as an intern in the Office of Sustainability and also is president of student organization GreeND, which played a significant role in planning and participating in the conference. “Oftentimes, environmental discussions are relegated to science or politics; however, this conference had a distinct approach of social justice and solidarity.”

More information about the Renewing the Campus conference is available here.