Stewardship for the planet is an important facet of our 100+ years of work in mission to share God’s love and the Gospel in combating poverty, providing healthcare, building communities, promoting human rights and protecting the earth’s resources.
“One of the major realities is that if we look at salvation and a decent life then we have to take into consideration the Earth.”
~ Father Paul Masson, M.M.
Maryknoll missioners have been privileged to serve God’s people in many corners of the earth, most often on the margins with the people who are excluded from tables of power and whose lives are considered expendable in the dominant economic system. This lived experience of our missioners informs all the statements of the Maryknoll branches—the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the Maryknoll Sisters and the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures…all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.
Laudato Si’ — Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment — is a clarion call for a personal conversion within each of us, as building blocks, to shape a world governed by sustainable economic policies and environmental protections. Pope Francis emphasizes that it is not enough for us to go through the motions of change—we are in need of a cultural overhaul and a spiritual revolution.
Individualism and rampant consumerism have led to decisions based on short-term gains and private interests rather than sustainability or the common good. This personal conversion encompasses a re-evaluation of our personal priorities and actions, and branches out to a renewal of our commitment to our families, our communities, our faiths and all of God’s creation: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
Around the world, Maryknoll missioners see how families, communities and the environment suffer due to choices made in faraway places, often by people who have never visited the affected locations. The encyclical emphasizes the often-overlooked principle of subsidiarity: as much as possible, political decisions should be made at a local level by the people most affected.
Pope Francis in particular underscores how our economic policies contribute to poverty and environmental degradation and that we must consider a new vision of the economy that recognizes Earth’s limits.
The Maryknoll missioners look forward to engaging in dialogue over critical policy changes as well as individual actions suggested by Laudato Si’. We must begin to bring the transformational change needed to protect the sacredness of all life on our common home.
Reducing Maryknoll’s Own Ecological Footprint
The Maryknoll home on a hill in Ossining is dominated by the 210,000 square-foot H-shaped Maryknoll Mission Center building that was built from fieldstone and started during the 1920s. The campus is a work environment, the center of activity for Maryknoll’s worldwide mission work, the home of its missioners and for those who require assisted living and elder care.
For over a decade, we’ve committed ourselves to an ambitious green initiative to overhaul many facets of our campus to be far more environmentally friendly.
Within the last several years, Maryknoll departments such as procurement, physical plant and custodial services have embraced the stewardship initiative and have implemented operational changes to reduce the society’s ecological footprint on what originally was known as Sunset Hill. The property and the Maryknoll Society received its modern-day name from co-founder Father Thomas Frederick Price’s dedication to the Virgin Mary and the topography of the land.
Energy-savings changes on the campus have been updated heating, electricity and building infrastructures. A significant decision made during 2008 began converting utility-supplied conventional electricity to wind-generated energy. Initially, wind produced 51 percent of the electricity purchased from the utility to power the Maryknoll Mission Center building, but now this building runs 100 percent on wind generated power.
“Our electricity load here uses about 10,000 pounds of [carbon dioxide] per year,” said Albert Vitiello, the director of Maryknoll’s physical plant. “But, since we went to wind energy, we’ve [first] reduced it by 50 percent, and that is about five thousand pounds of CO2 per year that we’ve reduced. Now that we are at 100 percent, there are no carbon emissions being produced.”
Besides the “gone with the wind” conversion that delivers higher initial costs than conventional fuel-powered electricity, Maryknoll has found additional opportunities to improve energy efficiency in all its buildings that were constructed prior to 1970.
Windows have been upgraded from single-pane glass to double insulated glass to reduce energy loss during winter heating and summer cooling periods. Biodegradable floor tiling was added during renovation of the 1915 Bishop James A. Walsh building named after one of Marykoll’s co-founders and which now serves as the new home of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
Coupled with these architectural renovations, Maryknoll has installed energy efficient and water efficient appliances that include washing machines and dishwashers. Even lights have been gradually replaced with more efficient housings and bulbs.
“Our water usage is a big thing with sustainability,” added Vitiello. “We now use toilets that don’t [require] a lot of water, and showerheads that minimize the amount of water flow.”
Vitiello’s physical plant staff also is researching an update of the boiler heating system to improve the trapping of steam that will positively affect water efficiency.
“After the steam turns back to water, [the water will be captured and returned] to the boilers,” added Vitiello. “We don’t have to feed it (the boilers) with new water. We are reusing the water that goes through the system.”
Cleaning chores from laundry room to the print shop also have been placed on Maryknoll’s environmental improvement list.
The custodial services and event planning department has introduced biodegradable and other cleaning products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. The change has reduced reliance on products that contain ammonia, bleach and phosphorous.
“We look for bio-based products that [are derived] from renewable resources,” said Mario Cerdas, the department manager, adding that ingredients are “from plants, fruits, soybeans, and corn…and that they are not harmful for the environment.”
Maryknoll uses low suds dye-free detergent for laundry and it stocks paper products, such as tissues and hand towels, that are bleach-free and consist of 80 percent recycled content. For trash, Maryknoll has switched from heavy density plastic liners to low density products to remove lightweight waste. Lower density liners use less fossil fuel in the manufacturing process. The society also recycles paper, cardboard, various plastics and metals.
Within the workplace, Maryknoll recently installed 32 Xerox network color copiers. The copiers use acid free paper and cartridge-free technologies that employ compact and non-toxic color solid ink sticks. The machines reduce the amount of copier office waste by 90 percent when compared with similar color laser products. During the conversion, more than 80 personal copiers already have been eliminated along with the annual use of roughly 400 ink cartridges.
For years, supporters of Maryknoll and its work in mission have witnessed the green initiative first hand and, literally, in their hands, with the bi-monthly delivery of Marykoll magazine and the Spanish-language Revista Maryknoll. During 1995, Maryknoll’s magazines were first printed on paper stock with recycled content and with recyclable soy based inks by the organization’s certified print shop, Times Printing of Random Lake, Wisconsin.
Paper stock for each issue is procured from land certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is part of the Rainforest Alliance. The process prevents destruction of valuable forests by encouraging reseeding and replanting.
In the print shop at Maryknoll, which creates smaller documents, prayer cards and fundraising mailers, the amount of caustic chemicals for cleaning the presses has been reduced for some of the equipment and totally abandoned for other machines. Recycled paper, soy and vegetable-based inks, and fewer toxic chemicals to clean machines now are found in the shop’s inventory.
In mission countries, many Maryknollers fulfill their work by traveling on mules, horses, or bicycles. Back home, when they are assigned to visit parishes and schools to educate Catholics about mission, they have started to rely on hybrid cars.
“We are constantly looking at the latest technology,” said Vitiello. “We’ve been buying hybrid cars and four cylinder vehicles along with smaller more compact cars.”
The Maryknoll green initiative also extends into partnerships with outside contractors such as Sodexo, the food supplier that provides 3,210 meals each week for more than 200 employees along with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers who live and work at the Maryknoll Mission Center. After a recent energy audit, Sodexo decided to revamp outdated procedures and invest in new energy efficient kitchen equipment that, over time, will exchange the investment for reduced energy costs.
“Historically, [environmental stewardship had] been taking place and I think that going forward keeping that movement of caring for the Earth, caring for the people is already there and it’s going to continue,” said Jan Golden, senior procurement manager at Marykoll. “It becomes second nature to people, especially here at the center in our everyday business work…and I do think people see it as part of the [Maryknoll] mission,” added Golden.
The reenergized commitment by Maryknoll leadership and its employees to conserve and protect the environment is an important part of the mission spirit fostered by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Stewardship is closely aligned with the commitment to help the poor and the underserved around the world.
“I’m very proud to be a part of Maryknoll’s commitment to be green [and] environmentally responsible,” concluded Agosta. “I am always amazed at their creativeness in finding new products, new ideas and new ways of keeping that in the forefront of their minds. And I am glad that I am able to say that we are making a difference.”