In June, Pope Francis released his much–anticipated encyclical on the environment: Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The timing could not have been better for my graduate theology course designed to help teachers share Catholic social teaching. This course is only one of a number of ways the Theology Department will share Laudato Si’ this year.
The 1998 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement, “Sharing Catholic Social Teaching,” highlights the gifts of Catholic education and Catholic social teaching and states: “[T]here is an urgent need to bring these two gifts together in a strengthened commitment to sharing our social teaching at every level of Catholic education.” My graduate students responded to this challenge. They discovered that Laudato Si’ is an engaging and accessible synthesis of Catholic social teaching. They developed ways to share themes from the encyclical in a variety of disciplines, including religion, English, Spanish, social studies, economics, health, science, and math. Some developed lesson plans or reading lists, and others developed prayer services.
As a service-learning course, these school teachers not only produced resources to share Laudato Si’ with their own students (kindergarten to high school), but they also shared these resources with the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), and the Catholic Climate Covenant. Through this collaboration, their resources have the potential to help other teachers in Catholic schools share Laudato Si’ with their students. In addition, they used their knowledge of Catholic social teaching to provide an assessment of the new USCCB website, “We Are Salt and Light,” which includes resources for sharing Laudato Si’.
As I look to the coming year, I will be sharing Laudato Si’ in the undergraduate courses I teach. In my section of The Christian Theological Tradition, which is a service-learning course with an emphasis on sustainability, students will read excerpts from the encyclical throughout the course. In my sections of Christian Faith and the Management Professions, Laudato Si’ will be an important text as we study business as a vocation as well as corporate social responsibility.
I am not the only member of the Theology Department incorporating Laudato Si’ into courses this year. Most, if not all, of my colleagues in theological ethics, as well as a colleague in historical theology, are also incorporating the encyclical into their teaching. In at least seven sections of The Christian Theological Tradition, students will read either excerpts or the entire encyclical. Dr. Bernard Brady and Dr. Robert Koerpel plan to include an excerpt from Laudato Si’ on creation. Dr. Gerald Schlabach will include excerpts from Laudato Si’ that correlate with major themes of the course, such as God, creation, revelation, Jesus, and Church, in order to “demonstrate the relevance of theology for our contemporary lives.” Dr. Thomas Bushlack plans to have students read the entire encyclical in his service-learning sections, saying, “Students will attend a ‘Climate Conversation’ at a local parish . . . to learn about how people of faith are responding to and implementing the encyclical.”
In at least eight sections of second-level theology courses, students will read part, if not all, of the encyclical. Mary Twite, teaching service-learning sections, and Dr. Mary Ann Kish, focusing on moral issues involved in climate change and ecology, will include excerpts in their sections of Christian Morality. Dr. Paul Wojda will begin Christian Morality with Laudato Si’ and then examine other social encyclicals that Laudato Si’ draws on explicitly, such as Pacem in Terris. “[B]ecause Laudato Si’ is also an invitation to see . . . ecology as a ‘life issue,’ intimately connected with other life issues,” his class will examine Evangelium Vitae. In Medieval Theology, Dr. Stephen McMichael will incorporate the encyclical as he teaches about Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creatures.
Three sections of the third-level theology bridge course, Theology and the Environment, will use the encyclical. Dr. Amy Levad will use it “in many ways to structure the course, using its basic framework and supplementing it with other readings.” Mary Twite will use it in her team-taught section with Dr. Maria Dahmus.
Laudato Si’ both models and invites interdisciplinary dialogue. The Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship will host such dialogue for 23 seminar members representing members of the Theology Department, the Chemistry Department, the Environmental Studies Program, the Center for Ethical Business Culture in the Opus College of Business, and the UST Sustainability Committee. Sharing Catholic social teaching in this way offers the potential for the University of St. Thomas to incorporate Laudato Si’ across the curriculum, just as my graduate students modeled in the resources that they created. Such integration engages an important addition to Catholic intellectual tradition, explicitly reflects on the common good, and underscores the importance of sustainable practices as an expression of “care for our common home.”
Angela Senander is an associate professor of moral theology at the University of St. Thomas. She has been on faculty since 2013.