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June 18, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – On the fifth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, U.S. congregations of Dominican Sisters announced the launching of a strategic investment initiative in collaboration with Morgan Stanley to address climate change, especially as it affects marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by global warming. The Sisters committed $46,650,000 to the initiative, seeding Climate Solutions Funds that have attracted more than $130,000,000 in capital investments. 

“Dominicans have long been engaged in addressing issues related to poverty and Earth’s degradation,” said Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “Today we are extending these efforts to Wall Street by proactively investing in marketplace climate solutions that we hope will have a catalyzing impact for the common good of people and planet.” 

Representatives of the 16 U.S. Congregations of Dominican Sisters gather on June 18, 2018, at the global headquarters of Moran Stanley on Times Square to celebrate the inauguration of Climate Solutions Funds.

Leaders of 16 congregations of Dominican Sisters, representing nearly 3,500 Catholic Sisters from Washington to New York and Texas to Michigan, are participating in this collaborative initiative in partnership with the Chicago office of Graystone Consulting Group, a women-led institutional consulting practice which is part of Morgan Stanley. The Sisters’ anchor investments in this initiative have attracted additional investors, providing a pool of more than $130 million for investment in climate solutions that integrate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on water, sanitation, food security, energy, and related challenges facing economically impoverished communities.

“We are bringing these resources to the marketplace to help address our deep concern about the integrity of God’s creation and the people most impacted by climate change,” Sister Patricia said. “Although we initiated this effort well before the outbreak of COVID-19, the global pandemic has underscored the link between climate change and ecological degradation and the health and wellbeing of people, especially those most vulnerable.”  

The initiative, five years in the making, has attracted numerous other investors. Séamus P. Finn, OMI, Chief of Faith Consistent Investing of the Oblate International Pastoral (OIP) Investment Trust, said, “The OIP Trust is excited by the opportunity to join the Dominican-Climate fund and was especially attracted by the insight and innovation that is at the core of the fund’s approach. The vision for the fund is grounded in the transformation of the current financial system and gives priority to people, planet and sustainability.”

Lisa Zuckerman, Vice President of Treasury and Strategic Investing for CommonSpirit Health, said, “CommonSpirit Health is a long-standing socially responsible investor, and we are grateful for opportunities with like-minded investors that align with our values and create healthier communities. We seek strong social returns as well as financial returns. With its focus on climate change, the Climate Impact Solutions Fund helps address a pressing global health issue,” she said, adding, “When we can meet our financial goals, we are able to spread our healing mission to more people.” 

Sister Patricia noted, “We are delighted that this integrated approach to climate investing has attracted other investors and investment managers, helping to scale this kind of approach to climate finance globally.” 

The unusual partnership between U.S. Catholic Sisters and a global Wall Street investment firm emerged from a commitment the Dominican Sisters made as a Conference in 2015 to “develop an appropriate strategy to promote investment in climate solutions.” The commitment, made prior to the Paris Climate Agreement, was the fruit of a yearlong faith-praxis cycle of study, contemplation and action developed by the Earth Council of northeast Dominican congregations that had engaged Dominicans throughout the United States. 

A Sisters’ Climate Finance Taskforce was formed, reaching out to more than three dozen financial institutions in search of a manager that would develop financial products addressing climate change and integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “We found that manager in The Graystone Consulting Group of Morgan Stanley,” said Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP, a longtime corporate-responsibility advocate, who played a leading role on the taskforce and in forging the partnership. “This marks a new moment of collaboration in the world of finance. May this milestone spark a new movement of integrated climate solutions that are responsive to Pope Francis’ moral call to humanity in Laudato Si’ to care for God’s creation and God’s people,” she said. 

Two years ago, on June 18, 2018, leaders of the 16 congregations gathered at the global headquarters of Morgan Stanley on Times Square to celebrate the inauguration of the initiative with their anchor commitments. The Sisters were hosted by officers from Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing and Graystone Consulting Institutional Consultants Kristina Van Liew and Linda Stephans. 

“Partnering with Morgan Stanley’s Graystone Consulting, we seek to identify models for faith-based organizations and other institutions and individuals to proactively invest in climate solutions that will help our world shift to a renewables-based economy while assisting the neediest communities around the globe,” Sister Patricia said. “We want to do all we can to protect Earth, our common home, and help safeguard the future for young people today and for generations to come.”

Sister Patricia noted that their integrated approach to climate finance echoes the call Pope Francis issued in Laudato Si’ for “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature” (139). The initiative is aligned with efforts that Catholic Sisters around the world have undertaken for years to address issues related to poverty and ecological degradation. These include support for affordable housing and healthcare, education, microenterprise, community development, as well as clean water, land conservation, renewable energy, Earth literacy programs, wetlands restoration, and advocacy for climate agreements and programs serving people with low incomes, among others. 

The 16 congregations of Dominican Sisters participating in this collaboration, and the congregational leaders giving voice to the statements are: 

Adrian Dominican Sisters (Michigan) Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress
Amityville Dominican Sisters (New York) Peggy McVetty OP, Prioress
Blauvelt Dominican Sisters (New York) Michaela Connolly, OP, Prioress
Caldwell Dominican Sisters (New Jersey) Patrice Werner, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Hope (Ossining, New York) Catherine McDonnell, OP, Prioress 
Dominican Sisters of Houston (Texas) Donna Pollard, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Peace (Columbus, Ohio) Patricia Twohill, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (Wisconsin) Toni Harris, OP, Prioress 
Dominican Srs of St. Catherine of Siena (Saratoga, Calif.) Susan Snyder, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids (Michigan) Sandra Delgado, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Sparkill (New York) Mary Murray, OP, President
Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic (New York) Antoinette Guztler, OP, President
Mission San Jose Dominican Sisters (Fremont, California) Cecilia Canales, OP, Prioress
San Rafael Dominican Sisters (California) Carla Kovack, OP, Prioress
Springfield Dominican Sisters (Illinois) Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, Prioress
Tacoma Dominican Sisters (Washington)            Sharon Casey, OP, Past President

U.S. Catholic Sisters, including congregations of Dominican Sisters, are financially independent of the Roman Catholic Church. Their revenues come from the ministerial earnings of their Sisters, which are pooled along with donations in support of their mission, social security payments, and earnings on investment of these resources.


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June 5, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – “We have one common home – and this is Earth. Our care for it matters – as does our lack of care.”

Corinne Sanders, OP
Corinne Sanders, OP

That was the reflection and challenge of Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, as she and other Sisters and Co-workers from Adrian and beyond reflected on the approaching United Nations World Day of the Environment on June 5, 2020.

Over the years, the Adrian Dominican Congregation has focused its environmental sustainability efforts on the Motherhouse campus – from establishing a Permaculture site in which those who work the land follow the patterns and lessons of nature to considerably reducing its use of power and ensuring that electric power comes from renewable energy sources.

These efforts have been stepped up especially since the Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter, which adopted four Enactments. The Enactment on sustainable living reads: “Recognizing the violence against Earth community that places our common home in dire jeopardy and intensifies the suffering of people on the margins, future generations and all creation, we will sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”

Key Environmental Issues

Sister Corinne sees all of the environmental issues faced by Earth to be “connected and interconnected,” making it impossible to choose one issue as the most pressing.

Patricia Benson, OP
Pat Benson, OP

Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, System Vice President of Environmental Sustainability for CommonSpirit Health, agrees. “Whether our focus is on issues related to climate change, flood/drought, loss of biodiversity, air, water or plastic pollution, toxic chemicals, agriculture, environmental justice, housing, hunger, employment, education – they’re all intertwined and affect the health and well-being of our planet, its inhabitants, and each and every one of us,” she said.

Long-time environmentalist Sister Patricia Benson, OP, is especially concerned with the issues of climate change, pure water and air, and “sufficient food and shelter for all peoples and habitats for other creatures.” She serves on the Board of the River Raisin Institute, a Monroe, Michigan-based organization that offers hands-on environmental education to local students, fosters sustainability awareness, and sponsors activities to enhance the environment.

Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, counts biodiversity loss and declining availability of natural resources – particularly water and oil – as especially concerning. “A few papers have come out in the last few years which suggest that ecosystem productivity is better predicted by biodiversity than climate change,” he said. “Our landscapes are more resilient to climate change when there is a greater abundance and diversity of living things.”

Challenges

The environmentalists reflected on the environmental challenges that we face today. “We are each embedded in a 21st-century culture that stresses individualism and very consumptive, selfish habits,” Sister Pat said. She spoke of the need for “a change of focus of our worldview from satisfying self to recognizing the true kindom – which includes all peoples and other creatures and nature itself, and basing our decisions on the common good of Earth.”

Jared cites failure of the imagination – the tendency to see only two possible futures, a “space-faring utopia or a brutal collapse” – as the greatest challenge. “Cultivation of the imagination allows people to think critically about what our society says the future must look like,” he said. “When we can’t imagine alternatives, those alternatives won’t materialize and we remain stuck in business as usual.”

Sister Corinne sees the lack of infrastructure to support change as one of our greatest challenges. “While many individuals acting together can make a significant change in the areas of climate change, they can only make so many changes if the infrastructure is not in place,” she said. She gave the example of areas with little or no public transportation, forcing many people in the area to drive.

Environmental Effects of COVID-19

Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP
Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP

All four saw some changes in the status of the environment since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the majority of people to shelter in place. Sister Pat sees the clearing of pollution and other benefits as temporary. The simultaneous “canceling of years of environmental regulation and progress by our government and its unwillingness to work with other global leaders to address climate change is catastrophic.”

Both Sister Corinne and Sister Mary Ellen, however, see the pandemic as an opportunity to see more clearly environmental degradation and to address it. “From what we read and see, Earth is on her own healing path since humans retreated,” Sister Corinne said. “This has to tell us something about the way we affected the health of Earth.” She hopes to offer suggestions for herself and the Motherhouse Campus in Adrian on “how we emerge from our current ‘stay at home’ to being back in the world, but with new insights, understandings, and changes to live in communion with Earth.”

Sister Mary Ellen said the pandemic is teaching us how interconnected we really are,. She noted the social, racial, and environmental inequalities that have become clear since the pandemic struck – as well as the compassion, heroism, and kindness that it brought out in many. “The pandemic is an opportunity to see more clearly the suffering of beings on our planet and not look away, and to acknowledge the ways we have been complicit in it,” Sister Mary Ellen said.

Impact of Individual Choices

Noting that the enormity of climate change and other environmental problems can be overwhelming, the four also spoke of ways that individuals can have a positive impact on the health of the environment and help to heal the planet.

Sister Pat advocates a simpler lifestyle, one that provides time to “develop relationships that nourish and sustain us as well as using closer to our fair share of natural resources.” In addition, she counseled the need to “distinguish between our needs and wants.”

Jared said that how an individual can make a difference depends on circumstances. “Not everybody can give up their car or afford organic food,” he said. He suggested learning new skills according to your interest: whether gardening, sewing, cooking, or using herbal medicine. “Find ways to lower the amount of stuff and energy you consume,” and cut down on your use of social media and television, he said.

Sister Mary Ellen had several suggestions: become politically involved and speak out on environmental issues; reduce water and energy consumption; consider changing to a whole-food, plant-based diet; and treat all with compassion and dignity. “Create space and times in your life to connect with the Sacred, nature, yourself, family, and the whole community of life,” she said.

Spirituality and Hope

The environmentalists see their work as integral to their faith in God and their spirituality.

“The Universe and Earth are God’s, not ours,” Sister Pat said. “Exploiting Earth is trashing God’s beautiful gift to us. It is my faith that has sustained my ecological efforts. At this point, it is God who is the source of my hope. Somehow God holds everything in love.”

Sister Mary Ellen said, “I have heard it said that spirituality is an exquisite awareness of our connection to everyone and everything on our planet. So in essence, the sustainability work I’m involved in on a daily basis – at its core – is a spiritual issue and informs my faith life.”

Sister Mary Ellen also experiences hope through “working with people who are able to hold opposites and get real about what is needed in this day and age, and who are committed to building a new future together. Other sources of hope include science and innovative technology and people who are willing to tell their story.”

Jared Aslekson with Jesse at the vericomposting site

Jared Aslakson, left, and Jesse, a student, work in the Permaculture site of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse during the 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience for Barry University and Siena Heights University students.


Jared sees hope through the power of nature. “I think environmentalists often get bogged down with all the bad news about the environment and they think of nature as a weak maiden that’s been tied to the railroad, while some caped villain strokes his mustache,” he said. But Earth is tough, he added. “The sheer power of life is humbling and empowering. Work with those forces and you can have a great quality of life for a long time.”

Jared also finds hope in the reaction of the plants in the Permaculture site in these times of the pandemic. “Even as the human world is in complete disarray, the berry bushes and asparagus are coming up right on time,” he said. “The vegetable seedlings act the same way, and the earth worms are just as busy.” 

Yet, Sister Pat, in a special message for World Day of the Environment, noted that humans still have a key role to play in the future of our environment and of Earth. “The decisions we make now will affect the quality of life of all future peoples and creatures, and perhaps the continued existence of species, including ours.” 


 

 

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