Stewardship and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

Gonzaga University seeks to promote the quality and sustainability of the environment through the application of principles of stewardship derived from our Catholic tradition. From Vatican II to encyclicals and apostolic letters by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, as well as statements issued by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, citizens of the Earth have been called to value life and issues of social justice and to seek solutions to the ecological crisis through solidarity and shared responsibility. As the Holy Father John Paul II stated in “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility” (January 1, 1990), "When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations" (6).


St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor

Gonzaga University has joined the official Catholic movement in support of environmental stewardship. On October 7, 2013 University President Thayne McCulloh signed the pledge and said, Gonzaga recognizes the impact of our actions on people around the world, "especially those among us who are vulnerable and therefore suffer the most from climate change and environmental degradation". The St. Francis Pledge is a promise and commitment to: 

  • PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God's Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.
  • LEARN about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.
  • ASSESS how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.
  • ACT to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.
  • ADVOCATE for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable.
The Jesuit Identity and Environmental Stewardship
General Congregation 34

In 1995, the Society of Jesus recommended to the Father General in Decree 20 that a study be made regarding environmental issues, how Ignatian spirituality provides an orientation for responding to them, and ways in which Jesuit communities and works might take action.  The results of the study were communicated to the whole Society as an orientation for our way of proceeding in 1999 when “We Live in a Broken World” was issued.  Appendix D chronicles the Jesuit’s growing concern for ecology beginning in 1983 and up to 1999. Download the full text.

Regional Sustainable Development: A Plan of Action

In 2006, the Society of Jesus Oregon Province promulgated “Regional Sustainable Development: A Plan of Action”. The Oregon Province of the Jesuits has committed itself to regional sustainable development as part of their Twinning Agreement with the Jesuits of Colombia. This new document on Sustainable Development is not a departure from the path or criteria of the past. It simply widens the Jesuit vision by bringing the critical problems of the environment into focus.

Sustainable Development is defined in a Jesuit context as, “a commitment to respect and care for the community of life. It is economic growth that promotes the values of human rights, care for the natural world, and the striving for the common good of the whole earth community, especially the poor and most vulnerable. It involves sustaining the present generation without imposing long-term costs or penalties on future generations. It replaces the use of non-renewable resources with renewable ones and reduces the consumption of all resources. It entails reuse, recovery, and recycling wherever possible; and replenishment or restoration of the natural balances affected by our actions. It implies sound life-cycle planning and economics—economics that truly reflect the environmental and human costs of our technologies and decisions. Sustainable development will succeed only if it expands to include a vision of sustainable communities which hold all creation as sacred.”  Download the Plan of Action.

General Congregation 35

In 2008, the Society of Jesus celebrated the General Congregation 35. The Congregation debated different issues related with the mission, the structure, and the identity of the Society.  Download a pdf of the official text.

The following are official statements from GC 35 in regards to sustainability:

Decree 2, A Fire that Kindles other Fires
# 20. Globalization, technology, and environmental concerns have challenged our traditional boundaries and have enhanced our awareness that we bear a common responsibility for the welfare of the entire world and its development in a sustainable and living-giving way.

# 24. We turn also to the ‘frontier’ of the earth, increasingly degraded and plundered. Here, with passion for environmental justice, we shall meet once again the Spirit of God seeking to liberate a suffering creation, which demands of us space to live and breathe.

Decree 3, Challenges to our Mission Today
# 31. Following the directive 30 of GC 34, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach commissioned a study and invited all “Jesuits and those who share our mission to show ever more effective ecological solidarity in our spiritual, communal, and apostolic lives.” This invitation calls us to move beyond doubts and indifference to take responsibility for our home, the earth.

# 32. Care of the environment affects the quality of our relationships with God, with other human beings, and with creation itself. It touches the core of our faith in and love for God, “from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” It might be said that St. Ignatius teaches us this care of the environment in the Principle and Foundation when speaking of the goodness of creation, as well as in the Contemplation ad Amorem when describing the active presence of God within creation.

# 33. The drive to access and exploit sources of energy and other natural resources is very rapidly widening the damage to earth, air, water, and our whole environment, to the point that the future of our planet is threatened. Poisoned water, polluted air, massive deforestation, deposits of atomic and toxic waste are causing death and untold suffering, particularly to the poor. Many poor communities have been displaced, and indigenous peoples have been the most affected.

# 34. In heeding the call to restore right relationships with creation, we have been moved anew by the cry of those suffering the consequences of environmental destruction, by the many postulates received, and by the recent teaching of the Holy Father and many episcopal conferences on this issue.

# 35. This Congregation urges all Jesuits and all partners engaged in the same mission, particularly the universities and research centers, to promote studies and practices focusing on the causes of poverty and the question of the environment’s improvement. We should find ways in which our experiences with refugees and the displaced on one hand, and people who work for the protection of the environment on the other hand, could interact with those institutions, so that research results and advocacy have effective practical benefits for society and the environment. Advocacy and research should serve the poor and those who work for the protection of the environment. This ought to shed new light on the appeal of the Holy Father that costs should be justly shared “taking due account of the different levels of development.”

# 36. In our preaching, teaching, and retreat direction, we should invite all people to appreciate more deeply our covenant with creation as central to right relationships with God and one another, and to act accordingly in terms of political responsibility, employment, family life, and personal lifestyle.

Issues for the Ordinary Government of the Society of Jesus
Studied at the 35th General Congregation

Ecology/Environment/Globalization: The 35th General Congregation wished to discuss these topics as a whole and appointed a commission for this task. During the discussion which took place in a plenary session, reference was made to the magnitude and complexity of this phenomenon.  For this reason it is essential that we collaborate with individuals and institutions in establishing networks. In collaborating with others, Jesuits must not forget the specific contribution which the Christian faith can make to this topic. It is sad that the contribution of the Society in this area is too little known and made use of, even by Jesuits. The General Congregation recommends that the Provinces draw up guidelines so that individual Jesuits as well as Jesuit communities and institutions may use their resources in an ecologically responsible way.

For More Information on Gonzaga's Mission.

Additional Resouces

Papal Statements

Pastoral Letters & Reports

US Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Environment

Jesuit Views on the Environment

Web Resources