Gonzaga University first in U.S. to join ‘Laudato Si’ Action Plan

Sun shines through leaves near St. Aloysius on a fall day
Gonzaga commits to the sustainability efforts of ‘Laudato Si’

October 04, 2021
Gonzaga News

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Gonzaga University has become the first university in the United States to commit to the Laudato Si Action Platform inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 ecological encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home.”

“I’m delighted to see our university taking a leadership role in advancing this timely and significant Vatican initiative,” Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh said. “Pope Francis’ invitation for all Catholic organizations and individuals to begin a seven-year journey to embrace integral ecology in all we do is both urgent and very much in keeping with our institution’s commitments.”

An encyclical is a type of teaching that has a high level of authority in the church, second only to the Gospels and church councils such as Vatican II.

The formal launch of the action platform and enrollment will be Nov. 14, the Global Day of Prayer for the Poor. A 40-day period of prayer and promotion precedes it, and began on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4.

A road map for the seven-year process was outlined in May at a news conference held in Rome by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The first year is dedicated to community building, resource sharing and developing plans to achieve the goals. Five years of concrete actions follow, capped by a year “to praise and thank God.”


The Laudato Si Action Platform’s ambitious initiative, introduced in May at the close of the fifth anniversary year of the encyclical, outlines seven categories of sustainability goals: care for the Earth; care for the poor; develop ecological frameworks for economics, education and spirituality; adopt a sustainable lifestyle; and encourage community engagement.


As a Laudato Si university, Gonzaga will chart its own path for the seven-year program.

“We see this action platform as a path to amplify, connect and expand important existing work within our community, rooted in our mission,” said Michelle Wheatley, vice president for mission integration. “Our hope is to engage many people and units in this initiative, and we will be following up with more information soon.

“These Laudato Si goals are expressions that resonate with our mission values, our university strategic plan, and the current Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).”

As Wheatley referenced, the encyclical-inspired action adds new energy to work already underway on campus.

“Embracing sustainability in its operations has long been a focus for Gonzaga,” said Jim Simon, GU’s director of the Office of Sustainability since 2014. “This commitment is an opportunity to deepen and expand that work to infuse all that we do.”

The university’s latest initiative is the Center for Climate, Society and the Environment, an academic project launched in April. It seeks to advance the Laudato Si goals both on campus and in the broader Inland Northwest region through its academic mission.

“Discerning an appropriate response to the ecological crisis comes at a profoundly important moment for our species,” explains Brian Henning, professor of philosophy and environmental studies, and director of GU’s Climate Center. “The Laudato Si goals guide our actions as a Catholic institution. They redefine and rebuild our relationship with each other and our common home. Their holistic approach acknowledges the planetary limits of all socioeconomic systems and the human roots of the ecological crisis.”

Henning has been appointed by the Vatican office spearheading the action platform to serve on the Universities Working Group.

The Climate Center is particularly well-suited to the goal of ecological education through its Climate Literacy Project.

Earlier sustainability-related initiatives have garnered recognition for GU.

Last year, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education awarded Gonzaga a gold rating, its second highest, in recognition of its achievements in curriculum and research; engagement with the campus community and public; operations, such as buildings, energy, food and transportation; planning and administration; and innovation and leadership.

The same group recognized GU’s Cataldo Project last year as one of 16 national Centers for Sustainability Across the Curriculum. It aims to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the importance of the natural environment to life, a realization of how all human activities affect the environment, and an ethic for responsible stewardship of the planet.

The university approved its first comprehensive Climate Action Plan in 2013.

Organizers of the encyclical action plan hope it will motivate more of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and tens of thousands of church institutions to embrace the message of Laudato Si by living in ways that better preserve nature and communities.

In addition to Catholics, anyone interested may join by going to www.laudatosiactionplatform.org.