A memorial Mass for Sister Paula Gonzalez, a Sister of Charity, environmental campaigner and biologist known as the “Solar Nun”, took place yesterday in Ohio.
Sister Gonzalez, who died at the age 83, earned the nickname after transforming a chicken barn into a passive solar house; her work was featured in the 1993 PBS series Earthkeepers.
Outside of TV coverage, Sister Gonzalez was dedicated to environmental learning and awareness. After earning her doctorate in biology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, Sister Gonzalez taught biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati for 21 years.
She undertook an estimated 1,800 speaking engagements on ecological matters, and attended the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. Sister Gonzalez described the event as “a watershed moment in history,” adding: “This many people coming together to choose the future: This is the beginning of the ecological era.”
Assessing the Earth Summit’s impact a decade later, Sister Gonzalez said: “Governments are beginning to recognise that, in some areas, non-governmental organisations have better expertise than they do, and there is a new willingness to be collaborative rather than directive.”
Sister Gonzalez also shared billing with the late astronomer Carl Sagan at the 1990 “Intercontinental Conference of Caring for Creation” in Washington, sponsored by the interfaith North American Conference on Religion and Ecology.
“You and I,” she told the conference, must be the “co-creators” of “the divine creation” because “God can’t do it without us. That’s the commitment we have to make.”
In 2015, Sister Gonzalez hailed the issuance of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” saying it is “going to thrust the question of planetary realities through the church.
“People of every faith and no faith are waiting to see what he has to say. Everybody in their gut knows we have gotten way too greedy. We have become addicts of fossil fuels and addiction is a terrible situation.”
Sister Gonzalez founded EarthConnection, an environmental learning centre in Mount St. Joseph, which showcases various renewable-energy technologies and conducts tours, internships, and environmental educational programs.
She was also a co-founder in 2007 of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, a coalition of religious people responding to climate change. She supported the work of the Alternate Energy Association of South-western Ohio, and served as president for a term. She developed audio courses in earth-healing, and wrote several articles and book chapters on eco-spirituality, conservation, renewable energy and spiritual ecology.
The Sister of Charity died in hospice care on July 31 2016 in Mount St Joseph.