The Benedictine Sisters of Erie are well-known regionally for their community activism on important issues. They are rooted in a 1,500-year religious tradition founded by Saint Benedict, who promoted the sharing of goods and caring of the earth. Fast forward to 2016, and the Sisters have stepped up to address climate change in the Erie area.
The Benedictines have joined many others in signing the Paris Pledge and committing to reduce their carbon pollution by 50 percent by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050. To help accomplish this, the Sisters have formed a team called CARE (Committee for Alternative Resource Energy). The group includes sisters, operations staff, and community members, including myself.
In fall 2015, the CARE team began working to reduce the Benedictines’ carbon footprint, first focusing on the Mt. St. Benedict Monastery. Although the monastery was deemed relatively efficient, the team found that a LED lighting retrofit was practical. Specifically, CARE determined that a comprehensive monastery LED retrofit would reduce overall electric usage by 14%, or 120,000 KWH annually. After securing a $25,000 Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) grant, and factoring in the Act 129 rebate, the project payback worked out to be less than three years. Also, considering the hundreds of worshipers and other visitors to the monastery every year, the project offered great community educational opportunities. It was completed in April 2016.
On July 13, the Sisters unveiled the completed retrofit to local officials and the public, offering tours and expressing appreciation to the SEF for the award. Speakers included Sr. Anne Wambach, Prioress of the Monastery; Marlene Trambley, Chair of the CARE team; and Beverly Weaver of the SEF Board. More than 100 community members attended, including representatives from the state, county, and Emerge 2040, the area’s new revitalization organization.
The CARE team has also developed an education committee devoted specifically to expanding program reach. I am honored to work with this group. Soon, we will hold energy efficiency education sessions for all staff, sisters and oblates who are community members of Benedictine order. The team will also be working with GBA to host a fall educational event at the monastery for the general community.
Although these are tremendous accomplishments to date, much more work needs to be done to fulfill the Benedictines’ Paris Pledge. However, given their history, I have no doubt that the Sisters will meet these goals and help steer the community toward addressing the threat of climate change.