My story: Seeking endorsements from Catholic Universities
By Jessie Snyder
Did you know one third of Congress is of the Catholic faith? My area of Pennsylvania has quite a few Catholic colleges, and I felt their support could be influential in pushing Congress to act on climate. I decided to seek their endorsements for the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
Even as a non-Catholic, I found that I was able to ask for and receive endorsements from several of these university presidents, and even build meaningful relationships with these forward-thinking leaders on climate change action. Here’s my story.
Kicking off close to home
The first college that I decided to contact was DeSales University in Center Valley where my son, Alex, received an MBA. I emailed the president, Father James Greenfield—or, as I know him now, Father Jim. I wrote of the exemplary education that Alex had received there, highlighting their outstanding theater productions and recognizing the vital sustainability initiatives at DeSales. I explained the Energy Innovation Act and its importance. Of course, I mentioned Pope Francis’s fervent belief that we all be stewards of the earth.
After one or two reminders, I received an invitation to come speak with him and vice president, Father Kevin Nadolski. Fellow CCL member and lobbying representative, John Gallagher, and I were to attend. I began counting the days.
Then…serendipity! Sabrina Fu, Co-Coordinator for CCL’s Mid-Atlantic Region, just happened to be attending a sustainability conference at DeSales the same day as the meeting. It was only natural that she be the third CCL member to attend the upcoming meeting.
As the three of us entered the college, we received a warm welcome from Father Kevin, who was waiting for us in the hallway. He led us to the meeting room and listened intently to our message. I learned of the Laudato Si’ and the Catholic Climate Covenant, as well as the statement by the U.S. Council of Bishops supporting carbon reduction. We brainstormed possible climate change action initiatives at the college, from tabling after a service to creating bipartisan dialogue on climate change action to be presented at their renowned theater, Act I. The air was electric! Soon, Father Jim joined us and spoke of his support for our effort. We gifted each of them with a jade plant, decorated with a CCL button, which they graciously accepted.
We said our goodbyes numerous times, with a feeling of bittersweetness. It was my first time meeting with a Catholic priest, and I was eager to continue communication.
Shortly after, Father Jim wrote saying that he was endorsing the Energy Innovation Act, but needed a bit of help as to how to maneuver the website to become a supporter. In no time, it was done! It felt like quite an achievement.
Pursuing personal connections
Then I moved on to other colleges and was fortunate to obtain endorsements from two local liberal arts colleges: Moravian, where my mother and sister attended, and Muhlenberg, where my grandfather and father-in-law attended. As you can see, I had a personal connection with each college.
Pondering this, I decided to contact Villanova University in Philadelphia, where my daughter-in-law studied Public Relations and Communications. Within hours after my email, I received a reply that the president, Rev. Peter Donohue, was now a new supporter of the Energy Innovation Act. I was stunned! I was thrilled! This was the fourth college endorsement from this effort.
Of course, there were a few colleges in between that denied my requests for support. It wasn’t always easy, and each time it took courage to make the initial contact. Sometimes I procrastinated for days before I worked up the nerve to call, reminding myself that they have as much to lose or gain as I do.
A few weeks later, I asked Fathers Jim and Peter if they could provide me with any further contacts. Using Father Jim’s suggestion, I simply called Father Dennis Holtschneider, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). I learned that the ACCU oversees 90% of Catholic schools of higher education—that’s 243 colleges in the U.S. and four abroad. He endorsed the Energy Innovation Act as a prominent individual, not on behalf of the association, but it is still a major victory to be celebrated.
How you can get involved
I am hoping that other CCL members will contact ACCU Institutions across the country to seek endorsements from their presidents. In addition to the four endorsements from college presidents I’ve mentioned here, I learned that DeSales and Villanova Universities, ACCU institutions, also endorsed as organizations. Imagine more and more support from Catholic presidents and their colleges throughout the country—this would certainly have an impact on many of our congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle.
Thank you for listening to my story. If you’d like to get involved, I have provided tips, an op-ed on climate change education in the Catholic Church, and a sample letter to help you get started in the Catholic Action Team forum.
Jessie Snyder is a CCL volunteer in the Lehigh Valley, PA chapter, and she is a member of the Catholic Action Team.