May 14, 2021

Laudato Si’ Week 2021

Connection of God, nature and humanity guides Creation Care Commission

Benedictine Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick, left, and Rosemary Spalding pose on the grounds of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. They are among the members of the archdiocese’s Creation Care Commission. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Benedictine Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick, left, and Rosemary Spalding pose on the grounds of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. They are among the members of the archdiocese’s Creation Care Commission. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

As a child, she loved being surrounded by nature—walking through the woods, wading in water, climbing rocks and trees.

As a college student, her love for the outdoors led her to northern California where she hiked among the giant redwoods—a spiritual experience that filled her with awe about the majesty of God’s creations.

As an adult, she still savors being immersed in nature, planting flowers and caring for trees on the grounds of the place she now calls home—Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove.

A lifetime of such experiences has led Benedictine Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick to appreciate the eloquent urgency of Pope Francis’ encyclical about the interconnectedness of humanity and the natural world, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”

The 2015 encyclical has also led her to become involved—as a member of the archdiocese’s Creation Care Commission—in the effort to help Catholics across central and southern Indiana live out the pope’s call to care more deeply about our intertwined relationships with God, people and Earth.

As the days of May 16-24 have been designated as Laudato Si’ Week for the global Church this year, The Criterion asked Sister Sheila and fellow Creation Care Commission member Rosemary Spalding to share their thoughts on the continuing importance of the encyclical, the progress that has been made, and the hopes and challenges of bringing the goals of the encyclical to life for people and parishes across the archdiocese.

Here is an edited version of that interview with Spalding, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis, and with Sister Sheila, director of facilities at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center in Beech Grove.

Q. Talk about the continuing importance of Laudato Si’.

Spalding: “Laudato Si’ is a clear and urgent call to action from the highest authority in the Catholic Church and possibly the most respected religious leader in the world. Laudato Si’ makes clear that addressing the climate crisis is a moral imperative because of the impacts on all of creation, most especially the poorest and the most vulnerable among us. It provides the foundation for the Commission’s work as we try to change the hearts and minds, and most importantly, the behaviors of our fellow Catholics throughout the archdiocese.”

Q. What is one of the main themes or passages of Laudato Si’ that especially connects with you?

Sister Sheila: “The concept of ‘integral ecology’ is most meaningful for me. We cannot select one issue to predominate, for they are all connected. The beauty and theology of Catholic social teaching is that we must see all aspects together as a whole picture, each in relationship to each other. I appreciate what has been termed ‘The Kinship Model’: ‘Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the Earth’ (Laudato Si’, #66)

“The relationships are inseparable.”

Q. What led you to want to become involved in the Creation Care Commission of the archdiocese?

Spalding: “In March 2015, then-Archbishop Joseph [W.] Tobin spoke about creation care at an event at Marian University [in Indianapolis]. His remarks were inspiring and a preview of the highly anticipated encyclical that was expected later in the spring.

“I already was working with John Mundell on creation care issues, and through the event at Marian we met several others who had been as well. After the issuance of Laudato Si’, we reached out to Archbishop Tobin to ask how we could help him answer the urgent call to action throughout the archdiocese. He responded enthusiastically and asked our group to proceed with developing a plan of action. With his approval and direction, the Creation Care Commission was born.”

Q. Talk about some of your main hopes for the Creation Care Commission?

Sister Sheila: “My hope for the commission is that we can be a way to reduce barriers that prevent individuals and parishes from enabling Care for Creation practices in their homes, parishes and schools. We need both a top-down and bottom-up approach. If we can help promote both aspects by bringing people together, we will have accomplished much.”

Q. What do you consider as some of the ministry’s success stories so far?

Sister Sheila: “Our biggest accomplishment is the creation of an assessment process that parishes and schools can use to determine areas of improvement in energy efficiency and reduce waste. These tools are available for any parish or school. We have also held events such as tree and seed sales.”

Q. There’s a strong emphasis on getting parishes involved in this effort. Talk about the importance of parishes becoming involved in this effort.

Spalding: “There are two important reasons why parishes must be involved with this effort. First, the archdiocese has more than 125 parishes, each with buildings and many with a school. Collectively, these parishes and schools contribute significantly to the carbon footprint of the archdiocese and the negative impacts to the environment.

“Second, the parishes, through the pastors and parish leadership, are the primary source of spiritual guidance to members of the parish. The parish is critical to the dissemination of information through the bulletin, newsletters, programs, ministries and, of course, the pulpit. The parishes can be the most effective messengers to the faithful on all aspects of creation care.”

Sister Sheila: “Also, the more parishes and schools involved, the more we learn from each other and improve our connections across the archdiocese.”

Q. What do you hope can be accomplished by parishes and the archdiocese in the next five years?

Sister Sheila: “I believe we can reduce the carbon footprint across the archdiocese. We also can do this as part of a global Catholic effort: the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. In five years, imagine what Catholics across the world can do to care for creation. I want the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to be a part of this wonderful endeavor.”

Q. How can the Creation Care Commission help parishes get involved in this effort?

Sister Sheila: “Contact us at or visit our website at We are happy to assist you in beginning a Creation Care Team, performing an assessment or connecting in some other way to care for creation.” †

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