Solar panels improve students’ classes and reduce monastery’s carbon footprint
INDIANAPOLIS — Students of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. Indianapolis High School usually acquires knowledge through the work it does in the classrooms of the school.
But starting this semester, Cardinal Ritter’s rooftop is also helping with student education.
Twenty-eight solar panels have been installed on 1,000 square feet of the school’s roof, but they don’t just reduce Cardinal Ritter’s carbon footprint and electricity costs.
They are also incorporated into the lesson plans of its science and theology classes to help students learn about renewable energy and how care for creation is an important aspect of the Catholic faith.
“We ask our students to do the work of God. And so, we’re trying to model that,” said Caroline Sperry, Cardinal Ritter science professor. “I tell the children that I compost at home. I drive hybrid vehicles. I do what I can. I’m not just talking about that. I try to put my faith into action.
Elsewhere in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, today’s solar panel technology is at work in a monastery rooted in centuries-old tradition.
More than 3,000 solar panels installed at the St. Meinrad Archabbbey campus in Spencer County, Indiana provide Benedictine monks with renewable energy.
The fact that the cost of solar panels has dropped by 60% these days “really solidified” the arch project, said Mark Hoffman, director of physical facilities. “But, in the end, it was a good thing to do for the environment.”
At Ritter, Sperry told The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper, that she is determined to help students discover the science behind the school’s solar panels.
“It energizes me to tell my students about it,” she said. “The focus on renewable energy will become increasingly important. More of our students could go into renewable energy careers and research how to make it more accessible to people.
The lesson will take place in part through a mobile device app that can show students real-time data on the energy produced by solar panels.
Ritter President Jo Hoy also noted that the signs will be physically accessible to students, including those in area elementary schools.
Hoy also noted how solar panels will be incorporated into science lesson plans at St. Michael-St. Gabriel Archangels School and St. Anthony School, both of which are overseen by Cardinal Ritter.
The high school had long been interested in installing solar panels and other energy-saving initiatives, according to Hoy.
“It had been on our radar,” she said. “We just had other needs financially before that, because it’s not cheap.”
Then, Ryan Iannucci, a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Indianapolis, approached the archdiocesan office of stewardship and development to express his interest in helping to make solar panels a financial reality for a school of the archdiocese.
“I wanted to help younger generations understand that some of the older people care about the world we provide to them,” Iannucci said. “I wanted to demonstrate it and help them realize that the pope himself has made it a priority.”
Inanucci hopes the solar panel effort at Ritter will motivate “the younger generation to choose careers and make life choices that help the earth. I hope they discuss this with their parents as well.”
At St. Meinrad Archabbey, the installation of solar panels is just one of the latest innovations for the monks, who have always been far-sighted in using the resources with which they have been blessed.
In 1890, they had a power station built on their campus to supply electricity to the monastery, its seminary and other buildings.
Later developments have included the monastic community developing a water service and sewage treatment facility for itself and the adjacent town of St. Meinrad.
All of this progress, Benedictine Archbishop Kurt Stasiak noted, stems from St. Meinrad Abbey’s faithful adherence to the 1,500-year-old Rule of St. Benedict, which calls on monks to consider the tools used in secular work “like sacred vessels of the altar”. ”
“Each generation of monks, as Benedict encourages the abbot to do, brings out some of the old and some of the new,” said Kurt, who has led the archabbey since his election in 2016. “They try to keep pace with progress be made to support and reinforce some very traditional values.
Hoffman noted that the solar panel initiative follows other efforts by the archebbey to reduce its carbon footprint.
The campus has completely switched to LED lighting. And a geothermal heating and cooling system is now in place for the monastery and its Sanctuary of Our Lady of Monte Cassino.
Hoffman said switching to LED lighting and installing the solar panel array will reduce St. Meinrad’s electricity costs by 30 percent per year, an annual savings of more than $200,000.
“We’re going to pay that off in 12 years or less,” he told The Criterion.
In addition, the panels are guaranteed to produce 80% of their initial electrical production for at least 25 years.
The annual utility savings generated by the Archbishop’s various conservation and renewable energy initiatives will go into a fund to support the monks’ future efforts to be good stewards of creation.
With his seminary training men for the priesthood across the country and around the world and his close ties to other Catholic religious communities, parishes and schools, Kurt hopes that St. Meinrad Archabbey’s energy-saving efforts will spur others to do the same.
“I believe we are setting a good, necessary example,” he said. “A good thing about the field of solar panels is that it is so obvious. You see it every time you walk past it, so it’s kind of a real-time active advertisement of our interest in being good stewards of creation.
“The global need for environmental sustainability is growing,” he said. “Implementing strategies to reduce our impact on the earth is important for institutions. Our hope is that we can inspire others to take the steps necessary to become good stewards of the earth.
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Gallagher is a reporter for the Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.