Two East Tennessee Catholic churches combine environmentalism, evangelism
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MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL Sacred Heart Cathedral and School will use this centrifugal pump to replace the need for a 2-acre retention pond on the property as they implement sustainable practices and build a new cathedral.

While in the process of constructing a new cathedral and renovating some of its current buildings, Knoxville’s Sacred Heart is using several green construction techniques on its worksite. These include creating mulch from trees it has removed and reusing asphalt by grinding it up and spreading it out to increase the site’s elevation.

By Maggie Jones, Knoxville News Sentinel

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Johnson City installed energy-efficient LED lights in its facilities, developed community gardens and created an energy assessment committee.

Those are just a few examples of what these churches are doing, and they line up with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, a 192-page document released June 18. In his work, Francis issues a call to action to combat pollution, conserve energy, care for ecosystems and ultimately be better stewards of the environment.

But both churches began being more environmentally conscious long before the Pope’s encyclical.

“Pope Francis is really re-articulating teachings of the church that we’ve had for many, many years,” said Father David Boettner of Sacred Heart. “He just kind of put it all together in one package, and so I think people are taking notice of it now in a way that maybe they haven’t previously. But those have always been values that we’ve held. We do believe that creation is a reflection of the beauty of God, and that it’s a gift of God to us, and we should use that gift responsibly.”

Don Davis, who has been a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church for 10 years and chairs its energy assessment committee, said the church has been implementing sustainable practices since he got there, including powering its school with geothermal energy, increasing recycling, reducing its use of Styrofoam and paper products and asking volunteers to wash dishes instead.

Davis added that’s what drew him and his wife to St. Mary’s 10 years ago, but the Pope’s message has helped gain more support for sustainability within the church’s congregation.

Though neither church is finished with being environmentally friendly. They have plans to continue going green.

Sacred Heart is renovating its older and less energy efficient buildings. Its school is currently receiving new insulated windows, new heating and cooling systems, a new roof and LED lights, according to Boettner. Its new cathedral building will also have these features.

Boettner said planning for the renovations and the new building began in 2011. Sacred Heart sought the help of two architectural firms: James McCrery Architects of Washington D.C. and BarberMcMurry Architects of Knoxville, who have advised them and educated them on selecting materials and being more energy efficient with their facilities.

Michael Patrick, KNS

MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL A new retaining wall at the Sacred Heart Cathedral and School is made from 20 percent recycled material.

“For us, the church building is a building that we’re planning for the next 250 to 500 years,” said Boettner. “So that’s why the choice of materials, the type of construction, the usage of energy and electricity in the building — all of those decisions we’re trying to make on a longer term basis, and so really sustainable practices are helping us to be better stewards of the resources we’ve been given.”

St. Mary’s Church formed its energy assessment committee last year, said Davis.

Then, the committee, along with the Johnson City Power Board and the Green Interfaith Network, conducted an audit that examined the church’s facilities to see where it could be more energy efficient.

After receiving the results, St. Mary’s has replaced its fluorescent light bulbs with LED lights and has begun monitoring its energy use.

“Within the first six months, we had saved over $1,000 in energy,” said Davis, who had conducted an audit on his home in Johnson City when he moved there. Also a gardener, Davis is passionate about helping the environment.

“Nature and the Earth has always been my friend, and so I’ve always been interested,” he said.

The church has put in a community garden and school garden to grow fresh produce to serve in the cafeteria and teach the kids the importance of taking care of the environment.

It also plans to install new doors to help manage the heating and cooling of the building, put extra trim on its school’s windows to keep heat in, use the church’s space more efficiently and repair the facility’s pipes in the future, according to Davis.

And while these sustainable practices aid the environment and these churches in managing their energy, Davis and Boettner said they are being implemented to help people at the same time.

“One of the things that the Pope points out is that when the environment is damaged, it affects the poor disproportionately,” said Boettner.

“So … if the environmental changes that happen, whether it’s polluting of water, changing of landscape, all those things tend to affect those who have the least resources the most. And so in that encyclical, he’s really challenging us to think about the effects that our usage of resources has on everyone else.”

~ via Journal Media Group, Jul 24, 2015. Photos by Michael Patrick and Pam Rhoades.