North Jersey Parish Honored for Environmentalism

HNP Communications In the Headlines

POMPTON LAKES, N.J. — GreenFaith, a New Jersey interfaith organization that advocates for the planet, has recognized the exemplary environmental efforts of St. Mary Church here. 

The church was honored at GreenFaith’s fourth annual awards celebration on Nov. 7 in Highland Park, N.J. 

“St. Francis showed us that being a Christian means caring for the earth,” said Kevin Downey, OFM, pastor. “We intend to continue following in his footsteps.”

“St. Mary’s and GreenFaith struck up a very productive partnership together,” said Michael Burck, director of parish programming. “GreenFaith was our guide, mentor and greatest source of encouragement in this effort. We could not have accomplished all that we have without them.” 

The church’s environmental programs — including an energy audit and installation of solar panels — are so unique that CBS-TV took notice last year and aired a show about St. Mary’s partnership with GreenFaith in the organization’s Sustainable Sanctuary Program. 

“St. Mary is offering vitally important Catholic environmental leadership,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith’s executive director. “Very few religious institutions have engaged the environment as fully as St. Mary.” 

St. Mary’s environmental efforts began in 2006 when the parish’s social justice ministry, led by Jackie Schramm, screened “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s film on global warming. More than 200 parish and community members attended, and parish leaders soon realized that the time had come for St. Mary to “go green,” according to Kevin. 

The parish’s GreenFaith team, headed by Ray Keating and Bob Simpson, and supported by Burck, conducted an energy audit, identifying areas to reduce energy use in the parish and school. Facility manager Chris Macemon then coordinated an audit follow-up, ensuring that energy conservation was being implemented.

Sr. Mary Byrnes, head of St. Mary’s School, scheduled a GreenFaith training program for other North Jersey Catholic schools, and the parish distributed 1,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs to members. The youth group, led by youth ministry director Anne Silversey, conducted a waste audit, and the social justice ministry conducted a postcard-writing campaign to Congress supporting climate change legislation. Parishioners signed more than 1,200 postcards after weekend Masses earlier this year. 

Perhaps the parish’s biggest accomplishment is the installation of a solar array that will provide a large percentage of electricity for St. Mary. 

“It’s because of these wide-ranging initiatives that GreenFaith is recognizing St. Mary,” said Rev. Harper. “Their environmental leadership is truly impressive.”

On Nov. 12, the parish’s environmental advocacy group also participated in a Web cast on “Green Jobs, Climate Justice.”

Also honored on Nov. 7 were Good Tree Farm of New Egypt, an organic farm started by Central New Jersey Muslim investors to promote sustainable farming through Islamic relief agencies worldwide, and the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA) and two of its founders, Valorie Caffee and Dr. Nicky Sheats. Caffee and Sheats are leading advocates for environmental protections for the state’s communities of color and the poor. 

“We’re impressed by our honorees’ leadership,” said Rev. Harper, “and we’re thrilled to celebrate their work.”

The celebration was a model green event, with locally-grown organic food and a tour of GreenFaith’s new office facility, which is aiming toward LEED certification, Rev. Harper said. 

Founded in 1992, GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental coalition that educates, inspires, equips and mobilizes people of diverse spiritual backgrounds as environmental leaders.

“GerenFaith’s focus and strength is on helping religious communties find spiritual grounding for their environmental initiatives for being good stewards of the earth,” Burck said. “It is a great formula for success.”  

Shown in the photo above (left to right) are Michael Burck, Ray Keating, Ramona Hall, Bob Simpson, (back) Rev. Fletcher Harper, (front) Chris Macemon and Steven Blumenthal.