Solar Energy: Praise God!

Author: Emily Clements

Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation

And especially for our Brother Sun,

Who brings us the day and the light;

He is strong and shines magnificently.

O Lord, we think of you when we look at him

-St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of Creation


Emily Clements

The Catholic Worker movement has always recognized the importance of a green revolution, which allows people to rediscover their bonds with the land. We are all a part of creation and should practice proper stewardship, recognizing the profound connection between caring for the environment and promoting the dignity of the most vulnerable people. The people who are most affected by climate change tend to be those in poorer countries, and they are often the people who contribute to climate change the least.


When I was deciding what I wanted to do for my capstone project at Notre Dame for my Sustainability and Catholic Social Tradition minors, I remembered a conversation I had had while I was a summer volunteer at the Worker. Margie had mentioned that eventually she wanted to put solar panels on the roof. It felt like a far-off goal at the time (the chapel was just starting to be transformed into the beautiful space it is today), but the comment stuck with me and resurfaced a year later when I was trying to decide on a project.


Solar energy stood at the intersection of many of my interests, using engineering to create a more sustainable world that better promotes human dignity. The project seemed perfect. Unfortunately, it also seemed almost impossible.


As I talked to Rachel Novick, the director of the Sustainability Minor, about ideas for my project, she mentioned she knew a Notre Dame alumnus who was in the solar industry and worked to get solar installed on roofs of schools in Haiti. Bill Jordan ‘85, the CEO of Jordan Energy, was immediately excited about the project, and provided the necessary initial confidence.


The first estimate of the cost of the project was just over $100,000, which was around $100,000 more than OLR had to spare. It is a good thing our God is in the miracle business, both big and small.

I soon connected with Tim Powers ‘11, who works at Inovateus Solar, a South Bend firm. The project team of Tim, Bill and myself was created. Tim and Bill were incredibly helpful throughout the process, answering questions, making connections, and offering suggestions.


Inovateus Solar agreed to donate all of the design work for the project, and Dr. Kevin Walsh ‘09, a Notre Dame professor I reached out to, did the structural analysis of OLR. Roy Anderson, a local solar installer, agreed to direct the installation at no cost, giving up an entire Saturday for the installation. These in-kind donations reduced the estimated cost of the system to $30,000.


The only thing left to do was fundraise for the materials and remaining labor costs. I wrote an email briefly outlining the solar project and the work of OLR. This email was sent out and Rachel forwarded it to other people who might be interested in the project.


One of the recipients of this email happened to be attending a Notre Dame alumni event in Beijing. While there, she met an alumnus, Jusong Wang ‘08, who is the vice president of Solaria, a solar company in California specializing in high efficiency panels. After having read only the one-page email I composed, he promised that he would work with his CEO to donate all of the panels needed for the project, costing over $12,500. With no other connection to Our Lady of the Road than my email, the CEO, Suvi Sharma, agreed to personally donate the panels for the installation.


After several other generous gifts from donors new and old, we had enough money for the project.


I never really doubted we would get solar. After all, things tend to work out here. But looking back on the process, it is easy to see the Holy Spirit working through so many of the people with whom I had the opportunity to work.


The solar panels were installed in August and will soon be connected to the grid!


Now, when you stand in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, you can look out the window and see the panels harvesting the sun’s energy. It is a reminder of the sacramentality of creation and the connection to the work done at Our Lady of the Road. After all, as Pope Francis reminds us, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (Laudato Si’, 139).


Originally published in the August 2018 edition of the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker Newsletter