Sisters' foundation seeks ecological balance

Bob McKeon


December 29, 2014

In recent weeks, there has been much in the news about the latest UN climate change conference in Lima, Peru. Articulate Catholic voices were raised during the conference.

Pope Francis sent a personal message with a sense of urgency saying "the time for seeking global solutions is running out" and that there exists "a clear, definitive and unpostponable, ethical imperative to act."

Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based umbrella organization of Catholic international development and emergency aid organizations, issued a statement saying the poorest peoples were being impacted the most by climate change, and taking effective action to address climate change "is the key to eradicating poverty, hunger and malnutrition."

The Caritas statement went on to say "the conventional economic growth model that is based primarily on fossil energy consumption is obviously unsustainable for both the (global) North and South."

During the UN conference, leaders from the bishops' conference of Peru, meeting with bishops representing regional bishops' conferences in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, signed a declaration calling upon political leaders "to build new models of development and lifestyles that are both climate compatible and bring people out of poverty."

They went on to say that central to achieving this goal is "to put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100 per cent renewables with sustainable energy access for all."

To hasten the inevitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, some faith-based organizations are taking part in a global movement to divest from fossil fuels.


Anglican Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu points to the key role the divestment movement played in the liberation of South Africa. Corporations, unswayed by the moral arguments against apartheid, eventually did respond to the economic pressure of a global divestment campaign.

He sees climate change as a deeply moral issue also. Watching Africans today experience the harmful effects of droughts, floods and rising food prices associated with climate change, Tutu calls for a global movement to divest from fossil fuel companies and invest in a clean energy future.

An Edmonton Journal article last September reported that more than 800 institutional and individual investors controlling over US$50 billion had pledged to divest from fossil fuels. KAIROS Canada, a national ecumenical social justice organization, has supported the fossil fuel divestment initiatives in Canada as part of its social action campaigns in Canadian faith communities.


Recently this issue of fossil fuel divestment became personal for me.

Earlier this year, I became a board member of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation. This charitable foundation was founded by the Sisters of Service 10 years ago in the name of their foundress, Sister Catherine Donnelly.

The Sisters of Service served for several decades in Alberta. The sisters established the foundation as a legacy to ensure that their shared commitment to social and ecological justice would continue long after the last Sister of Service had died.

From its beginning, the Catherine Donnelly Foundation has named "ecological balance and environmental sustainability" as a core value, and has conducted a charitable granting program for funding environmental initiatives across Canada.

At the last board meeting, a motion was introduced that the Catherine Donnelly Foundation no longer make direct investments in any of the 200 global, publicly-traded companies with the largest coal, oil and gas reserves. Coming from Alberta, I felt challenged by this motion, since so much of our provincial wealth and employment in Alberta comes from the fossil fuel industry.


However, I also knew that the core of Catholic social teaching and the spiritual charism of the Sisters of Service had an important place in this decision. The press release issued by the foundation speaks of "a unanimous board decision" to divest fossil fuels from its investment portfolio, so it is clear how I voted.

Some may not agree with this decision, but each of us needs to find meaningful ways in our personal and public lives to make decisions and take action in support of greater social and ecological justice at a time when many government and business leaders are unable or unwilling to provide effective leadership towards economic and ecological sustainability for people today and for future generations.

(Bob McKeon: