Faculty mobilize to meet pope’s call to care for our common home

Author: Kristian Olsen, Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

An interdisciplinary group of 20 faculty gathered at Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles, Michigan, for three days of conversation and action-planning oriented around Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ encyclical on climate change and inequality. The faculty represented 17 different departments and all seven colleges and schools at Notre Dame.

The event, held June 2-4, was the first installment of the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study’s Zahm Retreat, a new summer program that brings together a diverse group of faculty to confront an issue of ethical importance, seek inspiration from the Catholic intellectual tradition, build lasting research connections and make plans for continued action. The retreat is named after Rev. John A. Zahm, C.S.C. (1851-1921), the influential faculty member and administrator who bolstered the research reputation of the University and worked to bridge the divide between disciplines, particularly between the sciences and religion.

This year’s retreat was co-hosted by the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative and focused on Pope Francis’ charge, articulated in Laudato Si’, to care for our common home and fight for the just treatment of all its inhabitants. In the encyclical, the pope makes an appeal for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

The retreat anticipates the upcoming Notre Dame Forum and its theme “Care for Our Common Home: Just Transition to a Sustainable Future.” The 2021-22 forum will include a year-long roster of events, discussions, seminars and keynote addresses to inspire conversation and action on sustainability issues.

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Pictured is Meghan Sullivan, director of the NDIAS and the Wilsey Family College Professor of Philosophy, speaking with Annie Gilbert Coleman, associate professor of American Studies. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

“The faculty of Catholic research universities face a unique challenge: How do we concretely demonstrate — in our research, in our teaching and in our day-to-day intellectual life — the common good that underlies all of our increasingly specialized work?” said Meghan Sullivan, director of the NDIAS and the Wilsey Family College Professor of Philosophy.

“To tackle the world’s hardest problems, we need creative solutions of the sort that can happen only when scholars from across the disciplines come together and help each other look at issues in new ways. Our Zahm Retreat provides an ideal platform for Notre Dame faculty from every corner of campus to do just that. And given the theme of this year’s Notre Dame Forum, Laudato Si’ was the perfect topic for our inaugural meeting,” Sullivan said.

The first day of the retreat included a focused discussion of the text of Laudato Si’ and a sustained conversation about the role universities can and should have in finding a solution to the climate crisis. On the second day, faculty explored how the themes of the encyclical apply to their individual fields of research and how they might collaborate to make progress on unanswered questions. During the final day, participants workshopped new ideas and initiatives to be implemented around campus and across the wider community.

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Jennifer Tank, the Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences, is pictured center. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

“Having the first Zahm Retreat in the inspired natural setting of Fernwood Botanical Garden provided the ideal platform for the group to generate exciting plans for the coming year and beyond,” said Jennifer Tank, director of the ND-ECI and the Ludmilla F., Stephen J. and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences.

“I was amazed by the combined breadth and passion of the ideas, as our faculty colleagues planned new, interdisciplinary courses on sustainability; organized Laudato Si’ reading groups for students, faculty and staff; and discussed areas of synergy around research and scholarship. As we continue to meet and organize after the conclusion of the retreat, I am confident that continued engagement and interaction will make a real impact on the Notre Dame community and beyond,” Tank said.

In addition to the concrete proposals the retreat generated, a primary aim of the event was to build relationships between faculty from disparate departments and to foster research collaborations. 

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Pictured is Diogo Bolster, professor of engineering and Henry Massman Department Chair in the Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

“One of the greatest joys of working at a university, particularly one like Notre Dame, is that I am surrounded by amazing people who work on some of the most fascinating and diverse topics one can imagine,” said Diogo Bolster, professor of engineering and the Henry Massman Department Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences.

“While I am an engineer by training, I relish the opportunity to interact with experts in other disciplines, and the Zahm Retreat gave me the privilege to meet colleagues from departments across campus with whom I don’t often have the opportunity to engage. As we embark on a year at Notre Dame that will be framed by issues of sustainability, I look forward to continuing to meet and work with collaborators, including students and faculty, who have a serious commitment to caring for our climate and all of us who live in it,” Bolster said.

Those interested in taking part in further conversation and planning inspired by Laudato Si’ can sign up for the Laudato Si’ email list. A full list of those who participated in the Zahm Retreat is below the photo gallery.

List of Zahm Retreat participants:

Ellis Adams, assistant professor of geography and environmental policy, Keough School of Global Affairs

Diogo Bolster, professor and Henry Massman Department Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

Peter Burns, Henry Massman Professor of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences; director, Notre Dame Energy

Annie Gilbert Coleman, associate professor, Department of American Studies

Maria Di Pasquale, associate director, Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

Rev. Robert Dowd, C.S.C., associate professor, Department of Political Science; assistant provost for internationalization

Alexander Dowling, assistant professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Bruce Huber, professor, Law School

Rev. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., associate professor, Department of Theology

Krupali Krusche, associate dean for research, scholarship and creative work, School of Architecture

Jessica McManus Warnell, associate teaching professor, Mendoza College of Business

Jason McLachlan, associate professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Daniel Miller, associate professor of environmental policy, Keough School of Global Affairs

Sarah Nerenberg, proposal development consultant

Rahul Oka, research associate professor of global affairs and anthropology, Keough School of Global Affairs

Kristian Olsen, fellowships, outreach and operations program manager, Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

David Richter, associate professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

Roy Scranton, associate professor, Department of English; director, Environmental Humanities Initiative

Joshua Specht, assistant professor, Department of History

Tom Stapleford, associate professor, Program of Liberal Studies

Meghan Sullivan, Wilsey Family College Professor of Philosophy; director, Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

Jennifer Tank, the Ludmilla F., Stephen J. and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences; director, Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative

J'Nese Williams, assistant director of educational initiatives, Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

Originally published by Kristian Olsen, Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study at ndworks.nd.edu on July 20, 2021.