BAY SETTLEMENT — The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross selected the perfect day for the dedication of their solar array. The blessing, held on June 18, coincided with the release of “Laudato Si, on Care for Our Common Home,” the much anticipated encyclical on the environment by Pope Francis.
“I think God had something to do with our choosing this day and the pope choosing this day,” said Sr. Rose Jochmann, chair of the committee that worked on the solar energy project for the last two years. “We couldn’t have planned this.”
The 112-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the motherhouse property features 416 solar panels. Each panel is made up of 60 solar cells that produce earth-friendly energy.
“We wanted a concrete way of showing our Franciscan value of care for all creation and also to continue the sustainability that we try to incorporate in our building …,” said Sr. Rose. “We also wanted to use energy in our building that was completely green, renewable, no pollution and not using natural resources.”
The sisters flipped the switch for solar energy on June 5, 2014. Since then, the solar array has provided approximately 28 percent of the electricity used in the motherhouse. The best month was March when 47 percent of energy was produced by the solar energy system. Sr. Rose explained that during the year, 92 tons of carbon emissions were avoided by using solar energy on the property.
“Another way to say it is we offset 13,500 gallons of gasoline,” said Sr. Rose. “We saved about $12,500. What is priceless for us is (that) we are using less of our natural resources.”
The dedication launched the final phase of the solar project: educating others about solar and renewable energy. The site is now open to visitors for self-guided tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, May to October. Groups of five or more are asked to make an appointment by calling (920) 468-1828.
A grass walking path leads visitors to the solar panels. Signs provide information about how solar works and why the sisters chose solar energy.
“Brochures will be available at the site and benches (made from recycled materials) so people can come and enjoy the beauty of the spot,” said Sr. Rose. “Come and see the birds, the greenery and maybe a few deer come through. We see a lot of deer tracks along the path. They’ve been visiting our site already.”
The sisters also invite those interested in solar energy to view their real-time meter. Visit www.gbfranciscans.org to see energy savings as compared to gallons of gasoline, smart phone charges and the number of nights they could light the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
The solar array was dedicated in memory of Evaleen and Joseph Neufeld, generous supporters of the sisters. Sr. Donna Koch, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, explained that when the community had decided to go forward with the solar project, they were unsure how it was going to be funded. Following Joe’s death in 2004,
Evaleen continued to be a supporter until her death in 2011. In November of 2013, their nieces delivered a gift to the sisters that covered nearly the entire amount to pay for the project.
“I think that today Joe and Evie are smiling on us,” said Sr. Donna. “It’s a blessing to our community.”
Bishop David Ricken presided at the dedication ceremony, which included a prayer of blessing and sprinkling with holy water.
“I’m so proud of the sisters … This community, in particular, has two qualities that I have noticed since I’ve been here,” said Bishop Ricken. “One is they are very prophetic. They live the Gospel in such a way that often they are way ahead of us. And they also make us think and question our previous position, which is a great service.”
Discussing the pope’s encyclical, Bishop Ricken said that it challenges us to care for the creation around us and to improve the environment for generations that follow.
“(Pope Francis) will ask us questions that we can think about, pray about and change our behaviors,” he said. “The sisters are showing us one way with these solar panels. I’m so grateful to them.”