St. Mary’s scholars and staff preach environmentalism for Earth Day and beyond 

Arts and Humanities
May 04, 2023

Ecological protection? Laudato Si’

by Micheal Baladez 

From the time she noted bluebonnets, the Texas state flower, growing at St. Mary’s University Kayla Garcia has wanted to push for a brighter future for the University’s ecological community. 

Kayla Garcia stands on a rock during a trip to Estero Llano Grande State Park.
Kayla Garcia stands on a rock during a trip to Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Garcia, a junior majoring in Accounting with a minor in Environmental Science, took the robust presence of local flora and fauna on the grounds of the 135-acre campus to indicate that St. Mary’s was the best place to begin spreading her environmental message. 

Seeking an outdoor escape from the confinement of the pandemic, Garcia began exploring places she never would have before. 

Living less than 10 minutes away from the Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, Garcia found a love for the environment after visiting the converted agricultural lands.  

“It attracted all sorts of different migrating birds, some almost never seen in Texas,” Garcia said. “It made getting out a lot more fun.” 

Garcia said she would wake up after exploring the nearby park and find birds perched on trees and shrubs outside her window. Before the pandemic, she never considered how often she observed them. 

Observing wild St. Mary’s 

Garcia began cataloging the different bird species around her home and on St. Mary’s campus, which led to more environmental endeavors. 

In her activities as a McNair Scholar, a nationwide organization that focuses on helping underrepresented students achieve doctorate degrees, Garcia studied the air quality in the St. Mary’s area, its effect on wildlife and how types of lichen form depending on environmental factors. 

For a passion project, Garcia began to map out the butterflies on campus, documenting several species including monarchs, little yellow, viceroy, checkered skipper and more.  

However, Garcia’s passion for environmentalism goes deeper than academic studies or wildlife observation — she wants to show St. Mary’s and the wider community how they benefit from environmentalism. 

Garcia volunteers at Gardopia Gardens, a nonprofit focused on educating community members on how to grow food, share their harvest, and be mindful of local flora and fauna.  

“If you’re really grateful for the environment, then spread it,” Garcia said. 

What is Laudato Si’

Much like Garcia’s environmental heart, St. Mary’s wants to further its Marianist vision. 

As a Marianist university, St. Mary’s has committed to furthering the Catholic values, which include caring for our fellow man, mutual openness, and meeting challenges through prayer.  

This care for our common man expands beyond individuals and extends our shared home — the Earth.  

In 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical titled Laudato Si’: On Caring for our Common Home, which details a complex plan to ensure the nourishment and welfare of our shared planet.  

Professor wants more green 

David Turner, Ph.D., head of the St. Mary’s Laudato Si’ committee and Associate Professor of Environmental Science, wants the St. Mary’s community to pursue a future using Pope Francis’ encyclical as its foundation. As the first university in Texas to take up the seven-year action plan as a Laudato Si institution in November 2021, the University’s Laudato Si’ committee identifies ways to implement sustainability measures and acts as a mouthpiece for the ecological ideas given by students and staff here at St. Mary’s. 

“Protecting the environment is not just one person’s responsibility. It’s everybody’s responsibility.” 

David Turner, Ph.D., head of the St. Mary’s Laudato Si’ committee and Associate Professor of Environmental Science

As the Laudato Si’ Action Committee chairman, Turner aspires to make an avenue for St. Mary’s to be a shepherd of the natural environment. His desire is for St. Mary’s to spearhead environmental protection for the surrounding community, hopefully reaching San Antonio and beyond. For instance, he urges for the University to begin by reducing its carbon footprint or increasing the number of bio-degradable materials used on campus. 

Promoting environment protection 

“We as a committee are not deciding where the University is going to go, or how the University is going to go. We’re asking the University community to let us know,” Turner said. 

The Laudato Si’ Action Committee recently participated in the annual Gold and Blue Go Green event on April 19 to give voice to environmental concerns and hear ideas from St. Mary’s students, staff, and community.   

From this event, Turner said committee members can gather enough information to write out a proposal to President Thomas Mengler, J.D. Turner hopes to accomplish this in the coming months, as the end of the first year in Pope Francis’ seven-year plan is ending.  

“We want to protect our environment, and our University wants to as well,” Turner said. 

Alongside Turner, Garcia wishes for a large-scale project that can bring together people from every part of the University, showing the institution’s commitment to Marianist values and Laudato Si

“Protecting the environment is not just one person’s responsibility,” Turner said. “It’s everybody’s responsibility.” 

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